Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker Talk Taken 3

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Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker Talk Taken 3
Posted by Brad Balfour

January 9, 2015

Taken 3 poster 2

What makes the Taken series all the more remarkable — other than the 50-something ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills’ many fighting skills displayed in pursuit of saving his family and self — is that creator Luc Besson once again has another surprising hit action series.

From Transporter to Taxi, the French producer/director/writer has displayed a uncanny instinct in making action thrillers that find passionate audiences. Besson successfully comes up with the right hook, draws on his pool of able directors and then casts the best people to play his characters.

For the first Taken, he enlisted veteran Irish actor Liam Neeson to play the lead. Former athlete Neeson perfectly suited his character, an experienced but world-weary Special Ops guy who seemed well past his time.

Once again, Mills must step out of retirement to react to another assault on his family, or rather on himself, when he’s set-up as the murderer of his ex-wife Lenore “Lenny” Mills (Famke Janssen). Pursued both by the Los Angeles police — headed by Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker) — and a team of Russian hitmen, Mills again draws on his particular skillset to figure out who was the true killer and clear himself.

Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker

Helmed by the still-svelte 6’5″ Neeson — with Janssen and Maggie Grace (as daughter Kim) again on board, this edition brings in the 6’2″ Whitaker as both a sort of adversary, and ultimately, ally in killing off the bad guys and getting to the truth of the tale. Taken 3 offers familiar characters making familiar moves yet it pulses with action — and is never tired or boring.

Both Neeson and Whitaker have been award-worthy actors noted more for their skills with developing a character than throwing a punch. The 62-year-old Neeson has been nominated for acting Oscars (Schindler’s List and Kinsey) and the 53-year-old Whitaker has won one for The Last King of Scotland. Yet, here they are, the point men providing an unrelenting drive to the action.

This brisk one-on-two interview was conducted at the Essex House Hotel shortly before the film’s release.

Taken 3 pic 4 - Liam Neeson

You both show a confidence in your characters in this film, but also seem wary of making a critical mistake — showing that balance between being confident in your skills and instincts, yet not so much so that your characters make inadvertent mistakes, takes real skills as an actor. How do you get that balance?

Liam Neeson: I think that’s [director] Olivier [Megaton]’s and the editor’s job [Audrey Simonaud and Nicolas Trembasiewicz]. We both knew when we read the script that there’s definitely a cat and mouse thing happening here. My guy has met a very intelligent equal — in fact, he is more intelligent. I think Olivier cast it well. When I read the script I knew they needed a heavyweight actor and I was thrilled when they got Forest.

Taken 3 pic 9 - Forest Whiatker

Forest, how do you get that balance where you’re both confident but unsure?

Forest Whitaker: You have to be inquisitive, get new information in, but try not to overlook or overstep yourself.

How did you get that down to a science with the fight scenes? Did you ever ask for pointers?

LN: I don’t know if it’s a science. I’ve got a great fight coordinator, and Mark Vanselow, who’s been my stunt double for the 16 movies we’ve done together. Alain Figlarz, who’s the [film’s] fight director is an ex-Israeli Special Forces agent — and a very cool guy. They bring a lot to the table. They choreograph it, they come up with it.

I will say to Mark sometimes, “I don’t know if I can pull this move off, how about we change it from three moves to one?” We work it out [and do what’s expected of me].

Taken 3 pic 3 - Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker

Forest, were you ever amazed at seeing what he does?

FW: I loved the fighting sequences that he does, they’re really on point. I didn’t realize on the page the magnitude of some of the moves he does, like the elevator shaft, the truck going down the freeway. I didn’t imagine it completely, but I knew we were on some kind of intense action ride.

There are some dramatic car chases here. You both have some intense moments — what tricks did you learn in doing these car chases?

FW: Yeah, but he’s got the fast car.

Taken 3 pic 8 - Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace

I hope you didn’t pick up some bad habits that you’re going to use on the road, but tell me, did you learn anything?

LN: You know what the trick is? It’s called a top rider. They get a crazy little French guy — I’ve done about three movies with him — he’s actually driving the car. He’s on top with a steering rig, but I’m behind the wheel and he moves it. You just have to act.

But it’s scary because you’re in the driver’s seat and you just have to trust this guy and all these cars are coming at you, particularly in Taken 3, because you’re driving down the wrong side of the highway.

It’s fucking scary no matter how many times you do it. Things can happen. But this guy is a master.

Forest Whitaker, Olivier Megaton and Liam Neeson

What about you, Forest? I don’t know the depth of your car chase experience.

FW: I didn’t have to do much. I think the greatest thing is going in reverse as fast as you can to keep that lined up, and I learned that a long time ago. When I don’t want to go a certain direction, I just need to look where I’m going. If I’m going to a pole, look at the pole. I didn’t do much, I did a different kind of thing.

Are there any funny anecdotes that come from the experience making such an intense film?

LN: That’s always a question I’m asked…

Let’s put it this way: Olivier, his preparation for these movies is phenomenal, and his crews. He’s under constraint of time. He has freeway sequences, the freeway is open for four hours, then it has to be opened to the public. There’s a lot of constraints on him.

However, given all that, there’s a lightness on set. Otherwise people get tense and accidents happen. There’s a lovely confidence that he shows, but doesn’t show it off, and there’s a lightness in in all the scenes we did. There are some very heavy scenes, and some action scenes of course, but he just keeps a nice balance.

Taken 3 pic 1 - Liam Neeson

Did you ever laugh? I can see a little wrinkle in your eyes from time to time…

FW: Like you said, it’s a fun experience. Trying to keep up with the camera when you’re racing down these halls was pretty intense and you’d be surprised how fast these things can go.

LN: There’s a special kind of camera operator for that. I worked with them the first time in Turkey, doing Taken 2. My first day was running around a rooftop and he was the Steadicam operator and he was running backwards and I couldn’t keep up with him.

When I interviewed you both before, it was for historical films — in Liam’s case, Kinsey, and Forest for The Last King of Scotland. But this film is pretty unhistorical. Does that then engage a different sort of process to making these two kinds of films, or is it pretty much the same either way?

Famke Janssen, Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace and Forest Whitaker

LN: I think if you do a historical film there is a responsibility there. And the more well known a person is to the general public, the stronger that responsibility is to get mannerisms right or a tone of voice. But other than that, it’s acting.

FW: Every character has its own performance, different things you have to learn, different source material. This one has its own things in it. Maybe it’s about being more physical. It always depends.

You have become the master of cinematic series, whether it’s Batman or this or Star Wars. What is it that gives these directors such a confidence in you to add to these franchises?

LN: You tell me. I really don’t know.

Taken 3 pic 5 - Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace

It’s that rooted quality with a rock-solid presence. I don’t know how you do it.

LN: That’s quite a compliment; I accept that. Thank you.

Was it because you were a boxer at an early age and it gave you a competitive edge?

LN: Maybe. It also has to do with being a father. I remember that affecting me greatly. Gabriel Byrne told me, and I always quote him, when he saw his son be born, his first child, he realized his place in the universe. And that’s absolutely right.

Taken 3 pic 6 - Forest Whitaker

And as for you, Forest you’ve done…

FW: I haven’t done a lot of…. Taken, [Clash of The] Titans, Star Wars, those are all franchises, and I haven’t really done those [like Liam has].

You’ve done TV series that required the experience of developing a character over a long period of time, like a franchise…

FW: Sometimes it’s a great experience. Working on The Shield for 10 episodes was a great experience and opportunity to play a great character with fine people. But I think that was a little different, though. That was week after week for 10 weeks doing 10 episodes.

Liam Neeson and Forest Whitaker 2

Liam, you have another film with the director of Non-stop, Jaume Collet-Serra — Run All Night. Forest, what’s on your calendar?

LN: He’s playing Satchmo [the late great trumpeter Louis Armstrong] and possibly directing too. I’m very excited about that…

A lot of people don’t realize that Satchmo was quite a complex person that has quite an important history as a musician and a black man in a white world…

FW: Yes, he was quite a man, a classic character…


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