Non-Stop - Liam Neeson interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
LIAM Neeson talks about some of the challenges of making Non-Stop, which reunites him with director Jaune Collet-Serra, and why he enjoys playing action roles.
He also discusses what makes a good action film and what makes a good real-life hero, reflects on his own worst flight experiences and discusses some of his future projects, including Taken 3 and A Million Ways To Die in The West.
Q. What do you like about working with Jaune Collet-Serra. You’ve worked together a third time since making Non-Stop, haven’t you?
Liam Neeson: We just wrapped a film before Christmas called Run All Night and we run… all night [laughs]. I love working with him because he really is a master storyteller with the camera and he always has the symphony of the whole film in his head and the arc that it’s going to go on. Whatever the set piece is, he always hones in on what the actor is doing, what the character might be thinking or might not be thinking… it’s always about that. He makes me feel very secure and very, very safe. Some directors are just obsessed with the background, and what’s happening behind the actor’s head… the pyrotechnics and effects. But Jaune always focuses on the actors.
Q. What was the challenge of making something that relies on such a lot of tension in such a confined space?
Liam Neeson: It was difficult for Jaune and the crew. It really was. We only had 40 days to do it in. For a film of this scale, it’s really nothing.
Q. What was your worst flying experience in real-life?
Liam Neeson: I did a UNICEF trip to South Africa where someone was sitting beside me who was violently sick through drink. I’m not even going to tell you what gender the person was. It was just so embarrassing. But the flight attendants were able to give them a sleeping sedative that actually worked. But most of the flight I was sitting like this [gestures moving towards the side, as far as he could reach]. I couldn’t move.
Q. Was it difficult having to smoke on this film? You’ve quit in real-life…
Liam Neeson: They were herbal. It would be too dangerous for me otherwise. I remember I did The A-Team and the main character smokes these cigars and I thought, well what I’ll do is introduce something into the script [to get around it]. And I told the director I was trying to stop smoking. Bradley Cooper even came up to me to give me a light and I said: “No, I’m trying to stop.” But [Joe] Carnahan didn’t f**king want that… not only that I got the prop guys to make me these prop cigars of various sizes. But Carnahan insisted that they be Cuban cigars and that I smoke them. I’ve been off cigarettes for 20 years but the first drag of that was like: “Oooohh. This is really good.” Cooper was trying to stop smoking too but he was asking me for the cigars after I had them. So, that was really dangerous. And yes, I did inhale these ones but there’s nothing in them.
Q. You’ve played a lot of great action heroes, so what’s the secret to making a really great action hero?
Liam Neeson: Well, I think you need a good script. It has to be plausible. The thing I admire about heroes, and I’m talking about real heroes, is someone that doesn’t know they’re capable of doing some act of bravery but does it and puts themselves in the line of fire, for example. But they didn’t plan it, it just happened, and they rose to the challenge. And they have to be flawed. I mean Oskar Schindler springs to mind because he was a second-rate businessman, a very shifty character, but he saved over 200 lives. So, story definitely, especially in a genre like this. Audiences are so savvy nowadays so you’ve got to keep two steps ahead.
Q. Are you surprised that you’ve become an action hero at your age?
Liam Neeson: Totally surprised. I was working comfortably and was doing fine but then I took myself off to France for three months to do this Taken film I was convinced was going straight to video and then Pierre Morel and Luc Besson made this thing. I remember seeing it and thinking it was a really kick-ass little thriller. And then Fox took it and made a huge success out of it. Anyway, it came out and it was very successful. At the box office, it opened at number three and then it went up to number two and then it moved down to three and then went back up to number one. It had this extraordinary life. And Hollywood started seeing me in a different light and started sending me a lot of action scripts. I love them, so long as my knees hold out.
Q. You’ve mentioned before that you started out as a boxer…
Liam Neeson: As a kid.
Q. But you said you didn’t have a killer instinct and yet now you’re playing killers all the time. Do you find that ironic? And how easy is it to tap into a killer instinct on film?
Liam Neeson: It’s a total irony. I can act the killer instinct. But I never had it as a boxer. I was competent. I won a few championships and stuff. But it was always back peddling with a good left jab. I was never a crowd-pleaser. But I think I can act it. I like doing it.
Q. Is Taken 3 happening?
Liam Neeson: Yeah, we’re going to shoot it this year. I said I would do it so long as nobody got taken and they assured me that’s not going to happen. And they’ve actually come up with a really cool storyline. I’ll get into it this year.
Q. Can you perhaps give us a sketch of what Run All Night is about?
Liam Neeson: It’s almost like a mythic Western. Two guys grow up together, who are Westies [this famous gang from the West Side of New York]. It’s Ed Harris and myself, who are the best of friends, and brothers almost. He’s the head of the organisation and I’m his hitman. I have a son that I’m estranged from. He has nothing to do with the business. He has a son who is involved and is a nasty piece of work, always trying to prove himself to his dad. I kill his son because he’s going to kill my son. I won’t go into the details of why. But I call Ed to say “I’ve just killed your boy”. And he says to me: “You know what has to happen now.” I say “sure” but add: “If I’m going down, you’re going down.” And so he comes after me and I try and avoid him and keep my kid safe. He’s played by Joel Kinnaman, who is the new Robocop. He’s a terrific actor. And that’s essentially it. We run all night! We just wrapped it up before Christmas.
Q. You’ve actually just made a Western with Seth MacFarlane A Million Ways To Die In The West. Can you give us a sketch of that?
Liam Neeson: It’s set in Santa Fe. It’s all the crazy things that can happen to you… how you could have died in the West. Films tend to romanticise it but he takes the piss out of it all.
Q. Is it joke after joke after joke?
Liam Neeson: It’s not joke after joke, it’s a wee bit more subtle. It’s that Family Guy sensibility in the Old West. I’m a gunslinger, a bad-ass guy, married to Charlize Theron, which isn’t too shabby [laughs].
Q. Were you a fan of Family Guy before doing it?
Liam Neeson: My kids kind of introduced me to it, yeah. I like it. I like the humour. Seth stars in this film, he wrote it and directed it and produced it. He’s a very smart guy.
Q. Did you watch Ted?
Liam Neeson: I did. I loved it. He said he’s going to put me in Ted 2 [laughs].
Q. You appeared in Anchorman 2…
Liam Neeson: Yeah. I haven’t seen it yet. But that was a fun day with all of those guys.
Non-Stop is released in UK cinemas on Friday, February 28, 2014