Now playing in theaters is director Olivier Megaton‘s Taken 2. In the sequel, Liam Neeson’s character unwisely takes his family on a European vacation, only to find himself and his wife (Famke Janssen) taken hostage by the family members of the henchmen that Neeson brutally murdered in the first film. The film also stars Maggie Grace and Rade Serbedzija. For more on the film, here’s four clips and all our previous coverage.
Last week in New York City I participated in two interviews with Neeson. One was an exclusive video interview (which you can watch here), and the other was a roundtable interview with a number of other journalists. During the group interview Neeson talked about how the sequel came together, what it was like filming in Istanbul, the car stunts, how much of a backstory he has created for the character, what it’s like being considered an action star, what props he’s taken home from set, his thoughts on a Taken 3, and more. In addition, Neeson talked about working with Ricky Gervais on Life’s Too Short, told a great behind the scenes story about making Batman Begins, and revealed that Christopher Nolan wouldn’t tell him anything about The Dark Knight Rises. Hit the jump for more.
Question: I know you had a stunt double, but it looked like you or your stunt double had a lot more potential injuries, could you talk a little bit about just comparing the two in terms of where it ranks physically challenging.
LIAM NEESON: No injuries whatsoever. I do my own fights, I don’t do my own stunts and there is a difference. My dear friend Mark Vanselow, my stunt double, does all the flying through glass, jumping buildings and stuff. But, I do my own fighting. That’s my claim to fame.
What is the technique that you’re using there, is it a combination?
NEESON: It’s a combination of stuff, yeah, of techniques our stunt coordinator Alain Figlarz is an ex-French Special Forces soldier, so it’s a kind of close hand to hand combat stuff.
Do you do martial arts?
Was it easier going into that stuff- because taken was sort of one of your first forays into the action hero sort of mold that you’ve done a couple times since then, coming back for Taken 2 was it a lot easier to get in the swing of that sort of stuff?
NEESON: Yeah, I mean I keep pretty fit as a rule, and my sport as a kid was boxing so I’ve got a reasonably strong physical discipline when it comes to that sort of stuff. But obviously with these sorts of films, you know, every night after we wrapped we were training with these amazing stunt guys – Mark and Alain, and you’re basically learning a dance, you know? You start off very, very slow, “I’m throwing this punch, you’re throwing this.” It literally starts off at that speed. And maybe the day before we actually shoot the thing, we actually do it blindfolded with each other so that by the time we get on the floor it’s just like, breathing you know? That’s what we aim for.
It looks pretty good.
You said you were good at boxing, how were you at geometry, as a kid?
NEESON: That’s an interesting question. I was very slow in maths, geometry I actually enjoyed.
Because you employ some interesting mathematic techniques…
NEESON: Oh, I see what you mean. You brought me straight back to school there. But, no, they’re based on stuff these guys learn. Obviously because it’s a dramatic movie, an entertainment movie its somewhat heightened, those techniques, but they are actually based on stuff that they do with these Special Forces, you know? They take them out somewhere blindfolded and say, “Okay, be back in two hours, you’ve got two hours to find your way back.”
So they do the things you show.
I heard this sound here, and count it out.
NEESON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, they do stuff like that. I know it sounds crazy, doesn’t it? It’s like when I first read the script it thought “Oh, come on.” You know?
Well this script is actually much more revelatory about what his skills are, other than kicking ass, than the first film. You get to see this other, sort of subset of things. Who do you think this guy really is? Have you created a back story for him?
NEESON: Well, there’s a gentleman I worked with a few years ago who is a special operatives soldier, and he works for various governments and he’s a pal. I see him for a week and then he disappears, and I’ll see him in three weeks time and he’s got a bullet wound in his side or something in his solder. And he’s been jettisoned into Afghanistan or Pakistan for four days to do some mission, and then he comes back out again. He doesn’t tell me details, obviously because its secret stuff that he’s doing, you know? But he’s quite an extraordinary- and if he walked in to this room right now, you wouldn’t notice him; do you know what I mean? He’s just a regular guy, but he has this particular set of skills. And he’s been using them in various countries for years for various governments. And he walks through airports with suitcases full of hardware and he shows a card and he’s carte blanche. It’s amazing.
Could you see this being a series?
NEESON: I don’t think so; I think this is the end. I mean how many times can she be taken? I mean, it’s bad parenthood, really, after that.
What about television? Maybe it’s a different person, you’re a hired gun.
NEESON: I don’t think so, there’s enough of those shows aren’t there?
It’s nice to see Famke [Janssen] and Maggie [Grace] get a lot more screen time.
NEESON: Great, yeah, yeah. Especially Famke because she was very concerned, in the first on you know she’s quite a cold, gorgeous presence; but, not very emotionally involved. Well, she is of course when she finds out her daughters been kidnapped. But, no it was lovely to bring her, to show her more vulnerable side, her more needy side, you know?
You’re not really prone to sequels or franchises, what was it about this project that made you want to come back for another round?
NEESON: Well, I didn’t think there was- well, I loved the first film I thought it was a really compact, tight little European thriller you know, a great beginning, fantastic middle, and a very pleasurable end. And when Luc Besson approached me a few years ago I thought, “come on Luc, you can’t. What? What can you do?” and he said, “Leave it with us, were thinking of something.” So a couple years ago I think they had me the script. They set it in Istanbul and I thought, ok that’s certainly one city I would love to see. And I believe they came up with a story line and I thought, “well maybe this will work” This basically, you know, to start a movie with, you know- my character kills 27 of these Albanians in the first one, all these “bad guys”, but these guys are human beings who have families and uncles and fathers. So it was great to start a movie with a burial and the wonderful Rade [Serbedzija], a Croatian actor, with this dirt, this grieving father whose son died horribly at my hands, pledging revenge is a wonderful kickoff to a movie, you know?
What surprised you the most about working in Istanbul? Either the under the circumstances of working there or also seeing some of the sights in your free time.
NEESON: Well, its- I’ve read so much about Constantinople as it used to be from when I was doing Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, you know? Because it is the gateway from the west to the east and there’s so many generations of conquests. And you see it in the streets there, you see foundation stones that were laid by, not just the Romans, the Romans were only 2000 years ago, but generations thousands of years ago, you know? So it such a rich incredible historical culture, and you feel it. And I think it adds something to our film, it just gives it a texture. All those car scenes we were doing, those car chases and stuff, you know, yes we had a police presence, but the shopkeepers, merchants on these tiny, narrow streets said, “No, no, no; you shoot your film, but we’re keeping our shops open.” So you’d have customers crossing streets all the time, they weren’t extras, and we’re barreling up these streets in Mercedes Benz’s at reckless speeds.
Portobello Road in London wouldn’t exactly have the same kind of feel to it.
NEESON: I know what you mean, yeah. But they were wonderful, they weren’t- they were very happy we were shooting on their streets, but “were keeping our shops open.” You know?
You’ve basically become an action star since Taken, are you a little bit surprised at the success you’ve had in action, or are you thoroughly enjoying playing these tough characters?
NEESON: Oh sure, yeah, it’s terrific. I mean we were all really surprised by the success of Taken, you know? I just came back from South Korea where the film, the first one did amazing. I felt like one of the Beatles to be honest with you. And they were all kids, these sixteen, twenty year old kids boys and girls, going crazy, they couldn’t wait to see this Taken 2, you know? Sorry, anyways, Fox – I remember after South Korea on the first one I remember one of my nephews in Ireland called me up saying, “Uh, I saw your movie” I said “Which one?” he said “Uh, Taken” I said “It hasn’t come out yet, its only come out in France and South Korea.” “Oh, well, you know we can download it.” I thought oh fuck, that’s the end of that then, the movies done, you know? But then Fox took it in this country, and did a brilliant PR job, really brilliant.
It was number one for weeks.
NEESON: It was stranger it was number one, then it slipped to number two, then it slipped to number three, then it went back to number two again, it was hovering all over the place for a while. It just got good word of mouth I guess, and obviously Fox put all this spade work in.
It’s also one of those films, say it’s on TV; you’re going to stop, if you’re not going to watch the whole thing you’re going to watch a few minutes of it. I’ve seen it any number of times, my family loves it, it’s just, there’s something about that-
NEESON: Yeah, I know. I do love the compactness of it. I’ve checked it myself a couple times, and I find myself suddenly half an hour later and I’m into it, you know what I mean?
There’s something I want to ask you about and I would love to see this developed into a film, which is the persona that you do with Ricky Gervais, of dead absolute seriousness because that thing is hilarious-
NEESON: Oh, the Ricky Gervais thing.
Yeah, which is to do a comedy based around you being as somber and dead faced as possible.
NEESON: I’m trying to be a comedian, you know?
Yeah, do you think there’s anything there?
NEESON: Oh, I don’t know, unless Ricky and Steven wrote something. But that was, it was fund doing that stuff with those guys. And I am a terrible corpser- if you don’t know what corpsing means, it means that you laugh a lot, you know? But when we were shooting this thing they were laughing more than I was which gave me confidence, you know? And actually, the more serious you are, the funnier it is.
With the dialogue they gave you for that was there any second guessing for you, like “I don’t know if I should be saying this.” Or were you like “I’m along for the ride.”
NEESON: Oh totally, I didn’t change one semicolon in that script. That was all their writing.
Just out of curiosity, back when you were doing interviews for The Grey and people would ask you what this movie was about, you said you couldn’t talk about it. Can you comment on how secretive this screenplay was for you compared to other movies that you’ve done? I mean, the lengths that you hear some actors and filmmakers have to go to; Christopher Nolan for instance is well known for shrouding his movies in secrecy. And also I don’t know if you’ve seen the trailers and how the movie is marketed, if you want to comment about how much is given away.
NEESON: It’s just to satisfy the fans, you know? You know yourselves, there’s so much publicity now with movies. With trailers, and you think, well I’ve seen the whole movie now, you know? I mean, Chris Nolan takes it to another extreme, like; I didn’t know I was in the movie. I went and shot a scene for two hours with Christian [Bale], and it was a set, and Christian was tied up and I said, “Chris, what am I doing?” “Well, just walk forward and say the lines, and walk back, and that’ll be it really.” “What the fuck’s- tell me the story.” “Um, well, I’d prefer not to, actually.” Ok don’t mind me I’m just an actor. They take it to another extreme, you know?
So this wasn’t so bad, then?
NEESON: This wasn’t so bad.
There were no decoy scripts or anything? Because you hear about stuff like that.
NEESON: No, no, no. There were no decoy scripts, no.
We’ve been asking people to give us their porn name, that’s where you take the first pet you ever had, and that’s the first name, and the second name is the street you grew up on. So given that criteria what would your porn name be?
NEESON: My porn name…I have to think about – oh actually I do, yeah, first pet, Rory… Gardens.
NEESON: That’s a good one isn’t it?
What do you think of your prospects with that name?
NEESON: Rory Gardens.
You fought Batman, aliens; you name it- which was the most fun for you as far as the fighting scenes?
NEESON: I think that Batman Begins – I mean you know the light saber stuff in Star Wars was fun, it was a bit of a sort of classic sword fighting you know? I love the fight I had with Christian in Batman Begins because we were actually on this glacier, this real glacier in Iceland. And we had these glacier wranglers, believe it or not, so when we were fighting with a reduced crew the glacier wrangler would say, “Ok, everybody off.” So we would all stand at the side, and this beautiful big blue glacier and this ice, you’d hear this sound of nature just moving as this thing moved maybe a quarter of an inch, and the Ice…and then it all stopped, and the guy would be like, “Ok, you can go on again.” And Christian and I were like, what are we doing here?
Do you mind talking about the car stunts, it seems like the lesson of this movie is if you have a daughter, teach her to drive a shift; but, filming those scenes, that must be very exacting too?
NEESON: Yeah, I get dizzy for a start. That’s my way of introducing the fact I hate roller coaster rides. My kids have begged me over the years when were at roller coaster rides, “Dad, please come with me on this.” Of course as a father you think, “of course I will, son.” No. “I love you to death, but there’s no way I’m getting on that fucking ride.” I didn’t curse, but… so, to answer your question, they have this things, they’re are called top-riders I think, whereby you have these amazing French drivers who’s sitting on the roof of the car with a steering mechanism, he’s actually driving the car. So you’re in driving, or in this case, Maggie was driving. And there’s no CGI, you’re barreling up these streets, but it’s this amazing stunt driver on the roof of the car who’s actually doing all the work. It’s terrifying.
What’s next for you?
NEESON: I’m going to do a Paul Haggis film next month, just for a week, and then I start a Joel Silver thriller up until Christmas, and then after Christmas I go back to the Paul Haggis film for the final two weeks.
How often do you get to Ireland?
NEESON: Oh, yeah, yeah; that place. Once a year, twice a year or so I go back, See my family. My mom and my sisters still live there.
Can you tell us what your favorite movie is and why?
NEESON: My favorite movie? Hmmm, well there’s two actually. There’s one I was talking about last night with a friend of mine; Once Upon a Time in America.
NEESON: Yeah, and Ben Hur with Charlton Heston.
Those are both epic movies, what do you like about them?
NEESON: I just remember the gut feeling of watching them up on the big cinemascope screen, I guess it was. In Ben Hur, that chariot race, it still holds up, it’s so unbelievably exciting.
Yeah, you kind of mimicked that in Phantom Menace with the pod-racing scenes.
NEESON: Oh, I guess, yeah, yeah that’s true actually. That was a chariot race wasn’t it? All CGI, but not in 1959 when they did that chariot race; wow.
I’m curious what props you’ve taken home from set along the years.
NEESON: There’s quite a few swords and stuff, from Ridley’s film, he gave me a beautiful sword I had, and Gangs of New York, I’ve got that sword, and Rob Roy, I’ve got a sword. I’ve got a few of those.
So it’s all about the swords?
NEESON: Yeah, bits of armor and stuff like that.
Now, does a lightsaber count as a sword?
NEESON: Oh, I have a lightsaber too actually, yeah.
One of the ones from the film?
NEESON: The one I actually used, yeah, George allowed me to have it.
Do you have the sword from the end of Rob Roy?
NEESON: Yes. Yeah, yeah I’ve got that sword. Why, do you want to buy it?
Taken 2 is now in theaters.