Liam Neeson on 100-film career: ‘I don’t allow smoke to blow up my ass’
The Ballymena actor, who stars in Marlowe, has collected a century of films
But then there’s the hard work, putting yourself in those “lucky” situations as much as you can, and the fact that he’s been in 100 films is a testament to his commitment.
That said, genetic luck is at play with great actors. Some of them are incredibly amazing on camera, while the rest would look like sweaty potatoes. With Neeson, it’s not just his towering height — 6ft 4in — and poet/boxer looks, it’s that extraordinary voice.
Interviewing actors is usually quite easy, as they are literally trained to charm people; you rarely have a ‘holy penalty, it’s…!’ the moment However, almost every second you’re talking to Neeson you’re going to say ‘holy shit, it’s Liam Neeson!’ moments; and it’s because of that voice. It’s so deep and gravelly and sonic that upstairs my dog starts freaking out, believing there’s some seismic disaster shaking the flat.
He’s also very cool and absurd in that Liam Neeson way that we know from Taken and Non-Stop and Batman Begins and Darkman, and Neeson keeps saying really cool and absurd things.
For example, when I ask him a trending question about taking care of his mental health in the film industry, he talks about how good it is to separate his life from his work and then says, “I don’t let it blow. my ass I don’t like receiving compliments. I never was. And it’s an industry that blows a lot of smoke up a lot of asses. Especially if you are in front of the camera. It can be dangerous, you know?
All things considered, it’s strange that he’s only now playing Philip Marlowe. Raymond Chandler would have written hard-hitting novels as well, featuring a tough but morally exalted detective in a cosmic foreshadowing of Liam Neeson’s existence, so well-suited to the role.
The film in question is Marlowe, the Sky adaptation of John Banville’s 2014 novel The Black-Eyed Blonde, which revived Chandler’s character. It’s a period film with some beautiful sets and clothes from the 30s (“It’s cool,” says Neeson. “High-waisted pants. Ties that come with it. And especially wearing a trilby. Lighting a cigarette”). Director Neil Jordan delivered in suitably classic style. It’s a whole for film noir fans, and a very fitting circle for Neeson’s 100th.
“I’m a fan of black films”, he says, “Growing up, they always played on Sunday evenings on our small black and white TV. With Alan Ladd or John Garfield. It’s always raining. Boys in trilby hats. A little shooting now and then. I think I grew up with that.”
Philip Marlowe has been played by all-time heavyweights on screen—Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, Elliott Gould—but Neeson was far from seeing their work again.
“No, I’m not back. I was inspired by novels. I never got into Chandler’s work until I knew I was making this film. It was beautiful, a real find. This extraordinary writing style. Awesome stories. Complicated but awesome.”
His Marlowe, who is hired by a beautiful heiress to find her lover and discovers a complex mix of corruption and drugs, appears at the beginning of his career as a private detective, recently fired by the police and still haunted by the fighting in the First World War.
Neeson says of his inner attitude: “If you’re playing the protégé, you have to have a certain energy because you’re carrying the story.
Chandler always wrote in the first person, so you could hear Marlowe’s thoughts. And I wasn’t sure if our film needed it or if the audience needed it: [puts on even more gravelly and sonorous voice] “It was Tuesday. It was raining hard. I saw it for the first time…’ you know what I mean?
“I thought I could get rich but the powers that be decided not to do that. But I definitely wanted to show some world weariness. And we also have Marlowe serving on the Somme in World War I, which was added later, but that was important for me to know. He has seen terrible, terrible violence. He is not attracted. And when he has to be physically violent, a couple of times in the story, it costs him.’
In fact, Marlowe is not Taken. Those who mostly know Neeson from his late-career reinvention as an action hero (and, uh, Love Actually ) will have to readjust his thinking for this (though, you know, when he goes for it, he leaves…I like the fight”), Hollywood recession. which is older, not only in themes and decorations, but in the pace, atmosphere and attention you have to give it.
One of the nicest things is the use of character actors, like in the old movies when Peter Lorre and Lauran Bacall tried to steal scenes under Humphrey Bogart’s nose. Neeson stars alongside Diane Kruger, Jessica Lange, Danny Huston, Colm Meanery and Alan Cumming, to name a few, many of whom he has worked with before.
“Well, it’s an awesome script, and the opportunity to work with Jessica and Diane again; Danny Huston, Colm Meaney, all the guys. Danny Huston – you know about his lineage: his father, John Huston. Angelica, his sister. Watching Danny play a soft, mean bastard, it doesn’t get any better,” he says.
“The cult of the cake was Alan Cumming. I don’t know him very well. But he was in an amazing production of Cabaret with my late wife, 20 years ago, it was incredible.’
It is also his fourth film with Neil Jordan. The first one, Neeson recalls, didn’t go so well:
“High Spirits, with Peter O’Toole, Daryll Hannah and Steve Guttenberg. A comedy made in very grim old Shepperton studios. I remember sitting in Los Angeles with Stephen Woolley, the producer, at an industry screening. This comedy started and you could have heard a pin drop for the next hour and forty five minutes. Stephen Woolley was slowly sliding down the seat, saying ‘F***, I***…'”
I wonder what has changed since he started in movies; he doesn’t think he has much. “Digital cameras. You can shoot scenes forever. In the old film days you had to change the reel. But that’s what it is. The crew and the departments are essentially the same.’
What, perhaps, has changed his level of responsibility on the set now, as the lead in most productions. He takes it pretty seriously, very insistent that the film be a team effort, with no room for movie stars.
“I take responsibility, in a very basic way; if you are called to the set, you go to the set. You don’t wait twenty minutes, half an hour. I’ve worked with some actors and actresses who do that acting and I can’t stand it. He insults the crew. It keeps them waiting. I learned that from Harrison Ford. I did a film with him a few years ago, and when you hear that knock on the trailer door, ‘Mr Ford, we’re ready for you,’ he’s there before any other actor. You need to get your shit together. It is important. And at the same time, don’t paint yourself as more important than anyone else.’
This no-nonsense attitude has taken him from those Sunday evenings at his home in Ballymena, County Antrim, to the pinnacle of film stardom without losing his sense of self. He tells me that he never has a professional career in mind, he just follows writing.
“Our cinema depends on oral drama. Spoken word depends on the writers. So for me it’s about writing. It doesn’t matter what the gender is. Maybe not superheroes, I’m not into them at all. But I like well written scripts. That’s the key. That’s the basis.”
In fact, although he loved those black-and-white films, his ambition as a young man was not about cinema. “I did a lot of school plays when I was 11 or 12, but any ambition I had was to be a theater actor. The invitation to the National Theater may be the measure of my intention. It was only after John Boorman’s Excalibur that fabrics were introduced to the world of cinema.
“And I absolutely loved it. Acting in front of a camera was another discipline of theater. And John Boorman became a mentor. He brings me behind the camera. Showing what he was shooting. Telling what the next shots would be. It was a huge learning curve. Three months at work. Nicole Williamson. by Helen Mirren All these fantastic actors.’
That being said, there’s real warmth and enthusiasm behind that scream, and you suddenly understand why he’s risen to the top: yes, in part, luck and his physical presence and his fearsome voice, but more than anything, it’s his straight-up passion. for cinematography At 70, still exciting audiences, Marlowe’s immersion in old Hollywood is a great place to see him again, because they really don’t do that.