An Interview with Liam Neeson
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When you look back at the career of Liam Neeson, you will see that in most of the roles that he played, he either played the hunter, the hunted, or the man or voice of reason judging by films like “Suspect”, Michael Collins”, “Nell” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”. In his latest film, “Seraphim Falls”, Neeson played the hunter as he and some riders are chasing Pierce Brosnan through the wilderness and they are out for his blood. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Neeson talks about his character, working with Pierce Brosnan, and his upcoming role as Abe Lincoln.
Still doing Spielberg’s Abraham Lincoln?
Liam Neeson: We’re still going to do it.
Are you doing something instead now?
LN: A film for Luc Besson’s company, Taken, I believe. It used to be called Kidnapped. I start that the end of this month.
So you get to do both now?
LN: Yes, hopefully.
Was it difficult filming?
LN: It was pretty intense because we were finding light every day. Because we shot in New Mexico in the wintertime. The sun came up about eight o’clock, but it dropped like 4:15, literally dropped like a stone. There’s very little down time, sitting in trailers and all that. We had to be able to mount and dismount. If he started a scene on a particular set, he would finish his work then me and my posse would move into the same set and do our bit too. We had to be ready, having the horses ready. The physicality of it, I had nothing compared to what Pierce had to do. I was always wrapped in a big bearskin coat. If anything, I was always sweating too much.
You’ve had a lot of horse experience, what was the training here?
LN: We had fantastic wranglers. We did get a week, week and a half to be with our horse, that was going to be with us for the movie before we started shooting. It was a great seven-year-old horse called Spider; Cate Blanchette rode in a picture with Tommy Lee Jones. He was magnificent. He just made me look good. I’m a competent rider, but he made me look good.
Have you ever grappled with revenge and forgiveness?
LN: In these times…all the time, we live in such an age that seems to be the most important thing for individuals and countries. The reason I was attracted to this film was because it had an act of forgiveness in it. I find it very appealing.
Do you think he forgives him?
LN: It’s like the bible, love your neighbor. I always think, love? Do you forgive each other? You decide you have to accept each other’s differences and move on.
Is that forgiving?
LN: I think it is. I think so.
You told David you’ve waited sixteen years to do this part. What does that mean?
LN: I always wanted to do a western. I like the script, not least because it was very spare and sparse and elemental. It wasn’t cluttered with any complexities. It just had something very clean and elemental.
Is a western in today’s climate bucking the odds? Star Wars is a modern day western people would see.
LN: Because it deals with myth and mythology. You’re quite right, that’s what Stars Wars was all about, the western myth. Both Pierce and myself grew up avidly watching westerns, especially John Ford. He kind of invented the American western myth. I felt it was very much in my blood and indeed there were millions of my countrymen that came out here. Helped build the railroads and the canals, roped the cattle, shoot the buffalo, many of them were Irish. So I kind of felt it was in my blood.
Intense passion, hatred, a role you’ve never played before – Irish context, Pierce Brosnan, Angelica Huston, an interesting showdown in the desert, how did you approach that?
LN: Of course it was in the script, the discussions we had about it was how real is it. Are these men already dead? Is it a hallucinogenic, too long in the desert type thing? Or is she really a snake oil saleswoman? How she’s introduced in the film is more to deal with the heat of the day rather than a mirage type thing. My character has picked the gun and the bullet to resolve this awful crime that he feels has been committed. Did I put it in an Irish context? Yeah, sometimes in the bar at night we’d talk about the idea of revenge and how it destroys you. We’d talk about Captain Ahab and Moby Dick, blinkered people we know in life who will not change or adapt. Sure, we could endlessly talk about it, but from an acting point of view, at the end of the day, you have to act out the scene and try to make it as real as possible.
Did you keep your distance from Pierce outside of filming?
LN: We became good buddies. I think we’re good solid pros. We didn’t wear our method acting hats at all in this one. Did the day’s work and it was good to get back to the heat of the hotel.
Any close calls with the horses or the terrain?
LN: A couple of times there were, in our horse riding training, we went out with a couple of the stunt guys. We got the horses into a gallop. My stunt guy, Mark, his horse’s hoof went into a gopher hole. He and the horse tumbled over about six, seven times. We’re sure this man had hurt himself and that it was a bad omen for the film, but Mark got up, pulled these bits of cactus out of him and said, “I kind of enjoyed that”.
Having been in Les Miserables, would you have played the Gideon character?
LN: It never came up at all. They offered me Carver and I didn’t think I might be more right for the other part. I didn’t think of Jean Val Jean.
That you’d played such a character?
LN: No, it never crossed my mind at all. Just now exactly.
No clear cut heroes or villains, did you understand both characters motivations or did you look at your character?
LN: I kind of did. With this ongoing collaboration for Abraham Lincoln, I’ve read a lot of books on the Civil War and that whole period. The aftermath of 625,000 men killed, sometimes father against son, brother against brother, the scars that left on the nation. There were lots of leaders in the union, after the war, wanted revenge, wanted the south to suffer for this secession. Abraham Lincoln was extraordinary and said no. We have to build and heal the nations wounds. There was still an animosity. You can still feel it in the south nowadays towards the north. It’s still kind of seething in lots of ways. That’s a longwinded way, I did understand something of Pierce’s character. He has lost two sons in the battle of Antietem. I know the script doesn’t go into that, but it’s mentioned. There he is, this figure just running across the landscape. He’s never going to find solace to the guilt or hurt. My guy has had this atrocity happen.
If Carver had realized how destroyed Gideon was, would he have been hell bent on revenge?
LN: I think probably. He would have thought his torture is nothing compared to mine, having lost a wife and a child when the war is over.
We see Gideon upset at what happens in the fire, but Carver never sees that.
LN: No, but yet something like that comes across when we finally look into each other’s eyes. You just see pain, the hurt the pair of them has obviously gone through. It’s interesting, I’ve seen footage of vets going back to Vietnam and meeting former enemies, now old men. They may not have actually shot at each other, but they know they carry the weight of recognizing a former enemy that’s no longer an enemy. It’s absolutely magnificent and beautiful to see these men shaking hands and hugging.
What do you look for in scripts?
LN: Well, first and foremost it’s the script. That’s the foundation stone. Nowadays, I’m a married man with a family. I’ll think where’s the location going to be? Robert Mitchum famously would go through and say, “That’s a day off, that’s a day off”. I haven’t quite got to that stage yet. So it’s the script and, of course the director, and whether I’m right for it or not. At twenty-one you can do everything, at fifty, you know everything you can do. We don’t think it’s kind of a good fit.
Forty-seven days filming, no covered sets, no make-up, how did you work that out with the family?
LN: We had, over thanksgiving, we had three days off, so that was okay.
Did you want it to be released earlier for Oscar contention?
LN: Sometimes a small film like this, and I use small because it’s not a huge budget, there are so many pictures that come out, you know yourselves, this time of the year; sometimes movies can get lost. I think the release date is actually a good time because all the academy stuff has been settled. It’s all been done and dusted. For the moviegoer, I think there’s a certain freshness in the air; looking for what’s coming out next. I think it’s a good time actually, January, February.
What’d you think of the Oscar nominations? Is it Peter O’Toole’s year?
LN: I think that the film, to be honest, is slight. I wish there was more with he and my mother in law, Vanessa Redgrave, because that’s the relationship I wanted to see, three little scenes in it. But he is wonderful.
Did you congratulate Bill Condon?
LN: I did. It was a serious omission by the academy.
A real shocker…
LN: It’s a terrific film. I was at the premiere here to honor Bill. It was the first time an audience stood up and applauded halfway through the movie. It was just terrific.
Does it change the way you look at a movie you’ve done, when it’s in the middle of an Oscar sweepstakes?
LN: It’s sometimes surprising what gets picked up and rolled along. Other stuff doesn’t get mentioned somehow. It’s interesting, this morning, I thought Jack Nicholson had never been better. Everyone is saying he’s over the top. He was so dangerous playing that crazy guy. In fact he didn’t go over the top, I wish he’d done a bit more. I was stunned at his omission, but it doesn’t affect my remembrance of his performance.
Does advertising help, Oscar campaigns?
LN: I think they do, yeah. People buy into that. It’s part and parcel of the whole machine.
Are you planning to come back to the stage?
LN: I’d like to do something later on this year. I’ve been offered this David Mamet, Soleana (sp?). It hasn’t been done here.
Was it done in London?
LN: Yes, very successfully in 92…I think.
So you’ll do that in the fall?
LN: I’ve been offered it. When you’re married with kids, all the planets have to be aligned to go back on stage. I do miss it though.
Do your kids want to be in your movies?
LN: Thankfully no, they want to be rock stars and footballers. As long as they keep thinking that, I’ll totally happy.
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