Of all the films he’s made, Liam Neeson says “The Grey” might just be one of the more challenging.
The film, reuniting Neeson with his “A-Team” director Joe Carnahan, tells of a sharpshooter who fights to save himself from being eaten by wolves during a plane crash in the wilderness.
Naturally, shooting in such harsh conditions was no walk in the park.
“The first week it was minus 40”, Neeson recalls, “The scene where the airplane malfunctions and I have to sit up in the snow, that was my first day and I thought we were never going to finish this film. Camera’s were malfunctioning and equipment wasn’t’ working.
“All the things we took for granted like walking from here to there in snow this deep was a two hour workout every day. There was very little acting done. It was just, ‘I have to get to there.’ There’s no CGI in the film because of the weather. It’s all absolutely real, including the blizzard.”
Neeson, known for doing back-to-back films and pushing himself to the limit in movies like ”Batman Begins” and ”Star Wars Episode One : The Phantom Menace”, says he could get into the emotional mindset of the character but he sure as shit struggled with what the character had to do.
“The physical aspects were really, really tough. It took us half-an-hour in the morning to put the gear on; you have to wear layers and layers of stuff – like thermal underwear. I had five layers of clothes on”, the Irish actor says.
A sequence that takes place in an icy river, one that sees his character carried away with a current, was most worrying to film says Neeson.
“I was always concerned about the river sequence,” Neeson said, adding that luckily his stuntman did most of the sequence for him and he only had to jump in for a few close-up shots. Still, the amiable acting vet got to feel just how cold that water was.
“I saw this documentary of this crazy Brit a few years ago, one of those guys who swims the Antarctic from iceberg to iceberg … and his training in London started by standing under freezing cold showers for 10 minutes each morning, so I thought, I’ll do that,” he said.
Neeson says he tried it himself and got to about the seven-minute mark in the shower. He said it helped considerably with preparing him for the conditions on locations.
“Of course, I didn’t tell the other cast members,” he joked.
Speaking of, Neeson said he and his co-stars (including Frank Grillo, James Badge Dale and Dermot Mulroney) all grew very close during filming because of the accommodation situation.
“Because of the geography of where we were there were no individual trailers,” Neeson said. “We were sharing this Caterpillar vehicle that seats about 10 people. We were thrown in there and we just got along with each other. There were no egos. We were a bunch of guys and became very close friends. It was lovely. I never really experienced that before in 55 films.”
Neeson says two things drew him to “The Grey”, a movie that was originally set to star his “A-Team” co-star Bradley Cooper.
“It read like an 19th century epic poem, something like the Ancient Mariner,” he says, “It was a beautiful piece of writing. Also, every film I’ve seen recently, there’s always someone at a computer or on an iPhone. This movie doesn’t have a car, yes it has an airplane. It’s man versus man versus nature. I thought it was a throwback to Jeremiah Johnson with Robert Redford.”
The script, said Neeson, asks the big questions, like “What are we doing on this planet?,” Neeson said. “ I guess, the more you go into that, the more questions it seems to raise. It certainly does for me. There’s no definite answer. Certainly my guy experiences that and yet, towards the end of the film, he’s putting one foot in front of the next. To me, that’s a great symbol of hope.”
But more so, Neeson says he just loves doing these gritty action thrill-rides.
“They’re fun, they appeal to the little boy in me,” Neeson says. “The little period of time in between ‘action’ and ‘cut’ is still very special to me. … I’m so touched that complete strangers will send me a script, asking me to be in their film, it still bamboozles me.”
Among the scripts Neeson’s received and accepted of late, a sequel to the surprise action hit “Taken”.
“I’m doing Taken 2 at the moment”, Neeson says of his reunion with Luc Besson. “We were in Istanbul for two months before Christmas. We resume shooting again here in Los Angeles next week