Liam Neeson, co-star of the "Kingdom Of Heaven" Movie!
Standing a burly 6'4", Liam Neeson was once described by a theatre critic as a "towering sequoia of sex." To say that he has undeniable charisma is certainly accurate, but it is a charisma composed as much of impressive talent as of broken-nosed physical appeal. Bearing both versatility and quiet forcefulness, Neeson has been touted as one of the most compelling actors of the late 20th century. Born June 7, 1952, in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, Neeson had an upbringing partially defined by his involvement in boxing. He became active in the sport as a teenager, earning his distinctive broken nose in the process; he stayed with boxing until he began experiencing black-outs from repeated blows to the head. Initially interested in a career as a teacher, Neeson attended Belfast's Queens College, but he aborted his studies after developing a desire to act. In 1976, he joined Belfast's Lyric Theatre, and two years later he began performing the classics at Dublin's famed Abbey Theatre. While he was with the Abbey, Neeson was discovered by director John Boorman, who cast him as Gawain in 1981's Excalibur. Following his part in that action fantasy, Neeson had supporting roles in such films as The Mission (1986), and he was featured in leads opposite Cher in Suspect (1987) and Diane Keaton in The Good Mother (1988).
He got his first starring vehicle in 1990 with Sam Raimi's Darkman; unfortunately, the film was a relative disappointment. Neeson continued to do starring work in such films as Big Man (1991), which featured him as a boxer, Ethan Frome (1992), and Under Suspicion (1992), but ironically, it was his work on the stage that led to his true screen breakthrough. In 1992, the actor was turning in a Tony-nominated performance in Anna Christie opposite Natasha Richardson (whom he would marry in 1994) on Broadway. His work attracted the notice of Steven Spielberg, who was so impressed with what he saw that he cast Neeson as Oskar Schindler in his landmark Holocaust drama Schindler's List (1993). Neeson received Best Actor Oscar and British Academy Award nominations for his performance, and he subsequently didn't have to worry about finding work in Hollywood, or elsewhere, again.
More high-profile work followed for Neeson, who went on to star in such films as Nell (1994), Rob Roy (1995), and Michael Collins (1996). However acclaimed his previous work had been, none of it received the hype of one of Neeson's 1999 projects, Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Although the film, which starred Neeson as a Jedi master, ultimately earned a galaxy's worth of negative reviews, it mined box office millions. Its success further enhanced Neeson's status as one of the world's most visible actors, and it even helped to downplay the disappointment of The Haunting, his other film that year.
More fun facts about Liam Neeson
Birth name: William John Neeson
Height 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Spouse Natasha Richardson (3 July 1994 - present) 2 sons
On 11 July 2000 he fractured his right pelvis and chipped his left pelvis and sustained multiple abrasions to his legs after hitting a deer while riding his 1989 Harley Davidson motorcycle in Connecticut. He was thrown off the motorcycle just before it smashed into a nearby tree. A passing motorist found Neeson crawling along the roadside.
Chosen by Empire magazine as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in film history (#74). 
Was named an Officer of the Order of British Empire (OBE) by Britain's Queen Elizabeth on New Year's Eve, 1999
Children, with Natasha Richardson, Michael Antonio (b. 1995) and Daniel Jack (b. 1997).
Was a boxer as a teen-ager in Northern Ireland, which resulted in getting his nose broken at the age of 15. Nevertheless, he went on to win the Irish Youth Championship. A brief blackout after one of his fights, however, caused him to give up the ring for good.
Won a libel case against newspapers who claimed that his marriage was in trouble. [October 1998]
Ranked #69 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]
Has dated actresses Helen Mirren, Julia Roberts, Brooke Shields, Barbra Streisand and singer Sinéad O'Connor.
First worked with future wife actress Natasha Richardson on the TV mini-series "Ellis Island" (1984) (mini).
Son-in-law of actress Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson.
Was considered for the role of James Bond in GoldenEye (1995).
Attended Queen's University of Belfast for a short while to study physics and computer science, but flunked out.
Nominated for Tony award for Best Leading Actor in a play for role in "The Crucible", May 2002.
Was connected to David Lean's production of "Nostromo", but he withdrew before pre-production began and Lean's subsequent death.
He was considered for the role of Van Helsing in Dracula (1992) (and reportedly he very much wanted the role), however, he was turned down when Anthony Hopkins showed an interest in the role and ultimately got it.
Brother-in-law of Joely Richardson.
Has worked together repeatedly with Laura Linney, including in Kinsey (2004), Love Actually (2003), and in a Broadway revival of "The Crucible," having played husband and wife in _Kinsey_ and "The Crucible." The two have joked about feeling like "an old married couple."
Wanted to be in Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) so badly, he didn't even bother reading the script.
Graduated from the Gaiety School of Drama in Dublin, Ireland.
A member of the Dublin Shakespeare Theatre Festival where his past credits include 'Hamlet', 'King Richard II' and 'Alls Well That Ends Well'.
He recalled his most embarrassing moment in acting as when, relatively early in his career, he auditioned for the role of Fezzik, the giant, in "The Princess Bride." He said Rob Reiner had a look of disgust on his face when he realized that Neeson was "only" 6' 4", and Andre the Giant ended up getting the role.
Though he was eager to be a part of The Phantom Menace (the first of the Star Wars prequel trilogy), he reportedly hated working on the film once shooting started, remarking that he "felt like a puppet."
Was chosen for the role of Gawain in "Excalibur" primarily because director John Boorman wanted a large man in the role for the duel between Gawain and Lancelot (the late Nicholas Clay). Excalibur is where Neeson met Helen Mirren, who was playing Morgana.
Auditioned for, and was excepted to the Bristols Old Vic Drama School in London, England, but decided to attend the Gaiety School of acting instead so he could stay active with the Dublin Shakespeare Festival while in school.
Is an honorary board member of the CDS (conference of Drama schools) in England, which also includes Sir Anthony Hopkins, Brian Cox, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole and Jeremy Irons (to name a few). The board oversee's all drama schools in England.
Was very active with the Royal National Theatre in London during the nineties where he performed a wide range of Shakespeare's works.
Was twice nominated for Broadway's Tony Award as Best Actor (Play): in 1993 for a revival of Eugene O'Neill's "Anna Christie," and in 2002 for a revival of Arthur Miller's "The Crucible."
His personal quotes:
I never did think of myself as handsome, terribly attractive yes, but not handsome.
I think I realised there were two communities in Northern Ireland when I was about nine or 10, not because there was any trouble but because in certain years my parents would keep us indoors on the 12th of July. I couldn't figure that out, because all my mates were out dancing in the streets and I wanted to go out and join them. So it was then that I sensed a 'them and us' attitude.
No, I don't get obsessed with acting. Because in the past when I have got obsessed about it, it really got in the way of the creative process. I've learned to hang the character on the coat-peg at the end of the day, and when I leave in the morning I pick it up again. And I had to work at that because the other way lies a strange sort of madness.
Laid-back? My wife said that? Well, I guess I am. It takes a lot to get me riled.
Liam Neeson: 'Did you ever do the dead man's shuffle?'
'Finished with bikes'... Liam Neeson, pictured here in the role of Alfred Kinsey
Thank God for Liam Neeson, or possibly Herman Staats. On the morning of July 11 2000 Staats was driving his truck along a back road in upstate New York when he came across a dead deer, a ruined Harley Davidson, and a Hollywood star in an advanced state of disrepair. "I can remember every nanosecond of that crash," says Neeson, who possesses a soft Antrim brogue and the delivery of a born raconteur. "It was like something out a David Lynch movie. That deer coming out of nowhere and just climbing over the front of my motorbike. At one point she had her forelegs over the handlebar and her face was right here." He indicates a space in front of his nose, then pauses for effect. "I remember feeling her breath and knowing that she could feel mine, and just locking eyes with this other live creature. For that moment we were very much in sync."
Staats, the local Samaritan, discovered him on the hard shoulder. "He had managed to crawl his way back up the road," the trucker told reporters. "He wanted me to drive him back to his house, but I could tell his hips were bothering him." In fact the actor's pelvis had been shattered in the crash. The press suggested he might never walk again.
So for a man who might be dead or permanently disabled, Liam Neeson is doing rather nicely for himself. Fresh off his crutches, he hobbled through a role as the martyred patriarch in Gangs of New York and twinkled gamely through Love Actually. "But I didn't get back on the bike," he admits. "That finished me with bikes. The thing was in bits anyway."
His latest film, Kinsey, may well be his finest work to date. Alfred Kinsey's pioneering sex research scandalised 1940s America, and Neeson plays him as a fascinating cocktail of repression and candour - the mid-western puritan in the guise of a roué. Or is it the other way around? With Kinsey it's sometimes hard to tell.
The moral majority have their own line on Kinsey, of course, and have gone out of their way to protest about Bill Condon's biopic. According to organisations such as Morality in Media or Concerned Women For America, the sexologist was a dirty old man who sent America to hell in a handcart, a pervert whose legacy is "Aids, abortion and pornography". Neeson scoffs at such notions, but admits there were different facets to the man. "He was most certainly a gifted and objective scientist, but behind it all there was a social reformer there too. And, like any man or woman of achievement, he became obsessed with his subject matter."
Is this something he can relate to in his own work? "No, I don't get obsessed with acting," says Neeson. "Because in the past when I have got obsessed about it, it really got in the way of the creative process. I've learned to hang the character on the coat-peg at the end of the day, and when I leave in the morning I pick it up again. And I had to work at that because the other way lies a strange sort of madness."
When I mention that his wife - the actor Natasha Richardson - has described him as "a laid-back guy" he blinks in surprise. "Laid-back? My wife said that? Well, I guess I am. It takes a lot to get me riled."
Even so, you wouldn't want to risk it. There is an old prejudice about Hollywood stars that they play tough on screen and play golf off it; that they are spoilt, shy, and invariably much smaller in the flesh than they seem in the movies. But Neeson, who looms 6ft 4in, hardly fits with the stereotype. Before treading the boards at Belfast's Lyric theatre he was an amateur boxer by night and a fork-lift truck driver by day. He claims to still keep himself in pretty good shape and says that's what helped him survive the crash.
Why does he think that most big actors are quite small people? "Small? Are they? Like who?" Well, Tom Cruise, for instance. Or Al Pacino. Dustin Hoffman. "Well, I don't know," says Neeson, nonplussed, "I never really thought about it. I mean, I saw Clint Eastwood out in LA last week, and he's definitely 6ft 3in. And Pacino's small, but he's huge on screen. I have met Tom, and I guess he is small, but I never looked at him and thought, 'Gosh, you're small'." He pauses. "Colin Farrell is quite a tall man. Brad Pitt's quite tall. I'll tell you who is small ... No, I'm not going to say that." Oh go on, spill the beans. "No," he says. "It was just a daft thought, I was thinking aloud. I better not say."
Experience has taught him to be cautious. A couple of years back a US magazine ran an interview in which he recalled his upbringing in Ballymena, Co Antrim. Growing up Catholic in a predominantly Protestant town, he said, made him feel like a "second-class citizen". Moreover, he remembered having to stay indoors during the annual Orange walk commemorating "some bloody obscure war where some bloody Catholic king was defeated by some bloody Dutch king who was Protestant".
When Ballymena offered him the freedom of the town these comments were duly dredged up and held against him. In the end the row grew so heated that he decided to reject the honour. "But of course then that becomes the story," he sighs. "You very graciously decline and that becomes the thing people fix upon. So you're cursed if you do and you're cursed if you don't. Either way you end up splashed across the front of the Belfast Telegraph. I hate all that controversy, absolutely hate it."
For the record, Neeson insists that he is very proud of Ballymena. He still has family there, still regards it as his hometown. Furthermore, he points out that he was head boy at a Catholic school, so things can't have been as bad as all that. Of course, there were downsides. Antrim in the 1960s was a fairly strait-laced - if not actively repressed - environment, rather like America before Kinsey shone his light on it. "Certainly sex was not top of the agenda," he admits. "It was a healthy upbringing, particularly bearing in mind all that was happening in Northern Ireland at the time. But sex wasn't up for discussion, not even at school. It was just never talked about. And I guess that what you don't have, you don't miss."
So he wasn't a secret bedroom masturbator? "Er," says Neeson. "Well yes, of course. But that's all part of the fun. What was it that Billy Connolly said? I remember him asking me: 'Did you ever do the dead man's shuffle?' And apparently that's where you lie on one arm until it goes dead and then when you masturbate it feels like someone else is doing it to you." He shakes his head in wonder. "The dead man's shuffle. That's one I never tried."
Neeson recently completed a role in Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, battling the Moors in the deserts of Morocco. Further afield, there is a mooted role as Abraham Lincoln, the founder of the Republican party back when it was on the more liberal, progressive wing of American politics. Inevitably, the film - which would reunite the actor with his Schindler's List collaborator - should generate still more controversy. "Well, I have been approached by Steven Spielberg to play him," Neeson explains. "But Steven has a big backlog of films and it's still very early stages. So maybe next year sometime. But Jesus, would I be honoured to play Abe Lincoln."
Spielberg's picture will be based on a biography by Doris Kearns Goodwin. However, Neeson stresses that he will be reading as widely as he can, immersing himself in everything to do with the Republican party icon. One recent work that he might care to investigate is titled The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. Its big revelation is that the president was actually homosexual - that he shared a bed with his bodyguard and enjoyed a long-standing affair with a "youthful friend".
Best of all, its author once worked as a researcher for Alfred Kinsey. "Yes, that's right," says Neeson, "Clarence Tripp, who spent 20 years studying the writings of Lincoln and came up with these conclusions. He's passed away now, Clarence Tripp, and the book was published posthumously. I've seen a review of it and it will be interesting to read, certainly. I've got to get my hands on as much information as I can."
Play Lincoln as gay, I tell him. Just for the fun of it. "Oh yes," says Neeson. "I can just imagine what the moral majority would make of that."
· Kinsey is out on March 4.
Liam Neeson on "Kinsey"
For the sci-fi nerd like myself, Liam Neeson is a hero of sorts, with hits such as "Darkman," "Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace," and the upcoming "Batman Begins" in his bag. But needless to say, let's not match these sub-inferior pics with some of his more memorable works, such as "Schindler's List." Neeson is already earning Oscar buzz for his role in Fox Searchlight's upcoming "Kinsey." "Kinsey" tells the true story of Alfred Kinsey, who in the 1930s and 1940s, led the biggest effort and research project into human sexuality. Kinsey became known for recording people's sexual history and then analyzing it for his research - something that was considered a touchy and taboo subject back then. Kinsey became so immersed into his research that he often explored his own sexuality, often in strange and controversial ways. "Kinsey" also co-stars Peter Saarsgaard, Laura Linney, and Chris O'Donnell.
Liam was in New York last weekend and I got a chance to sit down with him to hear his thoughts on the feature.
Q: You’ve been quoted as saying that you had to dig deep into your psyche in order to prepare for this role…
LIAM: That’s like something you read in Entertainment Weekly. Dig deep? Well there wasn’t enough information available on Kinsey. There were various biographies. It’s part of playing a character; getting all this info together. With physical characteristics, somewhere along the line - held by two weeks of rehearsal, glamming it all together and trying stuff out - I obviously go into the truth of every scene. And if that’s called digging deep, then yeah…
Q: Is there a moment when you thought, “I got it!”
LIAM: Well, I like the lecture scenes in the film. I remember the day we did those. Very early on, I was delivering the lectures and it was all Kinsey’s speech. It was all his words to three to four hundred young people. It was a very, very grueling day but I remember somewhere along the day - because they were great, the extras were fantastic – they were hanging on to every word and it just made me feel good. I thought, well of course, Kinsey absolutely adored teaching. He was a wonderful teacher. So these kids really inspired me. So that was a clue I hung onto. He loved young people, he absolutely loved them. And he loved teaching them and trying to help them.
Q: Did you read his report?
LIAM: I did, although I didn’t read from page 1 to page 187 but I read chunks of it. I did a little bit of science when I was in the university so I was able to understand the graphs and pie charts and stuff like that. It was extremely dry.
Q: Is this the first time you’ve ever kissed a man for a role?
LIAM: No. But it’s the first time on film I have. In ‘Oscar Wilde’, I have.
Q: Is it different from when you kiss a woman? What’s the mindset?
LIAM: It’s no different. The scene was important as to where the film goes after that. So we wanted to get all those elements right. But it wasn’t a big deal.
Q: Are you concerned that Kinsey’s bisexuality will be too prominently discussed in terms of the rest of the picture?
LIAM: Well I think people think sex is controversial. Not always, but certainly it’s something to be discussed. Not to be swept under the carpet, but the man was bisexual. I think he suffered terribly as a young man because of it. He was fearful of it, especially in high school. So it is something to be talked about but I don’t think it overwhelms the structure of the film.
Q: How did you prepare for the scene? Did you and Pete talk about it or did you just go on set?
LIAM: Well, it obviously has to be choreographed to some extent. We shot it in a room at the Chelsea Hotel. This sleazy little room in a hotel. It kinda made it all the more sleazier because of the 1950s furniture. But we had a really good working relationship. We did choreograph it, more for Peter, cause he’s, you know, buck naked. I wouldn’t have done that.
Q: Why wouldn’t you have done that?
LIAM: I’m not showing my dick out. (Laughs)
Q: Is Peter a good kisser?
LIAM: I’m not going to answer that.
Q: Would you give Kinsey your sexual history?
LIAM: Oh yeah, I’d love to. Apparently, he has this real special thing that came out of him, out of a 1:1 session. As you know, he interviewed people from every walk of life. I read lots of letters at the institute people sent him after they experienced [his sessions], saying how strangely transformed they were.
Q: How were you raised in your household, growing up, regarding sex?
LIAM: Well that seems vulnerable to go into because it’s personal. But let’s just say, I’m Irish. I grew up in the 1950s. Religion had a very tight iron fist. Of course, there were terrible feelings of guilt and ignorance. I learned my “facts of life” on toilet walls. I’d walk up in school bathrooms and there would be crude drawings and figures engaged in sex. That’s how I learned.
Q: Can you talk about your relationship with director/writer Bill Condon?
LIAM: Well I was on the jury duty on the Deauville Film Festival, a few years ago. Bill’s film was being shown, maybe for the first time in Europe. I championed the film. I thought it was quite remarkable. I had never seen anything like that. Just kind of what he achieved and the subject matter was incredibly fascinating. He’s a genuine theatrical actor. Before [directing] he was an extraordinary theatrical actor. Anyway, I was a big fan of Bill’s and he quickly got in touch with me about this project that he said he had written. It was kind of a win-win situation.
Q: There’s a chilling scene at the end where he circumcises himself. Did you think it was necessary and what do you think it tells us about him?
LIAM: I’m still ambiguous about it. Did Kinsey actually do that? Apparently, he did. There’s two schools of thought: One, that he was really depressed over his lost of funds to the institute. And the other that he was so gripped by his subject matter, in interviewing many strange and wonderful people, that he, being the bench scientist that he was, wanted to experience what they were experiencing. To go into the world, he engaged – not all the time – but he engaged the occasional weird sexual practice. That was part of the scientist in him. It wasn’t because he was going loopy-loo, I don’t believe that about him at all. I find that extremely hard to do. Where it comes in the film, I realize why it was put in, especially when he loses his grant. But I’m still a bit ambiguous about it.
Q: At this point of your career, how do you pick your pictures when it comes to something like “Kinsey” and then going on to do something like “Batman Begins”?
LIAM: Sometimes, I’ll be on the phone with my agent like, “Hello? What? Who’s going to be in it? Oh God. Wait a minute…how much money are they offering me?” (Laughs)
Liam Declined Bond
There a few things more galling than the knowledge that you were second choice for something.
There you were thinking that you were great and brilliant and everyone else thought so too - which is how Pierce Brosnan must feel after the revelation that he wasn't first choice for James Bond.
The suave gent - who's hung up his Bond shoes now anyway - was not the original favourite to replace Timothy Dalton.
Instead Liam Neeson was the first choice to play the secret agent in 1995's Goldeneye.
According to Breakingnews.ie, Neeson has revealed that he's never been interested in starring in action movies and so spurned the advances of Bond's moviemakers.
"I was approached very heavily, but I wasn't really interested," he admitted.
Liam Neeson: Love Actually
“ It was a chance to work with kids again. I love working with children ”
Antrim-born Liam Neeson first came to prominence in Sam Raimi's 1990 mini-hit Darkman. His impressive CV includes Schindler's List, Nell, Rob Roy, and Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace. For his first romantic comedy, Liam joins the ensemble cast of Love Actually.
We don't really know you for romantic comedies, so why did you decide to be a part of this one?
I'd always loved Richard Curtis' work... Blackadder, Mr. Bean, Four Weddings And A Funeral, Bridget Jones's Diary. And it was a chance to work with kids again. I love working with children and this young boy, Thomas Sangster, is quite a remarkable young actor. He raises your game, you know. He certainly raised mine.
You're the father of two boys. Did that help your relationship with Thomas?
My eldest is eight and Thomas is actually about 12, although he plays a ten-year-old in the movie. But yeah, being a dad certainly helped with some of these scenes.
Explain the premise of the movie and how it all fits together...
The film follows the relationships of about a dozen people. They're all discovering different facets of love, looking for it, trying to consolidate it. The film is a series of little vignettes but overall, they form into a kind of cohesive whole. It's a romantic comedy but it has a certain edge to it and some of it's sad as well as happy. It's like life.
Do you ever feel it gets a little too mushy, though?
You know, I think Richard gets away with it. He's very, very clever. He understands the medium he writes for and if I may say it, we're all good actors in this film and we have a certain amount of deftness in keeping it from being too saccharine.
Liam Neeson: On becoming Charlton Heston, Michael Collins' hit-and-run tactics and seeing his spirit in his kids
History works in Liam Neeson's favor. Although the Irish actor has long been a favorite of filmmakers and female fans worldwide, his credits used to contain more misses (Suspect, Satisfaction, Darkman) than hits.
Then Steven Spielberg cast him as the Holocaust's most unlikely hero. As Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List, Neeson conveyed courage, commitment, life-loving humor, even irrepressible recklessness, so vividly he earned both an Oscar nomination and A-list respect.
Now, he's doing it all over again with another historical figure, Irish revolutionary Michael Collins. The actor worked for 12 years with writer-director Neil (The Crying Game) Jordan to bring the story of the man who created modern Ireland--and invented urban guerrilla warfare in the process--to the screen. But the long battle to produce the movie has only made Michael Collins, opening nationwide October 25, a sweeter accomplishment for Neeson.
Are you afraid that by playing such larger-than-life figures as Oskar Schindler, Rob Roy and now Michael Collins, you are running the risk of becoming the Charlton Heston of your generation?
[Laughs.] Next year, I'm hoping to play Oscar Wilde. Maybe the Heston comparison will be looming even larger after that!
Your ego seems to work in an opposite manner from most actors. You're always giving credit to others and often talk about how you could have done something better.
I'm like that with everything. In bed at night, I could be reading some book, and I'll come across a sentence that's totally unrelated to some scene I did years ago. But I'll play the scene back in my mind and think, I did that wrong--I should've opened the door more slowly." I watch my own movies through for that purpose. Natasha [his wife, actress Natasha Richardson] asks, "How can you do that?" But it's not an ego thing. It's just, I like to learn why something works and also why something doesn't work.
Always been this way?
I grew up in Ballymena, a hardworking town, like in most of Northern Ireland. Emphasis there is put on education of the child, and I'm a legacy of that. If someone says "childhood" to me, what I think about is doing homework. Also doing amateur drama and a little boxing, but my days and nights were filled with that educational system.
Was Michael Collins a childhood hero of yours?
No. It wasn't until I was 18 or 19 and started reading Irish history on my own that I really started to learn about him. When I was growing up in the north, "Irish" history didn't exist.
Was there much sectarian prejudice where you grew up?
It's a very, very Protestant town. But I have to say no, I never really grew up knowing that hatred. Yes, I'm Catholic; I'm proud of it. But I had lots of Protestant friends.
Some associate Collins with the Provisional Irish Republican Army's recent terror tactics.
There's a big controversy about that in Britain, and I can understand where it comes from. But I can regale you with anecdotes about Collins, about how, when word came to him that so-and-so was an informer, he would always doubt it at first. He'd have warning letters written to suspected informers, and if the guy continued, he was warned again.
Some of Collins' sidekicks would say, "Mick, this guy's got to go," but he would find out all he could before ordering a man's death. And as the hour approached for the execution, in his own mind, Collins became both the executioner and the victim. He would pace up and down, transformed in almost a kind of exorcism when he knew he was responsible for taking someone's life.
Now, when you say "terrorist" to me, I think of someone who plants bombs in restaurants and airplanes and kills innocent people. Collins never, ever stood for that.
What do you want people to carry away from this film?
I'd like them to pick up on the universal aspect of the story. It's also the history of every country that has wanted to shed the yoke of oppression and injustice, including America. There are lots of similarities between George Washington and Michael Collins. They both took charge of a ragtag army and developed hit-and-run tactics.
How was doing the romantic scenes with Julia Roberts?
The whole chemistry of this movie was right--and Julia was a part of that. I never like to single her out just because I dated her 10 years ago.
Even when you're not playing historical figures, you gravitate toward dramatic material, like Nell and Before and After. Is there a wacky side to Liam Neeson?
Oh yeah, there is, there is. I'd love to get it committed to celluloid sometime.
So, what do you do to blow off steam?
Well, I'm a fly fisherman, but the season has ended. And I have a Harley Davidson, which I tinker with and ride. But I'm a strict 50-miles-an-hour--top speed 55 when I push--kind of guy.
Do you wear a helmet?
Oh, absolutely, yes.
Of course--you have responsibilities now, what with two young sons. How's the new little guy?
Great. It's extraordinary to look into a baby's face and see a piece of your flesh and your spirit. It makes you realize you are a part of the human race. You aren't different because you're an actor. Meryl Streep is a friend, and she's very funny. When our first boy was born, she said, "You realize you're going to be hostages for the rest of your lives." That's such a great thing to say--and we're very willing ones.
Yeah, Natasha had Daniel Jack just before you went to the Venice Film Festival, where you won for Best Actor and then almost died, right?
I came down with this blocked colon at the festival. It required "minor" surgery. It may have been minor for the surgeon, but when somebody comes at you with a knife like that--well, it's major. It was a great way to lose weight. I was lying on my back for eight or nine days, nothing to eat or drink. But I was back in the gymnasium a week after they released me.
Now, the Oscar buzz around Michael Collins is starting to hurt our ears.
Oh, don't jinx me.
We won't tempt the fates. But did playing Collins give you the sense that as tragic as his struggle was, at least the times he lived in had a political passion?
I know what you mean. There were men on both sides who were prepared to lay down their lives--and did--for what they believed.
By comparison, do you now find, say, the current U.S. presidential election a bit bloodless?
I watched the debates, and it just seems to be about the image that comes across. Issues are made simplistically black and white, not at all like back in Collins' very torturous times.
Liam Neeson/K-19: The Widowmaker
Liam Neeson has always come across as a strapping 6 foot plus actor. The Irish actor seems to end up in films that are not the easiest to shoot. He had his share of problems shooting the special effects-laden Phantom Menace and now, back in his first major Hollywood film since, K-19: The Widowmaker, Neeson endured months of shooting the Cold War-set submarine saga in cramped conditions. "It was a tough shoot to be sure" the quietly spoken but self-deprecated Irishman confirmed, chatting in a New York hotel room. "The first few weeks I was getting a good bang at least five times a day, so I'd learn where everything was, then the prop guys would move stuff for another shoot and it would start all over again." In Widowmaker, Neeson plays a nuclear submarine's second-in-command officer, to Harrison Ford's tougher captain.
Being banged about on a cramped film set was a piece of cake in comparison to Neeson's much publicised motorcycle accident two years ago which almost killed him just north of New York City. As a result, he suffered a broken pelvis, broken heel, and a multitude of abrasions when his motorcycle went out of control after colliding with a deer on a country road near his home. "At one point the deer was over my handle bars and I was trying to keep balanced." Neeson spent a week in the hospital recovering from his near-death crash, then months of gruelling physiotherapy. It was a horrific ordeal, and the actor remembers it clearly. . "I remember being on my '89 Springer Softail, an hour outside New York City, on a country road, the 11th of July, about 12 noon and was carrying my pannier bags, a bran muffin and a New York Times. And two bones for the pup. I had all this heavy gear on and in a blink of an eye a deer came out and started to climb over the motorbike. At one point I've got the handlebars and she's hanging over this thing and her legs are caught in the spokes of the wheel and I'm trying to get balanced. My instinct is to get off the road even though there's no traffic. I veer off and what I thought was solid is an embankment and I go down and hit a tree. I wasn't unconscious; as I banged up against the tree, I had my helmet on, which saved my life, and the deer slithered into this ditch. I was saved by this young tree." It might have been a life and death moment for the 50-year old actor adds that "my wife told me that I'm still the same, grumpy old bastard that I ever was", he laughingly adds. Yet, he says, quietly, life post the accident has been interesting and full of coincidences, he says. "For example, The Crucible came up when it did, and I was absolutely ready for it." The accident, in some ironic twist of fate, prepared him for one of his greatest challenges as he took the play that initially inspired him to act some forty years ago, to Broadway at this time in his life. "The accident forced me to become incredibly fit and the way I played Proctor, it was also a very physical performance."
Neeson admits that he accepts the big-budget Hollywood movies so that they "reinvigorate my desire to return to the theatre as often as possible." The actor shuns the spotlight, preferring to live in New York, with his wife Natasha Richardson and their two sons, rather than Los Angeles. Neeson remains ferociously private, rarely giving interviews unless there is a reason, such as promoting a new movie. The actor has no illusions as to why he was sitting in a Manhattan hotel room talking to the press, instead of taking advantage of the city's sunny weather. "We've all been in this business for some time, and movies are, after all, a business. It's wonderful that Paramount has sunk millions of dollars in telling this story but at the end of the day it is a product and they want a return on their investment so require Harrison and myself to sit down and talk." Neeson admits that sometimes find that very difficult "because the older one gets the more you want to preserve your own privacy." Neeson follows that philosophy in relation to other actors, and admits that he does not follow the tabloid exploits of his fellow actors. "I haven't done so for a number of years, because I just get depressed reading the stuff."
Neeson has appeared in over 60 films, having made his debut as Gawain in 1981's Excalibur. Asked if the often intense actor saw himself as this perennially serious actor, Neeson merely retorts: "I take it you haven't seen my comedic roles?" Neeson doesn't take himself too seriously, but the good-natured and calm Thespian continues to be attracted to characters who, much like the actor himself, somehow exemplify Man's inner goodness. Characters from Ireland's Michael Collins to Oskar Schindler, Jean Valjean, Star Wars' Qui-Gon Jinn or Mikhail Polenin in K-19. "I do tend to gravitate toward what guiding light we have," says Neeson. "If I read something that's got those ethics in it, then I go towards it. We live in such a corporate world where everyone is passing the buck, it seems to me. Therefore I like stories where the individual takes responsibility for BEING the individual, and not just for himself, but for his comrades, his society and ultimately for his country. Ultimately, we can all learn a lesson from that and not be browbeaten by the corporate world which is taking over." How ironic that here Neeson is, promoting a movie financed by an industry which remains symptomatic of that sense of corporatisation. "But at least Hollywood has been consistent and has always been that way." At least it continues to give Neeson those shining light characters he loves to play, reinforced, perhaps, having stared death in the face and come back.
"Life's been great, and now I long to return to the stage and maybe do a little play with the missus," he concludes smilingly.