Liam Neeson talks Taken 2, action roles, Olivia Wilde and Ralph Fiennes
Interview by Rob Carnevale
AS PART of his press promotion for this summer’s Battleship, Liam Neeson completed a round table at which he discussed his new action man status, including Taken 2, and why he feels flattered to be offered such roles.
He also reflected on aspects of his career, including early life as a boxer, being mistaken for Ralph Fiennes on a couple of occasions and why he’s also getting back into shape for a new film with Olivia Wilde. Here’s some excerpts from that interview…
Q. You’ve done action movies and blockbusters almost back to back over the past four years. Obviously, it’s kind of rare to be cast in them at your age but Taken set that up. Is there a reason why you keep doing them?
Liam Neeson: Because I’m flattered and it appeals to the little boy in me that I can do that stuff.
Q. But this almost flies in the face of your previous persona as a serious actor…
Liam Neeson: But it’s great to be able to get the chance to do those and I love doing all that physical stuff. I did a lot of it in the first Taken and we just finished Taken 2 a few weeks ago, so I do a lot more.
Q. Is it a pain in the ass to keep in shape, though?
Liam Neeson: It’s not a pain in the ass but it gets harder to recuperate. I hurt my shoulder on the first one and it came back to haunt me on the second one. But I keep in fairly good shape.
Q. So, how long did it take to recuperate after something like The Grey?
Liam Neeson: Oh my God that was a tough shoot. But do you know what I did? Or what my trick was? I remember reading about some crazy Brit, who lives in Pimlico, or somewhere like that, who goes off to Antarctica, I think, and swims between icebergs. He holds some phenomenal records. But how he started training his body was in his flat in Pimlico by standing under a cold shower. He would get up to 20 minutes and then he would go swimming. So, I would have a freezing cold shower back home and got up to six minutes every day. It really helped. I never got sick. Your immune system kicks in under cold water. And it’s supposed to be really good for longevity, by the way. So, that’s what I did in preparation for The Grey and it really, really worked. We had to go into these freezing rivers and stuff but it was worth doing. I did it for about two months. I started off with five seconds and thought: “F**k, this is terrible!” But then gradually you build up and it does work.
Q. You were a boxer as a young man and a youth champion, so why didn’t you decide to pursue that as a career?
Liam Neeson: Well, you’re touching on a very sensitive… by the age of 15 I discovered that I was competent but I wasn’t really cut out to be a professional. It wouldn’t have worked. I just didn’t have the killer instinct at all. I loved to train and stuff but I just wasn’t cut out for it. It was a life lesson.
Q. What kind of doctor’s fixed your nose? You haven’t got an Owen Wilson nose…
Liam Neeson: Well, it was in the ring and my trainer just put it back in place again with just a little click. The next morning I looked as if I’d gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson, it was terrible. But he fixed it… or sort of fixed it. I still have trouble breathing sometimes.
Q. So, when your agent calls you and offers you this kind of thing, what’s your consideration?
Liam Neeson: It’s always script. I love writers. It has to be about the material. For example with Taken 2, if it’s repetition for the sake of repetition, then to hell with that but there’s enough interest in this sequel, certainly between Maggie [Grace], the girl who plays my daughter, and Famke [Janssen], who plays my wife, to engage your acting chops.
Q. You’re also doing more sequels, such as Wrath of the Titans. Does there have to be insurance that you’re always doing something different?
Liam Neeson: Sure, for example with Wrath of the Titans we wanted the writers to expand the Gods a little bit more and give us more to do than the first one. In that one, we’re all a bit God-like and stiff. But with this Greek mythology, there’s a wealth of stories concerning the petty jealousies between these Gods and stuff, so the writers did bring that out a bit more in this second one. I liked that very much and Ralph Fiennes liked it very much. He’s a very, very dear close friend of mine, so it was great to get the chance to do more together.
Q. Do you still want an Oscar?
Liam Neeson: Do I want the Oscar? I’ve never been asked that before. It’s funny… a lot of people think I won it for Schindler’s List. I used to correct them but now I just say: “Thank you.”
Q. Recently, Robert Redford has revealed he was approached in a restaurant by a woman who said she’d seen all of his movies and loved his salad dressing. Has that kind of thing ever happened to you?
Liam Neeson: I get mistaken for my pal Ralph Fiennes. I’ve been congratulated for my Hamlet on Broadway 14 years ago. I fly fish and I was once down in Patagonia, Argentina, about five years ago, and this woman came up and said: “Oh my God, Red Dragon! You were fantastic in that!” I didn’t want to say ‘it’s not me’, so I said: “Thanks very much.”
And then, once, my wife and I were walking through the Plaza Athenee, this beautiful hotel in Paris, and this elderly couple got up and said: “Excuse me, my husband and I are visiting from America. It’s my husband and his best friend, they’re going up to the Normandy beaches, and they haven’t been there since the invasion.” So, we’re standing there, talking to them and reflecting on how it’s going to be an emotional trip. I mean, what do you say? These two elderly men and their two wives… but the lady grabbed one of these beautiful tea service menus and said: “Would you mind signing this for us?” I said: “It would be my absolute pleasure.” And as I’m about to sign it, she said: “We absolutely adored The English Patient.” So [raises eyes] I signed it ‘with love, Ralph Fiennes’. I could not burst their bubble.
Q. What kind of role would you still like the chance to play?
Liam Neeson: I don’t really have one. I made a western a few years ago with Pierce Brosnan [Seraphim Falls] and I’d love to do another Western in New Mexico or somewhere like that, which is where we shot that particular one. It’s great to be on horse-back. We just giggled all the time, every time we looked at each other, we just started giggling. It was like being schoolboys.
Q. What’s the most fun you’ve had on a set in terms of camaraderie?
Liam Neeson: The Grey was very, very special for all of us. We actually did become a band of brothers and we became very fond of each other. For that one, we were staying in these grotty little motels and it was harsh conditions, but we formed wonderful friendships with each other. There were no trailers to hang out in because the conditions meant you were all thrown together in a caterpillar kind of thing. We shot that this time last year and I never thought at my age you’d make new friends. There comes a period in your life where you know who your friends are and that’s it. But with these guys, we became really, really good friends. We still call each other up and stuff.
Q. Do you like New York life?
Liam Neeson: I don’t honestly engage in the city perhaps the way I should. I don’t go to Broadway shows as much as I should and I live 10 minutes away from Broadway. But I’m in Central Park every day. I do an eight-mile power walk every day there and I have friends I see.
Q. What does an average day look like for you when you’re not shooting? Is it cold showers, running in Central Park, weights?
Liam Neeson: I don’t run. My body hates running. It depends if I have to take my shirt off. I’m doing a movie in September just for four weeks with Olivia Wilde and we have some serious love-making to do so I’d better start with the push-ups again.
Q. Which film is that?
Liam Neeson: I’m sorry, I can’t remember the title of it [Third Person] but it’s directed by Paul Haggis. It’s a really, really interesting script. I think Jude Law is going to do it, Olivia and myself. It’s a small film. It’s a really, really interesting part and I get to go to bed with Olivia Wilde! It’s about love and a writer trying to get over a tragic death that he emotionally tries to access through the characters that he writes about. He imagines their reaction and how they would react to this tragic death, which was a kid drowning in a swimming pool that he feels he was responsible for.
Q. What about your sons? Will they follow you into acting?
Liam Neeson: My eldest boy thinks he does. He’s showing signs. But I don’t know. I’m not trying to discourage him but at the same time I’m not trying to encourage him too much.
Liam Neeson: For every success, there’s 10,000 or 5,000 actors that aren’t. And it’s all about rejection. They don’t reject you because your college degree wasn’t good enough or your education, they reject you because of this [points to his face and his body]… you’re too tall, you’re too Irish, your nose is too broken, whatever.
Q. So, how did you deal with rejection in those early days?
Liam Neeson: I didn’t care and I was dumb enough to just keep coming forward.
Q. Did you ever get insulted at any time?
Liam Neeson: I remember going into an audition for The Princess Bride. The casting director had put me up for Fezzik, the role that Andre The Giant played, and I remember walking into the room with the director [Rob Reiner]… I forget his name. He’s made a lot of movies. But he turned to his casting director and said: “Oh come on! I want a giant! He’s not a giant! He’s a tall guy!” he didn’t say ‘hello’ or anything. I thought ‘oh… sod it’.
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