The man who made a name for himself for having a set of particular skills Bryan Mills is returning this Monday 4th February when Taken 2 is released on DVD, Blu-Ray. To celebrate the release this Monday we have 2 interviews tomorrow with Famke Janssen but today its the man himself Bryan Mills better known as Liam Neeson.
Why do you think the first film was so successful? Liam Neeson: I think the character of Bryan Mills fits into a cinematic iconic, figure that we all recognize from way back. Maybe Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, these humble straight guys that get into a situation and they have to pull out all the stops. I’m thinking of Gary Cooper in High Noon, who is kind of a Bryan Mills. That kind of iconic figure that audiences seem to be attracted to. In 2008 and 2009 we had a financial crisis that turned the world upside down. I think everyone felt a bit vulnerable and a bit nervous and a bit scared. The ones that went to see Taken saw that here’s a guy who’s not going to call a figure of authority to help him, he’s going to do something about it himself. And people reacted. The world situation touched a little pulse. It hit a little nerve. It activated something in them that went, ‘Fuck yeah, go for it’. That’s what I think. Plus the fact it was a good pacy little thriller. Ninety-five minutes.
Q: You’ve just recently turned 60 and you have become a taller, more thoughtful, Bruce Willis…
LN: Bruce Willis? [Laughs] I was beginning to like you!
Q: Can you explain how that happened and what you like about action films?
LN: It is because of the success of Taken 1. Hollywood likes to pigeonhole its performers. I was pigeonholed after Schindler’s List and then in 2009 after Taken 1 it was like ‘Oh!’ I was re-pigeonholed.
Q: Were you surprised? What was your reaction?
LN: I was very surprised. I was flattered that this little European film was getting this acclaim. Fox Studios did a brilliant PR job on that film. We were all surprised and me especially. I started receiving quite a few action scripts and you see the character is written as ‘30 years of age’’ and scored out and rewritten ‘Late 40s’.
Q: Then it’s just ‘Neeson’.
LN: [Laughs]. Yes.
Q: So you have mentioned that Taken appealed to the young person in you and that growing up in Belfast you could go to the cinema and watch 14 films…
LN: Let me tell you, one, two… [counts]… yeah, 10 to 12 I could watch in a week.
Q: Was there any particular action hero you would watch?
LN: I loved Westerns as a kid. Audie Murphy. He was a B-movie actor. The most-decorated American soldier of the Second World War and he was quite a handsome guy. When he came back after the Second World War, Hollywood grabbed him and made a lot of B-movie Westerns with him. I grew up with him, the films were shown every Saturday, and he was kind of a hero. And John Wayne to a certain extent. Eastwood, when he was making those Westerns. Those early guys, Spencer Tracy, Cooper, Jimmy Stewart, those guys. It was effortless. Screen acting that was effortless.
Q: What do you think when people now mention you in those lists?
LN: Well, they don’t.
Q: But they do.
LN: I don’t know. I don’t know. There is something to be said for that Hollywood system. Actors and actresses were signed up for three years, sometimes five years, and you learned a craft and it was tough work. Six days a week doing all sorts of period dramas and costume dramas and B-movies and detective movies and this and that and the other and just learning that craft of screen acting, you know? Robert Mitchum was another hero of mine. It was minimalist. People say, ‘Oh, you do nothing in front of the camera’ but it is absolute bullshit. You have to do something but it is these minimalists that have something. Tracy was the one they all looked up to. Even James Cagney. Humphrey Bogart.
Q: Sometimes it is keeping it simple that is the hardest.
LN: I know, and these directors can tell these complex stories in an hour and a half. Fantastic screenwriters. I would love to have been one of those John Ford stable of actors, the ones he used all the time that worked hard… Henry Fonda… Jimmy Cagney…
Q: When they talked to you about Taken 2, what were some of your concerns about coming back?
LN: Well, my daughter can’t get taken again. That is bad parenting. The boys came up with a story and I thought it could be interesting especially because the bad guys I killed in the first one they, of course, have fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins. They are human beings and they have to be buried. That’s a great way to start a movie, I think. Taking dirt and saying ‘We will find this man, we will bring him back’. Whoa. They mean business. There is a good Western feel to it.
Q: How did you prepare for the fight scenes?
LN: I keep pretty fit but for these films obviously, you have to up the ante a little bit. I work very closely with a stunt coordinator — Mark Vanselow — my stunt double. The other stunt guys who are going to be the baddies, we worked every night. After we wrapped we would go in and spend a good hour and a half going through these fights, starting very, very, slowly, going ‘One… Two… Three… OK. let’s do that again’. After a couple of weeks you are building up. You are learning a dance until you can do it in your sleep. And sometimes we would do it blindfolded just to be more familiar and trust each other. No one got hurt. We were really making contact with each other. Not full contact — you are pulling your punch — but you are making contact. Those guys are incredible.
Q: You also had some experience as a boxer.
LN: As a kid. That gave me a discipline and a work ethic.
Q: And a broken nose?
LN: And a broken nose. And some broken teeth.
Q: Which kind of role do you prefer to play?
LN: Oh, it depends. I mean, how can you turn down Zeus? I mean, seriously? My agent said ‘Do you want to play Zeus?’ and I said ‘Why isn’t Sean Connery playing Zeus?’ Pause. ‘Well, he’s retired’. I said ‘If I was the producer I would be knocking on his door: Sean Connery plays Zeus’. This was for the first Clash of the Titans. So, I met him at something. I know him a tiny, tiny, bit. I said, ‘Sean, I have read this script. You have to do it. It’s called Clash of the Titans and you would be Zeus and all you do is give orders and they will need you maybe for two weeks and that’s it’. He looked at me and I could tell he was interested and then he looked at his wife and she kind of gave him a look and he said, ‘Sorry, Liam… I’m retired.’ [Laughs].
Q: There are some moments of humor in this film. Is that important?
LN: Maggie and I have a filthy sense of humor, by the way. The stuff we were saying to each other you couldn’t print. But we would split a gut laughing at just really, stupid, silly, stuff. And then you would hear ‘Action! Rolling!” and we would have to get into whatever we were doing. But we laughed a lot. And with Famke too. It is really important to do that. In Schindler’s List too, Ralph Fiennes and I — and Ben Kingsley — we had very, very, light moments.
Q: Is it easy to take oneself too seriously?
LN: Yes but in Schindler’s List there comes a point where you have to get into the mood but in having a few light hearted moments before that makes the bond between you and your co-actors tight, tighter. Certainly Maggie and Famke and I share that.
Q: You have a lot more scenes with Maggie and Famke in Taken 2. Are you happy about that?
LN: Very much so. I thought it was a lovely story line that the writers did that Famke’s marriage isn’t going well and she is vulnerable. Especially after in the first film she was such an ice queen and haughty. I thought she was wonderful in the film. You can really warm to her. It gave it another element and another element to my character to reach out to her.
Q: Since 2008, you have four movies shown in China. Do you have any plans for visiting China?
LN: I would love to. My wife did a film in China with Ralph Fiennes called The White Countess, it was the last Merchant Ivory film. Vanessa, my mother-in-law was in it. I was over there with my kids, seeing my wife, and I loved Shanghai. My kids loved it too. We really got into the bartering, in the markets. We so loved that. Excuse my accent: ‘Two dollars’. ‘Two dollars? No. 50 cents!’ ‘50 cents? Hahahaha’. Once you walk away, ‘No, no no, come back!’ It was terrific. I love China.
Q: What about Spain? Does that bring back good memories?
LN: Spain? With Ridley [Scott]? That was a terrific film. I just watched Kingdom of Heaven again. Such a rich film. See his cut. It is very, very, powerful.
Q: Do you have any plans for shooting in Latin America?
LN: No immediate plans but I would love to go down there. I was fly-fishing in Patagonia a few years ago. I will never forget the Chilean mountains. God, it was beautiful. TAKEN 2 is out on DVD & Blu-ray 4th February