When you live in Los Angeles, you know to leave celebrities alone. Even the famous need to pick up some things at Target now and then; they don’t need you blocking the toiletries aisle so you can tell them just how much you love some TV show. I actually walked past Frankie Muniz on the street one day and resisted the urge to ask him if he’s still having those intense nightmares he once tweeted about. It’s a question of manners.
In fact, I can think of only one single actor I’d approach if our paths crossed: Sam Neill.
Like most Americans my age, I was introduced to Neill as Dr. Alan Grant, one of the heroes of the movie Jurassic Park — and the reason that, at 10 years old, I told people I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up. While I find a lot of Spielberg’s filmmaking corny in retrospect, Grant’s emotional through-line still hits me square in the heart: Prickly and aloof toward kids at the outset, he becomes a reluctant father figure as he and a pair of children traverse the dangerous, dinosaur-swarmed island to safety. By the end of the adventure, they’re cuddled up on him like a giant teddy bear, and he smiles with genuine affection as they fly off into the sunset — a serenely happy family.
The role was a bit unusual for the Northern Ireland–born, New Zealand–bred Neill, who often plays antagonists or villains (The Piano, Peaky Blinders), if not the literal Antichrist or some other Satanic avatar (Omen III, Event Horizon). Yet it’s also the character that seems to bear the most resemblance to the real Sam Neill, who, by all indications, is the very portrait of kindness and decency. Across both Twitter and Instagram, he’s cultivated a strong following with relentlessly wholesome content that never tips into saccharine territory.
Lots of it is photos and videos taken at his winery, Two Paddocks, in the Central Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island. You could say he’s got a kiwi-farmland spin on the Martha Stewart vibe… minus a felony conviction, of course.
Neill isn’t afraid to get political: He’s passionate about solving climate change, makes fun of the Brexit fiasco and voiced heartfelt support for Muslim community in the wake of the devastating Christchurch mosque shootings. Of everyone who debates these delicate subjects online, however, he is perhaps the only person who’s never been rude. He has the Zen-like tranquility of a man who knows what’s really important: good friends, good drink, animals and nature.
That he refused knighthood makes him sound more humble and centered still. And where the winery is concerned, he’s not hung up on banking a profit: “I’d like the vineyard to support me but I’m afraid it is the other way round,” he’s said. “It is a ridiculously time- and money-consuming business. I would not do it if it was not so satisfying and fun, and it gets me pissed [drunk] once in a while.”
The mistake you ought to avoid with Neill is dissing his domesticated critters — but then, too, he’s remarkably chill. This week, he tweeted images of an elderly horse and ram who are the best of companions, marveling at their friendship. Because the internet is a cesspool, someone insulted the pair’s ambling gaits, maybe implying that the animals weren’t adequately cared for. We don’t know for sure, as Neill firmly and politely told this troll to knock it off and quit being mean, at which point the offending tweet vanished, its author surely chastened by the awesome purity of this clapback.
With all the poisonous and destructive crosstalk on the web — some of which is directly my fault! — I can’t overstate the value of having a presence as gentle, soothing and sweet as Neill’s on the timeline. His accounts must be protected at all costs; anyone who comes for him will have to answer to me. And in the fairly improbable event that I meet the man himself, I am duty-bound to thank him profusely, not just for his many wonderful on-screen performances (everybody should watch The Dish, by the way), but for proving that an idol like Dr. Alan Grant needn’t be a mere Hollywood fiction. We all have the capacity for essential goodness… even if most of us couldn’t pull off that hat.