Why he's lethal with T. Rexes, but not leading ladies.... could it have something to do with that ukulele?

By Liane Bonin
August 10, 2001 at 04:00 AM EDT
Sam Neill: Arik Gilboa/WireImage.com

On screen Sam Neill chopped off Holly Hunter’s thumb in ”The Piano,” outwitted Stalin in PBS’ sexy miniseries ”Reilly: The Ace of Spies,” and even played Satan himself (the adult Damien) in the third ”Omen” movie, ”The Final Conflict.” But none of that compares to being stalked by hungry dinosaurs — something he first experienced in 1993’s ”Jurassic Park.” Now he’s back on prehistoric turf with the top five hit ”Jurassic Park III.” EW.com talked with the New Zealand born Neill, 53, about playing a loser in love, his ukulele skills, and why he WON’T be in this year’s eagerly awaited ”Lord of the Rings.”

Dr. Alan Grant returns to raptor country against his will, and he’s pretty ticked off about it. Did you have anything to do with his rebirth as a cold, hard cynic?
Absolutely. The script was very much in flux when I came on board. I was never completely happy with how Grant turned out in the first one. So getting it right this time was part of the motivation in doing it. I thought he’d be a little more gnarly than in the previous film. The model in the back of my head was Lee Marvin in [1967’s] ”Point Blank,” a guy who’d been through the mill before.

Any truth to the unsettling rumor that you and your costars had ukulele jam sessions on the Hawaii set?
Well, Bill Macy is actually a very, very good ukulele player. And Alessandro Nivola and Trevor Morgan play guitar. So there’d be a bit of jamming going on. Bill plays better ukulele then me, which is irritating. I’ll see if I can do something about that. Either I’ll get better or I’ll just break his fingers.

Hate to say it, but you’re a four time loser with your leading ladies: The heroine dumps you for Robert Redford in ”The Horse Whisperer,” for Robert Downey Jr. in ”Restoration,” for Harvey Keitel in ”The Piano,” and finally for William Hurt in ”Until the End of the World.” What gives?
I’m the guy who gets dumped! I’m completely comfortable with that. I think it’s an honorable position to be in. I’m an actor free of ego, so possibly something that would disturb other actors doesn’t bother me a fig.