The sweeping six-part documentary series The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook features Sam Neill as he retraces the route taken 250 years ago, across the Southwest Pacific. In the series, Neill explores the cultures of the islands Cook visited and discusses Cook’s controversial legacy with the locals.
“I wanted to explore the Pacific and understand what Cook’s arrival meant to indigenous people and what it means for us today,” Neill told TV critics at TCA today about the Ovation series. “I took a year off acting basically and went on this adventure.”
Asked if he considers the explorer a “sympathetic” figure, Neill acknowledged he came away with more admiration than before, but also with much admiration for the indigenous people.
“This series is so much about first contact, and the disastrous effect it has had on the indigenous people,” he explained, calling the series a story about “regeneration” of culture and language that is happening now in the Pacific region after terrible destruction “particularly by missionaries.”
“This is me going around in little boats and airplanes and container vessels, all around the Pacific, and kind of exploring in the same way Cook did. But it’s a correction of the history I was taught,” he said, specifically the notion that “Cook discovered these places.”
“We can’t discover places that had already been found – that’s ridiculous,” the actor scolded.
In some areas, Cook and crew were initially thought by indigenous peoples to be ghosts, or spirits of their ancestors, having never set eyes on people so pale.
Neill, who still lives and farms in New Zealand, identifies as a man of the Pacific, rather than European.
Asked if this project was about him working through “midlife crisis” or some reaction to Hollywood, Neill responded amusedly, “I’ve got nothing against Los Angeles; I just don’t live here.”