In reality, Liam Neeson might not be able to traverse entire continents, defeating bloodthirsty militias with his bare hands in an effort to rescue members of the Lost cast. We’re not saying he definitely can’t, we’re just open to the idea that skills like these are limited to his onscreen adventures. Nonetheless, the man is quite a presence. Sauntering slowly into a hotel room in midtown Manhattan to offer interviews about the forthcoming Taken 2, Neeson carried with him an effortless intimidation — I knew, logically, that he wasn’t there to exact revenge on any of us… but it still didn’t seem like a great idea to cross him.
But hulking stature and deliberate speech patterns aside, Neeson took time to prove that he’s just your average guy: a fan of Ricky Gervais, afraid of roller coasters, and close friends with a Special Operatives agent who exacts top secret missions all over the world. An average guy.
“There’s a gentleman I worked with a few years ago who is a Special Operatives soldier,” Neeson began, citing the man in question to illustrate the authenticity of his Taken character, “He works for various governments. And he’s a pal. I see him for a week, and then he disappears. I’ll see him in three weeks’ time, and he’s got a bullet wound in his side or something on his shoulder. And he’s been jettisoned into Afghanistan or Pakistan for four days to do some mission. And then he comes back out again. He doesn’t tell me details, obviously, because it’s secret stuff he’s doing. But he’s quite extraordinary.”
“If he walked into this room now, you wouldn’t notice him,” Neeson continued. “He’s just a regular guy. But he has this particular set of skills. And he’s been using them in various countries for years, for various governments. He’s walked through airports with suitcases filled with hardware — he shows a card and he has carte blanche.”
And as Neeson, 60, explained, the training undertaken by men like his friend is similar to the stuff you’ll see Bryan Mills do onscreen in the upcoming sequel to the 2008 action-thriller. “I know it sounds crazy, doesn’t it? When I first read the script, I thought, ‘Oh, come on.’” But through research, the actor came to recognize the authenticity in Mills’ abilities. “They’re based on stuff these guys learn. Obviously, because it’s a dramatic movie, for entertainment it’s somewhat heightened. But they are actually based on stuff they do — these Special Forces. Take them out somewhere, blindfold them, say, ‘Be back in two hours. You’ve got two hours to find your way back.’”
Even shooting a fictional movie about agents like these poses dangers. “I do my own fights, [but] I don’t do my own stunts,” Neeson explained. “Our stunt coordinator, Alain Figlarz, is an ex-French Special Forces soldier. Close hand-to-hand combat stuff.” The actor went on to highlight the lengths braved to film Taken 2’s high-stakes car chase scene: “They have these things called top riders, I think. You have these amazing French drivers sitting on the roof of the car with a steering mechanism, who is actually driving the car. So you’re in, driving — in this case, Maggie [Grace] was driving — there’s no CGI. You’re barreling up these streets. This amazing stunt driver on the roof of the car is actually doing the work. But it’s terrifying.”
That isn’t a particular area of the action that Neeson is likely to explore anytime soon — the man is no fan of heights. “I get dizzy on a thick carpet, for a start. That’s my way of introducing the fact that I hate roller coaster rides,” he began. “My kids have begged me over the years when we’re at roller coaster rides, ‘Dad, please come with me on this.’ Of course, as a father, you think, ‘Yeah, of course I will, son.’ No. ‘I love you to death, but there’s no way I’m getting on that f***ing ride.’”
It’s this type of vicarious thrill — the desire to live through people who can do things the rest of us can’t — that makes the original movie so irresistible. Even Neeson himself can’t resist watching it whenever he catches it on TV: “I do love the compactness of it. I’ve checked it myself a couple of times [on television], and I’ve found it’s suddenly a half-an-hour later. I’m into it … A great beginning, a fantastic middle, and a very pleasurable end.”
And he’s not alone: from the United States, to Ireland (where Neeson recounted that his own nephews downloaded the movie before it even hit national theaters), to South Korea, Taken proved itself a worldwide sensation.
“I had just come back from South Korea,” Neeson recollected, “where the first one did amazing. I felt like one of The Beatles, to be honest with you.” Of course, America had a similar attitude toward the movie: “It was Number 1, then it slipped to Number 2. Then it went to Number 3. Then it went up to Number 2 again. It was hovering all over the place for a while. Just a good word of mouth, I guess.”
But despite its success, Neeson wasn’t initially sold on the idea of a Taken sequel. “When Luc Bassonapproached me [with the idea of a sequel] — this was a few years ago — I thought, ‘Come on, Luc. You can’t. What can you do?’ And he said, ‘Leave it with us. We’re thinking up something.’”
And eventually, Basson and cowriter Robert Mark Kamen developed a story that encouraged Neeson. “My character kills 27 of these Albanians in the first one. All of these bad guys. But these guys are human beings who have families, and uncles, and fathers. It’s great to start a movie with a burial. The wonderful Rade [Serbedzija], a Croatian actor, in the dirt as this grieving father whose son died horribly at my hands. It’s a wonderful kickoff to a movie.”
One of the biggest perks for Neeson in the making of Taken 2 was the opportunity to visit Istanbul. “‘That’s certainly one city I’d love to see,’” the actor remembers thinking during Basson’s original pitch. “I’ve read so much about Constantinople, as it used to be, from when I was doing Ridley Scott’sKingdom of Heaven. It is the gateway from the West to the East. So many generations of conquests. And you see it in the streets. You see foundation stones that were … by generations thousands of years ago.”
Neeson affectionately recalled the city’s perpetual buzz — even while Taken 2’s cast and crew were filming, Istanbul remained alive and at work: “All those car scenes we were doing, those car chases… yes, we had a police presence, but the shopkeepers and merchants of these tiny narrow streets said, ‘You shoot your film, but we’re keeping our shops open.’” That’s not acting in the backgrounds of the movie — that’s just day-to-day Turkey. “You’d see customers crossing streets the whole time. They weren’t extras. And we’re barreling over these streets in these vans at reckless streets. They were wonderful! They were very happy we were shooting in the streets. But [they were] keeping [their] shops open.”
There was a good deal of secrecy surrounding Taken 2 during the film’s production, which Neeson affirmed is “just to satisfy the fans.” The actor stated, “There’s so much publicity now with movies, and with trailers. And you think, ‘Well, I’ve seen the whole movie now.’” But as little information was leaked about the Taken sequel, it doesn’t compare to how closed-mouth Christopher Nolan was about this summer’s hit The Dark Knight Rises, in which Neeson revisited his character of R’as a Ghul.
“[Nolan] takes it to another extreme — I didn’t know I was in the movie,” Neeson said. “I went and shot a scene for two hours with Christian Bale. There was a set, and Christian was tied up.” Neeson then shared a conversation he had with director Nolan on set, doing his best impression of the filmmaker: “I said, ‘Chris, what am I doing?’ [As Nolan:] ‘Um… well, just walk forward, and say the lines, walk back, and that’ll be it, really.’ I said, ‘What the f***? Tell me the story!’ [As Nolan:] ‘Um… I’d prefer not to, really.’ Okay, don’t mind me — I’m just an actor.”
That’s not to say that Neeson hasn’t enjoyed shooting the Batman movies — he fondly recalled filming Batman Begins, making especial note of his subarctic fight scene with Bale. “I love the fight I have with Christian in Batman Begins, because we were actually on this glacier, this real glacier, in Iceland.” If that doesn’t sound safe to you, well… it probably wasn’t. “We had these glacier wranglers, believe it or not. So when we went on fighting with a reduced crew, the glacier wranglers would say, ‘Okay, everybody off.’ So we’d all stand to the side of this beautiful, big blue glacier, and this ice. You’d hear this sound of nature just moving as this thing moved, maybe a quarter of an inch. The ice kind of went ‘Rrrrr!’ And then it all stopped, and the guy would say, ‘Okay, you can go on again.’ [I thought,] ‘What are we doing here?’”
As far as projects beyond Taken 2 go, Neeson has a couple set up for the near future: “I’m going to do a Paul Haggis film next month,” Neeson said, referring to the developing project Third Person. “Just for a week. And then I start a Jaume Collet-Serra thriller [Non-Stop] up until Christmas. And then after Christmas, I go back to the Paul Haggis film for a final two weeks.”
But what about Neeson’s future in comedy? Following the actor’s remarkably hilarious (albeit highly inappropriate) appearance opposite Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant on the pair’s HBO series Life’s Too Short, Neeson fielded questions about his interest in manning a comedy film, which he’d be interested in “if Ricky and Stephen wrote something.” He affirmed that it was a great experience shooting the scene: “I didn’t change one semicolon in that script. That was all their writing … It was fun doing that with those guys. I am a terrible corpser. If you don’t know what ‘corpser’ means, it means you laugh a lot. But shooting this thing, they were laughing more than I was, which gave me confidence.”
So while Neeson might not have any definitive plans to bring his comedic talents to the big screen, he at least has two new dramas in production — plus the Taken sequel, which hits theaters on Friday. But is there any room for a Taken 3 in Neeson’s future? “I think this is the end,” the actor said confidently. “I mean, how many times can she be taken? It’s bad parenthood, really.”
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]