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When Hollywood star Sam Neill received a letter from the Governor-General offering him the honour of a DCNZM, the actor admits he wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

It was only after a bit of research on the internet that Neill, 59, discovered the acronym's true meaning, and learned he was to become a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to acting.

It turns out to be pretty big cheese, Neill said from his home near Queenstown.

"I was surprised and very flattered. I don't think there's anything more satisfying than being recognised by one's own country. But also I'm always pleased to see the arts get a nod.

"We produce marvellous actors in this country and I felt pleased to be one of them. This is for them as much as anything."

Neill has won international acclaim and recognition for his performances, which first brought him fame as the lead actor in the 1977 feature film Sleeping Dogs.

His career now spans more than 60 productions, including the blockbuster Jurassic Park and the acclaimed The Piano in 1993, and Perfect Strangers in 2003.

He has also enjoyed commercial and critical success through his work as a film producer.

He co-founded the Queenstown firm Huntaway Films to develop and produce films and television programmes in collaboration with writers and film-makers from throughout New Zealand and Australia.

Neill's trophy cabinet boasts the Best Actor Award from the Australian Film Institute in 1988, an OBE for services to acting in 1991, and the Best Documentary Award of the New Zealand Film Institute in 1995.

But despite the glamour and accolades that have come throughout his career, Neill insisted New Zealand's third-to-top honour was top enough.

"I actually think this is as good as it gets and I couldn't be more delighted," he said. "It's the kind of thing you want to be able to go home and tell your Dad about, but unfortunately my Dad moved on about 12 years ago and he's no longer with us. So I will have to ring my old aunt."

Some confusion remained for Neill, however.

After discussing whether he would hang the insignia around his neck or pin it on his shirt, the proud New Zealander admitted he was still unsure exactly what his gong looked like. "We'll see when I get to Wellington," he said, laughing.