Sam Neill presented with 2019 Equity NZ Lifetime Achievement Award

Last night New Zealand actor, writer, producer, director and all-round good egg Sam Neill, received the 2019 Equity New Zealand Lifetime Achievement Award at an intimate ceremony at Auckland’s ASB Waterfront Theatre.

The Jurassic Park star was amongst friends, family and fellow actors during the laid back ceremony honouring his career highlights so far. The evening saw Hollywood royalty sending their congratulations with heartfelt messages from A-listers including Nicole Kidman, Susan Sarandon and Jane Campion. Fellow Kiwi stars Taika Waiti, Rhys Darby and Julian Dennison sent the most entertaining messages during a night filled with plenty of laughter – and inevitably a few watery eyes.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand
Jennifer Ward-Lealand and sheep

Opening the proceedings on the piano was 10-year-old Isaac Chan who demonstrated some of the great talent being nurtured here in Aotearoa. The evening was hosted by Equity president Jennifer Ward-Lealand who looked stunning in a black glitzy floor-length Liz Mitchell gown. Welcoming the audience in te reo Māori, she also gave a dedication to Nancy Brunning who sadly passed away on Sunday.

Ward-Lealand’s hosting duties included escorting some extra special guests onto the stage – namely Baxter the Pig and Kerry the sheep. For those not in the know, Sam owns a plethora of animals and has campaigned on environmental issues throughout his career.

Michael Hurst
Michael Hurst on stage as a Northern Irish Priest

There was a hilarious turn by Michael Hurst as a drunk Northern Irish priest which was later reviewed by Mr Neill himself as “Micheal Hurst. What the F**k?” and Tim Finn, alongside his kids Elliot and Harper, performed two numbers on stage dedicated to their good pal Sam. The final performance was from the Jubilation Choir with their special rendition of The Troggs’ Wild Thing,apparently a nod to Neill’s karaoke preferences.

Sam Neill receiving his 2019 Equity New Zealand Lifetime Achievement Award
Sam Neill receiving his 2019 Equity New Zealand Lifetime Achievement Award

The award was presented by a Ryman Healthcare representative David King, who noted the remaining sheep pellets on the stage before handing over the gong. An emotional Sam Neill accepted his award with lots of humour and gratitude. His passion for the arts was evident and proclaimed himself an “unabashed leftie”. He spoke fondly of the NZ arts community and of the need for more support for performers’ mental health. While only momentarily heckled by the sheep off stage, upon receiving what he told us was his third ‘lifetime‘ achievement award, Sam finished his speech with the quip, “if this really is terminal, it’s been nice to know you”.

The night rounded off with drinks, snacks and a few selfies (of me fangirling with the celebs). Congratulations Sam Neill for your Equity New Zealand Lifetime (so far) Achievement Award.

ingrid grenar sam neill
Ingrid Grenar and Sam Neill

The Equity Foundation and Equity New Zealand thank Ryman Healthcare for their support of this award.

Words by Ingrid Grenar.