ITVX’s The Twelve – Sam Neill Talks

ITVX's The Twelve - Sam Neill Talks

Australian courtroom drama The Twelve is now streaming on ITVX. In this riveting 10 part courtroom drama, twelve regular Australians are called to serve on the jury in the trial of a lady accused of murdering her teenage niece. These twelve seemingly average citizens each have their own stories to tell, hidden behind their masks of obscurity. Sam plays Criminal Defence lawyer Brett Colby, here he tells us what attracted him to the role, why he nearly became a lawyer himself and why it’s the perfect binge watch.

Who is Brett Colby and how would you sum him up as a character?
He’s old school and he’s been in the law profession for many years. He’s a very successful barrister and works assiduously for his clients, so he’s the sort of man you want on your side. I found him quite amusing and my characterisation is kind of based on two or three barristers I know who love the sound of their own voice and are very good at what they do. He’s a familiar figure if you’re in any way familiar with the courts system.

What did you most enjoy about playing him?
He loves to be a man who commands the room and that was fun to play. He’s very smart at cross-examination. One slip and you’re dead when he’s cross-examining you. He’s a clever man and I enjoyed playing such a clever chap who is loquacious and can put one word in front of another. I’ve played a lot of silent blokes over my career who don’t say much but Brett is a man who loves the English language.

Did you do any research into the law profession?
I’m not sure if I needed to really because I’m kind of a frustrated lawyer myself. At one stage I thought I’d like to be barrister when I was at university. I started doing a double degree. I did a BA in English and started an LLB in law but law is taught in an incredibly dull way. It sent me to sleep. It’s just learning cases by rote and why they teach it that way completely baffles me. Perhaps things have changed since then but God, it was dull fare so I stuck to what I knew – which was English and History and so on – and that’s why I ended up doing what I do instead of spending 50 years at the bar.

Did you know going in whether or not Kate Lawson [played by Kate Mulvany] is guilty?
I didn’t know, no, but then again that’s not Brett’s job. I don’t know if this is the right word but it’s a matter of indifference to defence lawyers as to whether their client is guilty or not. They have to do the best they possibly can in their client’s defence and knowing if they’re guilty or not probably hinders that. It’s better if they’re neutral because they’re simply there to advocate.

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Why do you think audiences love a courtroom drama?
That’s an interesting question but it’s possibly like submarine films. You’ve got a lot of people in a confined space and there’s a lot at stake. When it comes to drama that is also what’s happening in courtrooms. People’s lives and people’s futures are at stake. There are also themes of justice and fairness, which are things that really matter. Also, you’ll find all of humankind in a courtroom, from the basest criminal to the most high-minded judge. There’s a full spectrum if you walk into a courtroom, particularly when it’s a very dramatic case like this one.

What makes The Twelve unique among shows in the genre?
I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this before, where the lives of the jurors are as important to the plot as anything else. How those lives intersect with the future of the accused is a very important story and they all have very different, very diverse backgrounds. Some of them have very difficult lives, for one reason or another, so you have one drama happening in the courtroom and 12 other dramas happening in different houses all over the city.

Have you ever done jury duty yourself?
I’ve never been called up but of course millions of people are, so it’s something people need to think about. What would you do in these circumstances? How would you judge a person? And who are you to judge someone else? Those are interesting questions to ask yourself.

You must get offered lots of projects. What made you say yes to this one?
I found the story very intriguing. I know some of the rest of the cast and I think they’re very good. And I’d worked with a couple of the directors before and I like them a lot. So, I thought ‘Yeah, sounds good, I’ll do this’. I read three of the scripts and decided on the strength of those that I wanted to do it.

All episodes of the show will be available to watch on ITVX. How do you feel about it going out in the UK after all the praise and awards for it in Australia?
I think people will relate to it very strongly in the UK. The jury system is, of course, in its origin British, I believe, and they’re very fond of the jury system – if ‘fond’ is the right word – in Britain. There are all sorts of things in the story that are humanly relatable wherever you are in the world. It surprised me how big a response we got to it in Australia. People really loved it and that was very rewarding.

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Given the edge-of-the-seat storyline, it really lends itself to binge-watching, doesn’t it?
It does, yes. [Laughs] The funny thing is that it was on a platform called Binge in Australia but the episodes were released one week at a time. People were complaining to me, going ‘It’s called Binge but we can’t binge the show’. They were intrigued by what happens next and frustrated at having to wait to find out. I do think binge-ing is the way to go. Once you’re hooked on a series you really don’t want to have to wait another week for the next instalment.

You started out in television in the early 70s. How has the medium evolved since then?
Television has changed a lot. Long-form television like this, across ten hours, has become colossal really. At the same time – and I think this is something to be regretted – cinema has diminished a bit. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of money going into long-form drama. Covid, isolation, quarantine and those sort of things have highlighted how it works well for people. Bingeing television has become something that everybody does. It’s impossible to go out to dinner with friends now without them going ‘What have you been watching?’ It’s the common currency at the moment, isn’t it? You hear it much more than people asking ‘Have you seen any good movies lately?’

You’ve had such a long and varied career. Is it possible for you to pick a few highlights?
I’ve just finished my book Did I Ever Tell You This?, which is stories of my life, and as we speak I’m doing the audiobook version of it. It’s rather more work than I thought it would be. [Laughs] Every day I curse myself for having written at such length because there’s so much to do in terms of voicing it. Over two days I’ve read 100 pages and I’ve got around 300-and-something to go.

It’s given me an opportunity to look back on all my years in the business and while I suppose there have been highlights the main highlight for me is that I’ve actually had a career at all and that it has lasted so long. I made my first film more than 45 years ago and that’s a really long time. So that’s the highlight for me – that I’ve had a career and this bizarre longevity.

Is there a secret to having longevity in the acting business?
Staying alive is a good one. It also helps to have a good work ethic and trying to get on with people is another good thing. Don’t be the a****** on the set!

The Twelve is now streaming on ITVX.

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.