Liam Neeson talks about some of his experiences on the set of Battleship, including almost forgetting to be in Hawaii to shoot his scenes as well as his passion for physical roles. He also discusses some of his forthcoming projects, including Taken 2, getting to go to bed with Olivia Wilde and being mistaken for Ralph Fiennes.
You play an American commander in this movie but you've also recently taken American citizenship in real life?
Liam Neeson: I did. Two years ago I got it. I'd been living there for 20 years, so I thought it was just time to take the plunge. So, I did. It was very emotional, swearing an oath of allegiance.
I read that you were on holiday in Belfast when you spoke to your agent and you actually forgot that you had to do this role in Battleship?
Liam Neeson: I did. It slipped my mind. My agent told me it was December. And I was in Belfast seeing my family and he called and said: 'Liam, where are you? We need you?' I said: 'What are you talking about?' He said: 'You're supposed to be in Hawaii!' I said: 'But that's in December...' And he said: 'No, September!' I insisted: 'Chris, you said December.' But he said: 'No, I didn't.' So, I had to get on an airplane and the next day I was on the USS Missouri making a speech to 500 naval cadets, Rihanna being one of them'
Brooklyn Decker has said that she was initially daunted to be working with you and you invited her to go to a bar to help overcome her nerves. Is that true?
Liam Neeson: Yeah but she didn't come with me [laughs]. I think word got out! No, she was terrific to work with. We only had a couple of small scenes. But we were in this beautiful hotel in Hawaii and I knew her husband [Andy Roddick] was on the road playing his tennis and I just hated the thought of her sitting up in her room, not having a dinner companion. Anyway, she turned me down.
You've done action movies and blockbusters almost back to back over the past four years. Obviously, it's kind of rare to be cast in them at your age but Taken set that up. Is there a reason why you keep doing them?
Liam Neeson: Because I'm flattered and it appeals to the little boy in me that I can do that stuff.
But this almost flies in the face of your previous persona as a serious actor...
Liam Neeson: But it's great to be able to get the chance to do those and I love doing all that physical stuff. I did a lot of it in the first Taken and we just finished Taken 2 a few weeks ago, so I do a lot more.
Is it a pain in the ass to keep in shape, though?
Liam Neeson: It's not a pain in the ass but it gets harder to recuperate. I hurt my shoulder on the first one and it came back to haunt me on the second one. But I keep in fairly good shape.
So, how long did it take to recuperate after something like The Grey?
Liam Neeson: Oh my God, that was a tough shoot. But do you know what I did? Or what my trick was? I remember reading about some crazy Brit, who lives in Pimlico, or somewhere like that, who goes off to Antarctica, I think, and swims between icebergs. He holds some phenomenal records. But how he started training his body was in his flat in Pimlico by standing under a cold shower. He would get up to 20 minutes and then he would go swimming. So, I would have a freezing cold shower back home and got up to six minutes every day. It really helped. I never got sick. Your immune system kicks in under cold water. And it's supposed to be really good for longevity, by the way. So, that's what I did in preparation for The Grey and it really, really worked. We had to go into these freezing rivers and stuff but it was worth doing. I did it for about two months. I started off with five seconds and thought: 'F**k, this is terrible!' But then gradually you build up and it does work.
So, when your agent calls you and offers you this kind of thing, what's your consideration?
Liam Neeson: It's always script. I love writers. It has to be about the material. For example with Taken 2, if it's repetition for the sake of repetition, then to hell with that but there's enough interest in this sequel, certainly between Maggie [Grace], the girl who plays my daughter, and Famke [Janssen], who plays my wife, to engage your acting chops.
You're also doing more sequels, such as Wrath of the Titans. Does there have to be insurance that you're always doing something different?
Liam Neeson: Sure, for example with Wrath of the Titans we wanted the writers to expand the Gods a little bit more and give us more to do than the first one. In that one, we're all a bit God-like and stiff. But with this Greek mythology, there's a wealth of stories concerning the petty jealousies between these Gods and stuff, so the writers did bring that out a bit more in this second one. I liked that very much and Ralph Fiennes liked it very much. He's a very, very dear close friend of mine, so it was great to get the chance to do more together.
Do you still want an Oscar?
Liam Neeson: Do I want the Oscar? I've never been asked that before. It's funny... a lot of people think I won it for Schindler's List. I used to correct them but now I just say: 'Thank you.'
Recently, Robert Redford has revealed he was approached in a restaurant by a woman who said she'd seen all of his movies and loved his salad dressing. Has that kind of thing ever happened to you?
Liam Neeson: I get mistaken for my pal Ralph Fiennes. I've been congratulated for my Hamlet on Broadway 14 years ago. I fly fish and I was once down in Patagonia, Argentina, about five years ago, and this woman came up and said: 'Oh my God, Red Dragon! You were fantastic in that!' I didn't want to say 'It's not me', so I said: 'Thanks very much.' And then, once, my wife and I were walking through the Plaza Athenee, this beautiful hotel in Paris, and this elderly couple got up and said: 'Excuse me, my husband and I are visiting from America. It's my husband and his best friend, they're going up to the Normandy beaches, and they haven't been there since the invasion.' So, we're standing there, talking to them and reflecting on how it's going to be an emotional trip. I mean, what do you say? These two elderly men and their two wives... but the lady grabbed one of these beautiful tea service menus and said: 'Would you mind signing this for us?' I said: 'It would be my absolute pleasure.' And as I'm about to sign it, she said: 'We absolutely adored The English Patient.' So [raises eyes] I signed it 'With love, Ralph Fiennes'. I could not burst their bubble.
What' the most fun you've had on a set in terms of camaraderie?
Liam Neeson: The Grey was very, very special for all of us. We actually did become a band of brothers and we became very fond of each other. For that one, we were staying in these grotty little motels and it was harsh conditions, but we formed wonderful friendships with each other. There were no trailers to hang out in because the conditions meant you were all thrown together in a caterpillar kind of thing. We shot that this time last year and I never thought at my age you'd make new friends. There comes a period in your life where you know who your friends are and that's it. But with these guys, we became really, really good friends. We still call each other up and stuff.
Talking of age, you hit a landmark age this year on June 7...
Liam Neeson: 40, yep! [He turns 60]
Do you have any plans?
Liam Neeson: My kids want to have a party. I don't. I want to go to Las Vegas. There's some serious professional boxing happening on June 9, so I want to try and get there.
Do you like New York life?
Liam Neeson: I don't honestly engage in the city perhaps the way I should. I don't go to Broadway shows as much as I should and I live 10 minutes away from Broadway. But I'm in Central Park every day. I do an eight-mile power walk every day there and I have friends I see.
What does an average day look like for you when you're not shooting? Is it cold showers, running in Central Park, weights?
Liam Neeson: I don't run. My body hates running. It depends if I have to take my shirt off. I'm doing a movie in September just for four weeks with Olivia Wilde and we have some serious love-making to do so I'd better start with the push-ups again.
Which film is that?
Liam Neeson: I'm sorry, I can't remember the title of it but it's directed by Paul Haggis. It's a really, really interesting script. I think Jude Law is going to do it, Olivia and myself. It's a small film. It's a really, really interesting part and I get to go to bed with Olivia Wilde! It's about love and a writer trying to get over a tragic death that he emotionally tries to access through the characters that he writes about. He imagines their reaction and how they would react to this tragic death, which was a kid drowning in a swimming pool that he feels he was responsible for.
How much can you say about returning to the world of Batman for The Dark Knight Rises?
Liam Neeson: I know nothing about it, mate! Seriously, I know nothing about it.
But that's what you'll always say...
Liam Neeson: I honestly know nothing about it and I genuinely mean that!
Interview: Rob Carnevale Photo: Universal