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Sam Neill: Ferocious sport of tennis looms large over 'Apples Never Fall' family

Sam Neill and Annette Bening star in "Apples Never Fall." Photo courtesy of Peacock
Sam Neill and Annette Bening star in "Apples Never Fall." Photo courtesy of Peacock

NEW YORK, March 11 (UPI) -- Sam Neill says his new mystery drama series, Apples Never Fall, explores the impact that competitive sports can have on marriage and family.

Premiering Thursday on Peacock, the adaptation of Liane Moriarty's best-selling novel follows married coaches Stan (Sam Neill) and Joy Delaney (Annette Bening) as they retire together and try to reconnect with their four adult children played by Jake Lacy, Alison Brie, Conor Merrigan-Turner and Essie Randles.

The family's lives are turned upside down, however, when Joy disappears shortly after a wounded young stranger arrives on her doorstep and becomes the focus of her attention and time.

"Pat Rafter, who is a friend of mine and an ex-Wimbledon champion, says one of the things you have to remember is that at every tennis tournament you have a 160 players, and 159 of those are losers," Neill, 76, told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

"It's a ferocious sport and it takes an enormous amount of willpower, which is really what Stan, my character is all about -- willpower and dominance to do well."

Sam Neill attends a photo call for Sweet Country at the Venice Film Festival in 2017. File Photo by Rune Hellestad/UPI
Sam Neill attends a photo call for Sweet Country at the Venice Film Festival in 2017. File Photo by Rune Hellestad/UPI

This means that, while Stan cares deeply about his kids, he doesn't always show them support and affection in the ways that they need him to.

"Stan has raised his kids to be great tennis players and to win and not every kid needs this, but they have all been treated the same and some of them are more damaged than others as a result of that," the Jurassic Park, The Tudors and Peaky Blinders actor said.

Annette Bening takes questions following a roast in her honor as she is named the Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Theatricals 2024 Woman of the Year in Cambridge, Mass., on February 6. File Photo by Amanda Sabga/UPI
Annette Bening takes questions following a roast in her honor as she is named the Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Theatricals 2024 Woman of the Year in Cambridge, Mass., on February 6. File Photo by Amanda Sabga/UPI

"While his family is not as functional as it might be, [Stan] is filled with love and, in the middle of all this, is this mystery that holds them altogether: Joy, my wife, disappears. What's happened to her?"

Naturally, as soon as Joy goes missing, the kids start pressing Stan for details about her whereabouts since he was the last one to see her.

Alison Brie attends the ESPY Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood in 2022. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Alison Brie attends the ESPY Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood in 2022. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI

They begin to suspect he knows more than he is letting on when he is initially evasive, and then caught in several lies.

"One of the things we know about Stan is that he is this ferocious alpha male capable of anything and right from the get-go people think Stan has something to do with this. Time will tell," Neill said.

Jake Lacy arrives on the red carpet at the "High Fidelity" New York premiere at The Metrograph in 2020. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Jake Lacy arrives on the red carpet at the "High Fidelity" New York premiere at The Metrograph in 2020. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

The actor noted that Apples was a challenging and rewarding project to act in because it blends action, drama and comedy.

"Stan's, obviously, a potentially dangerous man. Even though I don't find that alpha male behavior particularly endearing, he's very vulnerable and loves his family," Neill said.

"He's also ridiculous a lot of the time," he added. "I had a lot of fun playing with all those different elements. He's a complex, complex man."

The seven-part series also deflates the Delaneys' veneer of being a perfect family.

"They do seem like an atypically successful and happy family, but, of course, that is never the whole truth. There are a lot of things people don't know about each other, even after all of these years," Neill said.

"There's six people in the family. Each one has their own story to tell. Each chapter takes the name of one of those characters. While it is about the central [mystery], there are all these other stories that are very compelling in themselves."

The actor said the drama also offers important advice about two halves of a couple retiring at the same time.

"Never a good idea," he laughed.

"I think retirement is overrated and one of the reasons I'm still acting at my advanced age is that I love what I do and the idea of getting up in the morning and not knowing what to do apart from playing golf fills me with uncommon dread," added the actor, who confirmed last year he has been battling lymphoma since 2022.

"I love my job. I love acting and I never want it to end. Retirement? I cannot think of anything worse."