When it comes to diversity, Liam Neeson rarely plays the same character more than once, whether he’s a former spy in search of his kidnapped daughter in the action thriller Taken, or as Alistair Little in the fact-based IRA-set drama Five Minutes of Heaven which premiered at the recent Sundance Film Festival.
It was there, ironically during the Presidential inauguration, that PAUL FISCHER spoke with Neeson.
Question: With Five Minutes of Heaven, this is not the first time you’ve gone into that Irish psyche. I was wondering, how important is it for you to remind yourself of your heritage, in taking up a film like this?
Neeson: Well, I have a chestful of scripts, all based on Northern Ireland and the troubles. I’ve consciously always avoided them, because since the Good Friday Peace Accord of 1998, which was brokered at extraordinary length, pain, we’re coming out to this amazingly peaceful era, so I wanted to investigate an aspect of that violence that I was surrounded by for many, many years in my life. but none of the scripts that I have ever really went into it. They were, like, thrillers. But this one evolved over a period of three years with the two protagonists and the writer. And it was just psychologically very, very involving.
Question: Was it the redemptive quality of the material that interested you?
Neeson: Maybe. Yes and the fact that these two men are still evolving, because of what happened. And they’re inextricably linked. They will probably never, ever sit in the same room with each other, but they have both acknowledged and are acknowledging something positive, because of their involvement in this film. Which is quite extraordinary, you know?
Question: Was it an easy film for you to do research on?
Neeson: I don’t want to use the word ” easy” or ” hard.” I’m a child of The Troubles. And it was an easy imaginative leap to make, in portraying this guy. I’ve known quite a few people involved in the war there, over the years. I know quite a few people who died because of it. So it was an easy leap to go into that persona.
Question: Growing up in that period, are you surprised, having been a child of that time, that peace did come to the region during your own formative years as an adult?
Neeson: Absolutely. I mean, there was a period where I thought, ” There’s no way out of this morass at all.” And now, you know, we have Mark McGuiness, who’s the Second Deputy Minister of Northern Ireland, who at one stage was very high up in the IRA, is now going over to Israel to talk about the road to peace with Palestinians and Jewish officials. I mean, this guy had a price on his head for many, many years. He was the kind of modern Michael Collins, and is now going over as a wonderful minister. Deputy Minister to talk about violence, and the way out, with Israelis and Palestinians. I mean, you’ve got to hold your head up high after that, you know? I’m very, very proud of what’s happened there. And what is happening there, still. There’s still a long way to go, you know?
Question: How do you see the future of the region?
Neeson: I personally think it’s the world’s best-kept secret, as regards to a place to go and visit, and invest in. It’s a fantastic place. It still needs a lot of infrastructure. I mean, there’s a lot of American money that’s going into – certainly Belfast, which is where we shot the film. I haven’t been working on Belfast since 1979. And to see the change in Belfast. There were, like, cranes – building cranes – all over the place. There’s a real vibrancy and energy.
Question: How would you describe your working experience on this movie?
Neeson: Fast and furious. I mean, the total shoot was almost 26 days, and I was on it for 20 days. So, we kind of started at that level, and continued on, you know? It was kind of like guerrilla filmmaking. I mean, it was fast and furious, shoot from the hip, so to speak.
Question: But that must be good for you, in a way because it kind of – you’re used to – I mean, if you do these Hollywood movies, and you have months and months and months. This way, you at least didn’t have that much time to think too much about what you were doing. I love shooting fast. You can keep an energy going, and a pace. Certainly Oliver did that with this piece, which I think was very important for the telling of it. There was a sense of urgency with it. And we shot it that way, too.
Question: You obviously juggle your career, in terms of going from something like this to something as different as Taken, which is miles away from this kind of movie.
Neeson: Oh, yes. Yeah.
Question: Is it important for you – and does mainstream Hollywood offer you the same kinds of opportunities as this kind of independent filmmaking?
Neeson: Well, I think as an artist, if I can use that term, it’s important to reinvent yourself and to push the edge of the envelope every now and again. I mean, certainly doing something like Taken, or some studio film – I mean, it’s always usually about the script, you know? It has to be. But I love to mix up the genres.
Question: You do quite a lot of action in Taken, don’t you? It’s a very physical piece.
Neeson: In Taken, I do, but that’s what I wanted to do. And it was – I don’t know if you saw it, but it’s a very basic little thriller, you know?
Question: Have you got that genre out of your system? Are you now looking for something different?
Neeson: Well, I’m not sure. It would depend on what the material might be, you know? I’ve been offered a few action movies since Taken’s come out. But we’ll see.
Question: What’s going on with Lincoln?
Neeson: It’s in the works. That’s what I know.
Question: Do you think Stephen will direct that?
Neeson: I know he will. I don’t know when it’s going to happen. This year – I mean, this is the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth.
Question: It would make sense, wouldn’t it?
Neeson: It would, wouldn’t it?
Question: [LAUGHTER] But you also return to the theatre a lot.
Neeson: I try to.
Question: Any plans?
Neeson: I don’t know, Paul. I did a little Beckett piece at Lincoln Center last summer. That was just for two weeks, which gave me a taste for going back again, you know? I think it’s – my background is theatre, and it’s important to practice. Utilize those muscles, you know? But it’s essentially been six years since I did The Crucible on Broadway, so I need to get back.
Question: What is your next film project?
Neeson: I am doing a film called Chloe, with Adam Egoyan, up in Toronto. Wonderful director.
Question: His stuff is very, very cerebral. Are you kind of looking forward to getting your teeth into something like that?
Neeson: Yeah. And he directed this little Beckett piece I did during the summer, so that’s why we got to meet each other.
Question: Well, that’s about as far from mainstream Hollywood as you can get, isn’t it?
Neeson: I know. And it’s with Julianne Moore, and Amanda Seyfried, the young girl from Mamma Mia. So it’s an interesting tale.
Question: Do you have a sense of who your character is?
Neeson: A husband, married to Julianne and we’re trying to solve our personal issues with each other.
Question: So it’s obviously not a wild and wacky comedy, then.
Neeson: No, no, no, it’s not. No. No.
Question: Are you after a wild and wacky comedy? I mean, you haven’t done one for a while. Love, Actually, I guess.
Neeson: Love, Actually, I guess seems to be a perennial favourite. But I don’t know if I’d be funny in a comedy.
Question: Is there a role or a genre that you have a burning desire to do?
Question: Or anything behind the cameras?
Neeson: No, definitely not. No.
Question: Really? Why?
Neeson: It’s never appealed to me. The good thing about acting is, you commit to a project, and two months, three months later, you’ve left it. You’re finished. If you’re directing something, you inevitably have to knock on doors to get the finance for it. And that can be a year, two years. And you have to shoot it, and then you have to be in the editing room for another year. It’s a big chunk out of your life, to be with your project. So. I like the gypsy quality of being an actor.
Question: Despite the fact that you have a family. You still live in New York, right?
Question: Why do you like the gypsy quality? Has there always been kind of a gypsy in your psyche, right from your young days?
Neeson: I guess. It’s in our national character. We’ve said about the Irish, the best export is its people. I’ve always had itchy feet from an early age, to get out and keep moving, and stuff. I try to do that. It’s wonderful to get the chance. Some of these films are – Tahiti for three months. Canada. And, you know – I’ve traveled all over the world.
Question: Are you as passionate about it now as you were when you started out?
Neeson: I’m still passionate about the little span of time between action and cut. Everything else around that gets – I have a short fuse with all that stuff now.
Question: The sitting around?
Neeson: Yeah. All that. And the promotion, too, to a certain extent. This – is never easy.
Question: Well, you handle it very well.
Neeson: Well, thanks, Paul. I mean, how bad can it be? You could be stuck in a factory, you know? It’s a small price to pay.
Question: Yeah. Well, especially for these kinds of movies.
Neeson: Yes. No, I know. That’s true.