If you're a fan of the "Taken" films, chances are you've asked yourself this question: "Why can't these people choose a "staycation" for a change?" Then again, if they did, you would not get to watch Liam Neeson save the day.
Neeson, who received that rare second act career change thanks to the unexpected success of "Taken," is now the proud originator of an action genre archetype. While the ageist corners of the Hollywood complex seem hell bent to promote a youthful agenda, the 60 year-old star remains a true inspiration and a big box office draw.
Since "Taken," the Oscar nominated star of "Schindler's List" proved the brains and brawn of such varied popcorn fare as "The A-Team," "Unknown," the infamous "Battleship" and the "Clash of the Titans" films. (Last year, the best hybrid of all the screen Neesons had to be the wilderness survival drama "The Grey.")
Sitting down with the actor for this Personalities Interview last fall in New York, it was interesting to find out that he wasn't entirely sure of returning to the role of former CIA operative Bryan Mills for "Taken 2."
"I thought the first one was wonderful," Neeson said. "How can you do a sequel? What? She gets taken again?"
In the end, it was the added layer of his being the one kidnapped out of revenge, along with ex-wife (played by returning co-star Famke Janssen). With his screen daughter (Maggie Grace) now charged with saving the family, the heightened stakes and the exotic Istanbul setting proved irresistible to Neeson. It also proved equally tempting to audiences, who turned "Taken 2" into one of last year's hits. (It was just released on Blu-ray and DVD this week.)
Still the quiet giant at 6'4, Neeson is very aware of his changed public perception thanks to "Taken." A boxer in his youth, trust the Irishman will not be so easily provoked to throw any punches. But, in terms of protecting his own family?
"I'm not Bryan Mills," Neeson smiled. "I can certainly empathize. I’m a father of two boys."
Find out what else Neeson had to say about his most popular film role yet and why he still sees the world as a hopeful place despite his dark journeys on screen.
JORGE CARREON: It’s amazing how “Taken” was not only a box office hit, but spawned its own subset within the action genre itself.
LIAM NEESON: The success of the first one really took us all by surprise. I loved the film. I thought at best it was a nice, compact, tight little European thriller that might have a life and then disappear into DVD land. Fox took it and it was a huge success. This audience just grew for it.
CARREON: Why do you think the exploits of Bryan Mills struck such a strong chord with audiences?
NEESON: We all belong to families. I think we could all relate to how you would feel if your child or your brother or your sister was kidnapped. You would move heaven and earth to get them back. I think people tap into that and get a wonderful guilty pleasure out of seeing my character dispense with the bad guys. But he’s still a father, a grieving father. That makes him all the more dangerous.
CARREON: You’ve been part of existing franchises before, but it felt like “Taken” had a logical finish. What convinced you to return for a second installment?
NEESON: [Producer] Luc Besson and his writing partner Robert Mark Kamen came up with a good scenario. Originally, I wasn’t interested. I thought the first one was wonderful, with a great beginning, middle and end. I thought that’s it. How can you do a sequel? What? She gets taken again? It’s stupid, but they came up with a good scenario. Istanbul was a very appealing location to shoot and I was with this amazing French crew and a great director. So, it was “Let’s increase the pushups in the morning now. Let’s get back into the sit ups and do this again.” They’re great fun to make.
CARREON: Bryan Mills is a great addition to the action hero archetype, but he is an original concept, not one from an existing fictional source? Did you get such covert men to reveal a bit of their lives to you?
NEESON: I’ve had the pleasure of knowing a couple of these guys; I guess you’d call them special operatives, soldiers. If Bryan Mills is two steps ahead, these guys are like four and five steps ahead of the enemy. The stories they have told me and advised me about in regard to their lives, but without giving away secrets. It’s amazing how meticulous they plan operations.
CARREON: Bryan Mills has amassed a legion of fans, which I am sure has a lot of people seeing you in a much different light.
NEESON: [SMILES] I’m not Bryan Mills. I don’t have that particular set of skills, but I can certainly empathize. I’m a father of two boys. I can certainly empathize with that paternal feeling you have for your children.
CARREON: While “Taken 2” is very much an action film first, it does take time to offer the balance of a personal life. Did these quieter family scenes help you feel more invested in the role?
NEESON: Very much so. With this sequel, it was great to be back together with my family. I do see Maggie [Grace] as my daughter and Famke [Janssen] is featured more in the second film. We had a special time and it’s lovely, after doing all that action stuff, to actually sit down and do some acting scenes together where you’re talking about emotions.
CARREON: Even with the PG rating, “Taken 2” has some brutal physicality on display, especially at the end. If anyone had any doubts, yes, you remain very much a boxer in winning form.
NEESON: Oh, I love doing all that. I love doing all that physical stuff. We worked very, very closely together, my stunt double, myself, the choreographer. When we wrapped every night, we were in the gym or in a room in the hotel practicing this stuff. That’s fun to do.
CARREON: You have the privileged position to venture out of your comfort zone to go to locations like Turkey to make movies. “Taken 2” does present the world as a very dangerous place. It almost makes you wish Bryan Mills and his family would just stay home. Still, topicality can be found in the “Taken” films. Is the world more dangerous to you?
NEESON: I guess there is an element of that. But it’s still a great, big, beautiful, wonderful world no matter what the headlines of the newspapers are and it’s there to be explored. It’s there for our children to go out and explore and explore different cultures and learn from it. I never lose hope.