Sam Neill is detailing the controversial making of “Possession.”
The cult classic 1981 divorce thriller was central to Neill’s upcoming memoir “Did I Ever Tell You This?” with the actor calling it “one of the best films I was lucky to be in.”
However, Neill noted, “This is by no means a universal view. Not many people have ever seen it and, of those who have, it is true that many loathe it. I myself regard it as a masterpiece, albeit a very flawed masterpiece. I am not alone in that view.”
Neill wrote that director Andrzej Żuławski was a “handsome, charismatic, and wild filmmaker” whose practices would not be condoned in modern cinema.
“I didn’t like him much; what he saw as direction often was just downright bullying. But he had vision, he was a true cineaste. And they are rare,” Neill penned. “Żuławski asked more of you than you could possibly give. There were times when he would scream, bellow at [co-star Isabelle Adjani] right in her face. It was distressing to see.”
Neill continued, “You thought you yourself couldn’t be crazier than you were, but you were mistaken. You needed to triple that. Nowadays I doubt you’d get away with it. But with Żuławski, you would do whatever it was he wanted. And although that makes me sound like a classic victim of abuse, which in a sense I think we were, it was more than that. We had complete belief in him as an artist, and we wanted to make this thing, whatever it was. We really wanted to be in This Thing. We were making something bigger than ourselves.”
“Possession” stars Neill as a husband whose wife (Adjani) decides to leave him amid her infidelity, but a surreal and sinister reason is behind her multiple affairs. Adjani won the Best Actress award at Cannes upon release but allegedly had a suicide attempt soon after.
Neill recently opened up about being forced by director Żuławski to actually slap Adjani.
“I said: ‘Look, Andrzej, I have to say no. I can’t do that. You can’t ask me to do that. I have never raised a hand to another human being and I have to say no. Please don’t ask me to. I’m not going to do it,’” Neill said. “Then Adjani came up to me. She said, ‘Sam, you have to do this. You must.’ I said, ‘Please, Isabelle, do not ask me.’ She said, ‘You must do it.’ So I had to do it. I have to say it was the most distressing thing I’ve ever had to do on film.”
The “In the Mouth of Madness” actor continued, “And there were casualties. Isabelle famously had a breakdown at the end of it.”
Neill added in 2021, “I call it the most extreme film I’ve ever made, in every possible respect, and he asked of us things I wouldn’t and couldn’t go to now. And I think I only just escaped that film with my sanity barely intact.”