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How Omagh's Sam Neill had to ask Jimmy and Liam for help to do an Northern Ireland accent

By Claire McNeilly

Published 29/09/2015

Actor Sam Neill, centre, with James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson
Actor Sam Neill, centre, with James Nesbitt and Liam Neeson
Sam Neill in Peaky Blinders

Hollywood star Sam Neill may hail from Northern Ireland, but he has just confessed to having a little difficulty mastering an Ulster accent for a recent TV drama - despite help from Liam Neeson and Jimmy Nesbitt.

The veteran actor, who was born in Omagh, has spent most of his career playing Americans, Englishmen or Australians.

But in the hit series Peaky Blinders he spoke with a Belfast accent that The Age newspaper described as "brutal".

"I'm not sure if the accent was meant to be purely Belfast but it was certainly Northern Irish," said the 68-year-old, who plays the morally corrupt Major Chester Campbell in the critically-acclaimed series about a family of gangsters from Birmingham.

"I'm sure if you're a native of Belfast you'd probably hate it, but I learned to love it because it's so flexible.

"The accent can be very harsh but it can be tender as well, and it's a very good tool to have."

Neill, a naturalised New Zealander, said Neeson and Nesbitt were a big help - although neither of them hail from Belfast.

"I had one session with Liam and one with Jimmy, who are good friends," said Neill, whose father, an Army officer, was stationed in Northern Ireland at the time of his birth in 1947. "Those two grew up only a few miles away from each other in Co Antrim, but they have entirely different accents.

"They were very useful and kind to me, and encouraging too, because despite my roots it's very daunting when you take on an accent like that."

Neill, whose family emigrated to New Zealand when he was seven, said he was reintroduced to Northern Ireland accents through television coverage of the Troubles, which gave a somewhat distorted view of his birthplace.

"We only really heard Northern Ireland voices after something dreadful had happened there, but Northern Ireland is as full of poets and lovers and beautiful people as anywhere else in the world," said Neill, who cites Tyrella Beach in Co Down as one of his favourite places.

Contracting whooping cough while living in Armagh, however, is not a fond memory of the old sod. Neill's interviewer at the Melbourne-based Age newspaper suggested that the actor's real-life accent retains some Ulster twang, even after 60 years away. "It has a luttle hunt of the fush and chups about it," he joked. The Jurassic Park star's next TV outing is in the four-part ITV drama Tutankhamun, which tells the story of the men who discovered the tomb of one of ancient Egypt forgotten pharaohs in the early 20th century.

Belfast Telegraph

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