All aboard for Sam Neill's epic Pacific voyage
SAM Neill admits he's not qualified to host a historical documentary series, but he does come to the job with bucket loads of curiosity.
The award-winning actor spent a year tracing Captain James Cook's epic exploration of the Pacific Ocean, including Australia, for the History Channel series The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook.
"I grew up with a very Eurocentric view of all of this, so I was keen to explore the other side of this story and to listen to what the people had to say about Cook's arrival," he says.
"There's so much to learn. I'm not a historian or an expert in anything much, but I am very curious. It's the curiosity that propels the show as much as anything, and I hope that curiosity is infectious for the viewers."
Neill's aim on his grand adventure, which stretches as far south as New Zealand and as far north as Canada, is to uncover new stories behind old history.
Visiting the islands and lands where Cook went and meeting the descendants of the people Cook met, he explores the trials and triumphs, and disasters and delights that followed.
"I felt enormously privileged to be meeting people all around the Pacific who were so interesting and funny and had great stories to tell," he says.
"I'm really encouraged by the renewed interest in telling those stories that were not the officials ones we were given at school. People are much more interested in those indigenous stories than they were before. I find the story of Australia pre-European settlement to be absolutely astounding."
The series doesn't shy away from some of the more unsavoury and irreversible effects of Cook's voyage.
"I didn't realise the extent to which the whole idea of Cook polarised people in some places," Neill says. "He is loathed in some places and lionised in others. There's pain and grief. Cook's arrival here changed everything."
But his admiration for Cook and his pioneering voyages remains undiminished.
"We can't blame him for everything," he says.
"That extraordinary adventure is a fantastic, ripping boys-own yarn. It's history writ large and I found it very vivid and compelling.
"Cook, like all great leaders, was graced with very good luck. It was almost inevitable he would hit something on the Great Barrier Reef, as it was completely uncharted. They put this bandage of a sail on the hull, and when they got to beach the ship on the mainland they found the head of coral they hit was still stuck in that hole. I can't imagine a greater piece of good luck than that."
The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook premieres on Monday at 7.30pm on The History Channel.