Sam Neill Says ‘Peaky Blinders’ Rape Scene Was the Most ‘Horrible’ to Film
Sam Neill is reliving one of the “most difficult” scenes he’s ever had to film.
Neill portrayed Major Campbell in “Peaky Blinders,” who rapes Aunt Polly, played by late actress Helen McCrory. “Peaky Blinders” was created by showrunner Steven Knight, who is now set to write the latest “Star Wars” film and a “Vertigo” remake.
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“Easily the most difficult bed scene I’ve ever done was in ‘Peaky Blinders.’ My character, the hideous Major Campbell, rapes Aunt Polly, played by Helen McCrory. It is deeply disturbing, and I was anxious about how we would go,” Neill wrote in his upcoming memoir “Did I Ever Tell You This?”
Neill continued, “For one thing, this was acting out a situation, a crime, utterly beyond my imagination…By the time we shot this I knew [co-star] Helen very well. We found the same things funny, I respected her deeply, and I think she felt the same about me. We spent a whole morning shooting this horrible, horrible scene.”
Thankfully, Neill and McCrory’s real-life friendship helped ease the production for the rape scene, which was in Episode 5 of Season 2.
“As it turned out, we did very well indeed. The more hideous the behavior, the more hilarity,” Neill penned. “The worse I was, the more we laughed. The trust was there, which allowed us to go to the extremes. Helen McCrory was one of the greatest people I’ve ever worked with. A grand actress and a fine person.”
Neill addressed portraying “bad people” onscreen, including “Twin Peaks” among other TV appearances.
“I’ve never been afraid to play bad people. I think they’re fun. And, you know, every bad guy has his reasons. They’re damaged. Something happened to them,” Neill said. “When I had to play Major Campbell in ‘Peaky Blinders,’ I pictured him growing up as an only child in some grim rectory in Ulster, a small boy without a mother, beaten daily by a brutal man in a dog collar.”
The assault sequence also informed how Neill felt about the need for intimacy coordinators on set.
“These days, when it comes to bed scenes, and I’ve done a few, it is the accepted thing that production has someone called an intimacy counsellor on set. This is so that nobody feels uncomfortable,” Neill wrote.
The “Jurassic Park” actor added, “I’m sure I sound like the dinosaur I am but, after forty years plus of such things, I can put my hand over my heart and say I am confident that none of us, me and whoever else was in bed, has ever been uncomfortable in a bed scene. It’s just been a matter of behaving like a civilized human being, making sure that you’re friends, and getting through the day as best you can. They are the most awkward things to do but, you never know, they might even be fun; and I’ve had hilarious times where we’re both in stitches, crippled with laughter. I always make sure that the person I’m playing with is OK with the crew around, with what direction we are being given and so on. We collaborate. The whole business is mortifying for everybody, and the more you can take the curse off it with humor the better.”
Neill’s late “Peaky Blinders” co-star McCrory, who died in 2021, credited Neill for taking on such a challenging scene.
“He was very worried about doing it, very wobbly,” McCrory told the Belfast Telegraph in 2016, noting it is “much harder” to play a rapist than to play a victim. “It’s to do with culpability. Obviously it’s all pretend, but it’s much harder to play the bastard, the violent animal. No one’s looking at you going, ‘How could you allow yourself to be raped?’ Nobody allows themselves to be raped, but how do you allow yourself to rape? That’s the real question.”
McCrory added that playing a rapist onscreen could additionally affect a career: “People stare at you on the tube. They can’t remember why they want to batter you to death, but they just remember that they do.”
She stated in 2019 that women have approached her to share their own assault stories since the episode aired, saying, “That’s a huge responsibility, because viewers have watched these characters for a long time, so I’m very aware of that responsibility.”
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