Heâ€™s been acting in films for over 25 years and played all manner of men, (and beasts) but Irish actor Liam Neeson has continually been drawn to historical figures, â€œwho stand for something,â€ he says. Rob Roy (1995), Michael Collins (1996), Kinsey (2005 certainly fit the bill. Of course the one that put Neeson on the map, and earned him an Oscar nomination was Schindlerâ€™s List (1994). His latest film is a radical departure for the quietly spoken actor. In Taken, Neeson is part Terminator, part Jason Bourne, an ex Government operative or â€œpreventerâ€ who relentlessly (and ruthlessly) pursues an underworld group of kidnappers that have abducted his daughter (Lostâ€™s Maggie Grace). Gaynor Flynn spoke to the Irish actor about his new role, performing his own stunts and what itâ€™s like being an action man at 56.
What attracted you to this role?
I liked the idea of making a thriller that had good pace and aimed high on an emotional level. Above all, we see Bryan [his character] as a father who idolizes his daughter. But then, even though it’s never been a fantasy of mine to play an action hero, one gets a real kick out of shooting real movie baddies and driving like a racing car driver.
Whatâ€™s your process for choosing roles generally?
Iâ€™m always motivated by script. Thatâ€™s my soul criteria and its either something that gets under my skin or it doesnâ€™t to be honest. And with this script I just loved the action of it. I loved the fact that I was being asked to do it. Then I was 54 years of age then and I thought well you know in a few years time Iâ€™m never going to be asked to do this sort of stuff again.
Did you do anything particular to get into this guys headspace?
I have no real process. Iâ€™m just always motivated by required from me on a scene by scene basis and I trusted Pierre Morel my director and I just did it from there and just played each scene for what it was. Thatâ€™s basically it in a nutshell.
You sound like you keep it simple?
I think the more you kind of try to intellectualise the process the more you can fuck it up.
Did you empathise with your character at all?
I did to a degree. Iâ€™ve got two sons and it was easy to use an imaginative leap to figure out how I would feel if one of my children was taken. You soon come to the conclusion that you’d do anything in your power to save your child. I found this particularly interesting territory, because I’m traditionally against violence, especially the kind of violence Bryan (his character) resorts to. But it’s a case of â€˜them or meâ€™ and Bryan takes that situation to its logical conclusion.
You had to undergo some pretty rigorous training for this role. Can you talk about that?
I keep pretty fit, but I had to crank up the level and intensity of my training. I had to get together with a couple of guys in Paris and learn these different fight techniques known as parkour (a propulsive fighting style) which we had to keep doing it for weeks because there was so many complex fighting sequences. Every time I saw my wife she thought Iâ€™d been beaten up literally, and of course I had. But Pierre wanted me to do as much of the action myself as I could for authenticity sake. He didnâ€™t make me jump in front of a bus or off a bridge, but I think he thought about it.
Would you like to make more action films?
Iâ€™ve done a few what I could call cowboy in armour films and theyâ€™re always good fun. Its play acting with shields and spears and its like being a kid again.
You start filming Abraham Lincoln next year with Steven Spielberg, what can you tell us?
Steven asked me to play him four years ago, so Iâ€™ve been spending the past three years researching him. Heâ€™s someone I admire. He believed in the destiny of democracy. Thatâ€™s what drove him and so heâ€™s an extraordinarily complex man of course. These characters usually are, theyâ€™re not simple people.
What about the speculation that Lincoln was gay?
I think the evidence is flimsy. Thatâ€™s not to say that he wasnâ€™t gay, but itâ€™s not to say he was either.
The last time you collaborated with Spielberg you received an Oscar nomination. a) did you see that coming and b) do you think it could happen again here?
I didnâ€™t see it coming to be honest but I was very impressed with Schindlerâ€™s List. I thought it was incredibly strong and very timely too and I was very proud to be a part of it. Steven is one of a kind, and Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™ll be many more awards before heâ€™s done. As for me, Iâ€™m happy to go along for the ride.
What else have you been up to?
I just finished a little film in Ireland a few weeks ago. It was a film directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel who did a wonderful film called Downfall about Hitlerâ€™s last days in the bunker. Heâ€™s an Austrian and so we did that, itâ€™s a film about reconciliation between a protestant and a catholic based on a real story.
Next year besides Lincoln youâ€™ll also reprise your role of Aslan. Are you looking forward to that?
I am, very much so. Its funny because its like a tease because the kids are away filming for three or four months and then I come into a studio in New York for a few hours and yes Iâ€™m part of it but at the same time Iâ€™m not part of it and I mean I enjoy that sort of work but thereâ€™s a huge part of me that would have loved to have been on set with those kids you know.