If you love the “Jurassic Park” franchise, chances are a lot of that has to do with Sam Neill and his portrayal of paleontologist Alan Grant.
In the first film, Grant is a somewhat grumpy scientist who is convinced by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to assess his newly designed theme park. Of course, all goes to hell, and Grant must help the survivors escape the dinosaur-overrun island. Neill returned for the third film, “Jurassic Park III,” this time getting conned by an estranged couple (played by William H. Macy and Téa Leoni) into looking for their missing son on the second island. Since then he’s been absent. Until now.
With “Jurassic World: Dominion,” Neill returns to the franchise as Grant, who along with his old pals Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) investigate a mystery connected to the dinosaurs from Jurassic World and team up with the newer group of characters (Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie) to save the dinos and, of course, defeat an evil corporation. You know, typical “Jurassic Park” stuff.
TheWrap chatted with Neill about what it was like returning to the franchise, what Judd Apatow’s Netflix movie “The Bubble” got wrong about the “Jurassic World: Dominion” production and whether he’ll make the final cut for “Thor: Love and Thunder.”
You haven’t been completely absent from the “Jurassic Park” franchise. You popped up in “Jurassic Park III.” What do you remember from that one?
I enjoyed it a lot. I know it’s had its critics, but I actually think it’s a good film. It finishes a little abruptly, a little conveniently, but other than that, it works pretty well. What I remember of it, Joe Johnston was a pleasure to work with, William Macy and Téa Leoni didn’t seem very happy to be along for the ride, but all the rest of us had a good time.
Was it the jungle? What were they grumpy about?
They were just grumpy.
When they approached you about “Jurassic World: Dominion,” did you have any inkling or was it completely out of the blue?
It was a surprise to me. I made it clear I wasn’t going to come in and do a cameo, they had to commit properly and do my character and the other legacy characters justice, and in that case I’d be happy to join forces.
Was your role already that big, or when you said that, did they go, “We’ll be right back,” and then they beefed it up?
I don’t quite know the history of that, but we were supposed to start in February, March, something like that. COVID happened in ’20, but I met Colin Trevorrow, I think it was October of 2019. I got a Lifetime Award at the Sitges Film Festival, which is devoted to fantasy, horror and sci-fi, and stuff like that. And Colin turned up for that and took me out for lunch and basically talked me into it. He was persuasive that all these characters would be central to what happens in the story, they’d have their own storylines and so on.
Was there anything in particular he said that swayed you?
Look, I liked him enormously, and also we had two bottles of wine. That helps.
Was this a character you’d thought about in the years since “Jurassic Park III” and were looking to return to?
I hadn’t thought of that at all, but once they started to think about it, then it became obvious to me that he wouldn’t have changed at all. He’s too old for that. And in fact, he’s become more and more entrenched, more and more crusty old geezer stuck in the desert because he doesn’t particularly like the modern world. He doesn’t approve of dinosaurs running around particularly, and he believes in science. And science for him is digging, it always has been, and finding the truth rather than manipulating genes and all this nonsense, you know?
What was it like reuniting with Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern? Had you guys kept up at all or was this a high school reunion scenario?
It was a bit of both. I mean, we’ve always been in touch off and on, particularly me and Laura. I’m devoted to Laura. She’s an absolute sweetheart and one of the warmest hearts on the planet. So the idea that we would have another four or five months together, and it turned out we were in survival mode again. We’d had to survive a f–king hurricane for god’s sake on the first one. That looked like a decent idea to us. If it was someone else, I might have hesitated, but they’re both such good company.
I got to know the others, of course, very well. Bryce and Pratt and so on. There was a really good bunch of people and we were very much isolated and we were sort of the canaries in the coal mine. They’d worked out these protocols to keep us safe as best they could and keep the crew COVID free. This is pre-immunization, so we were always on knife edge a bit. But they were very strenuous about how we went about things. And we got through it, and survivors always feel more bonded than people who haven’t been through anything at all.
Netflix made an entire movie based on the filming of “Jurassic World: Dominion.” Did you watch that?
I did. Look, I’m a big fan of Judd Apatow, but I think the one thing he missed was “The Bubble” is a film about bored people, and we weren’t bored. We were actually having the time of our lives. So, that’s an important distinction.
Please tell me that now there is a text chain between you and Goldblum and Dern just sharing memes or whatever.
All the time.
All the time.
Even if you’re screwing with me, I’m going to choose to believe it. Spielberg came back too as an executive producer on this one. Did you interface with him at all when signing back on?
No, more with Frank Marshall actually. I spoke with Frank, Steven’s partner in many things, and Frank was the more active of those ones in this one. I think Steven was very taken up with “West Side Story” and all that stuff, so we didn’t see Steven, and I’m sure he was being very careful about where he was going, and we were shooting principally in England, and Steven, of course, was in Los Angeles, so we would get things indirectly from Steven.
What did he send over?
He sent a note to Laura saying he was very touched to see us three together.
How has filming these movies changed over the years, in terms of technology and just practically getting it all down?
Well, I was anxious that all that care and attention that went into the other ones with these incredible moving dinosaurs that roar and eat you and so on, and immaculate concern about sets and so on. I had thought maybe they’ve abandoned that in favor of the dreaded green screen, but in fact it was actually very like filming the others. We had these fantastic creatures. I think they built 121 separate sets. And, as Hammond would say, we spared no expense. And that was gratifying.
It seemed like there were a lot of actual dinosaurs on set too.
Trust me, it’s way simpler to walk with something that moves and crunches rather than something that’s a tennis ball on the end of a stick.
Was Blue actually there?
Yeah, Blue was there. First and only time I met Blue. Alan Grant’s great hesitation about the Pratt character is that if anyone listened to Alan Grant he’d say, “Listen, you just don’t train creatures like this. That’s a really s–t idea. You just leave them alone, because you’re not to mess with the animals, for God’s sake.”
How was it working with Pratt and the new crew?
Well, look, I found Pratt absolutely delightful. It was interesting because I was studying him, I was studying what he does, and I had to work out what’s the difference between what Pratt does and what I do. And it was this, I mean, Pratt has worked out — and it really works — how to be an action hero. I mean, that’s another job, and it’s not something that I’d ever considered. I was just, in those Jurassic films, I was more ordinary bloke who finds himself in very difficult circumstances and has to deal with it as best he can. Whereas he’s worked out, for instance, physically dominating the dinosaur, he’s worked out this stuff. He’s worked out what you do. And I admire that, but it’s a whole different job description from anything I’ve done.
You are coming back to another franchise this summer with “Thor: Love and Thunder.” Can you tell us anything about that, or is Kevin Feige going to have us both murdered in our sleep?
Well, actually, I haven’t had the word from the marvelous Marvel Universe. But I can tell you with assurance that my character is not absolutely essential to the future of the survival of the universe. Does that help?
You’re saying you would not be surprised if you are, in fact, not in the movie?
I think I will be in the movie because I have alongside me Matt Damon, and they’re not going to drop Matt Damon.
Is this implying that you are the same character? Have you worked out your whole backstory for that character, by the way?
Yes, I have, but I have to get the word from Marvel as to whether my story is the same as theirs.
“Jurassic World: Dominion” leaves things pretty open-ended for the franchise. Are you down for showing up again, or is this your swan song in the franchise?
I would suspect that Alan Grant is actually officially over the hill, but I would say, I don’t know. This is all speculation, and I would say there could be an interesting future with DeWanda and Mamoudou and those characters. They look like they’ve got the mantle on their shoulders. You know what I’m saying? That would not surprise me, but I don’t know what their intentions are.
But I would say probably Alan, or almost certainly, Alan’s been put out to pasture. If by the end of the film he’s managed to score the love of his life, Ellie Sattler, then I would’ve thought his ambitions were a quiet life somewhere not so far from the Grand Tetons.
Harrison Ford just filmed another Indiana Jones, so I think you’re counting yourself out too early there.
All right, if you insist.