Veteran New Zealand actor Sam Neill returns to television with Happy Town, a new mystery series on ABC with tones of Twin Peaks.
For the eternally boyish Neill, the series is as much fun to try to figure out as it is to take part in. He talked with Metro about solving mysteries, being the senior cast member and making wine.
Q. What was it about Happy Town that made you want to sign up?
A. Well, I was not particularly looking for a TV show. The first two scripts came through the door, and I thought this was such original and arresting and funny stuff, and also a character that I could really work with. I’ve been offered doctors from the Bronx and cops from Miami, and I don’t know what to do with those characters. But this was a character that I thought, this was fine. I like this.
Q. Does the rest of the cast sort of look up to you like an elder statesman?
A. The question is, am I the elderly statesman on the thing? Well, I’m certainly the oldest in the cast. And I am surrounded by these beautiful young things, you know, which is slightly aggravating. But they’re all very nice, beautiful young things, and we all get on very well. We’re having a ball, actually.
Q. Your character seems like a very enigmatic, secretive presence on the show.
A. Well, he’s an outsider clearly. And sometimes it takes an outsider to see things with clarity. And this is a town which is a labyrinthine, and there are secrets covering secrets. It’s a town that ostensibly seems idyllic, the sort of town that we all would like to live in. But, of course, every town has its past and every place has things they’d sooner forget. Merritt is a man that’s been involved in dark things. I don’t see him as a villain, but he’s certainly a man that there is a lot more to be learned about.
Q. Do you have any guesses as to who the mysterious Magic Man on the show is?
A. You know, there’s a lot of money being changed hands on this, between us. And currently I’ve actually — no, I can’t say, because tomorrow I will change my mind again. But, you know, the Magic Man thing is only one mystery. When it becomes apparent who that is, more mysteries will be revealed. Every mystery triggers another one. And no life is straightforward in Happy Town.”
Q. You’ve also started making your own wine. How is that going?
A. Yes, I’ve got three vineyards, and I produce a wine called Two Paddocks. I think we’re on our 12th vintage now, something like that. And it is a serious business. I wish I had a head for business, because it doesn’t make me any money. That’s the down side. The up side is that it’s an incredibly enjoyable thing to do when we get to produce a great wine, which we often do. It’s enormously satisfying. But I’ve also got goats and sheep, and I’ve got lavender and produce honey. And organic vegetables and all those kind of things. But wine is the main thing that we do.
• Happy Town airs Wednesdays on ABC