Neeson takes on Istanbul
LIAM Neeson returns in his latest film, Taken 2, as Bryan Mills, a protective father who just happens to be a retired CIA agent with a ‘‘very particular set of skills’’.
The actor, 60, has played, as he says himself ‘‘Michael Collins, Schindler, Zeus and a Jedi’’, but he was surprised to find himself playing Bryan again.
Since the success of Taken – one of the most successful French-made films ever released in the US – Neeson has found a resurgence in his career and fans have been crying out for a sequel.
Having won legions of admirers through his roles in films such as Schindler’s List and Star Wars: Episode I, and capturing women’s hearts as a grieving widow in Love Actually, now Neeson is an action hero.
But the Irish actor admits, despite his admiration for screenwriter Luc Besson, he never even expected the first film to be such a hit. ‘‘We were all pleasantly surprised.’’ After the film was released in France to an average reception, Neeson thought he’d heard the last of it. He says his nephews rang him up and told him they’d downloaded it on the internet.
‘‘I remember thinking, well that’s the end of that, it’s finished . . . it will disappear into DVD land,’’ he says.
But the film as released in the US and the UK in 2009 and was a smash hit.
Since his first big screen role playing Jesus Christ in Pilgrim’s Progress in 1977, Neeson has had a prolific acting career, making more than 70 films – six in the past year alone.
Tragically widowed when wife Natasha Richardson was killed in a skiing accident in 2009, the actor was left to bring up their two young sons alone at their home in New York.
He also threw himself into work, but says it was the idea of a trip to Paris that first attracted him to Taken.
‘‘There was something about the story that was dead simple, plus there was a chance to do all this physical stuff, which I loved doing, you know.
‘‘And it was three months in Paris, which isn’t too shabby,’’ he says.
Taken fans have been begging for a sequel since, but Neeson says it took time for him to come around to the idea.
Then he got the script set in Istanbul, with Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen returning more prominently as Bryan’s daughter and ex-wife. Neeson was finally convinced. Once again, another exotic location was part of the attraction. But filming car chases, shoot-outs and explosions in the narrow, winding streets of Istanbul was quite a challenge. ‘‘It’s an extraordinary city,’’ he says. ‘‘But a lot of the streets we shot in, which are thousands of years old, were as wide as this room, with shops on either side and merchants selling their wares, and you’re doing a car chase at 70 miles an hour and people are saying, ‘No, no, no, I’m not closing my shop. You do your movie and I sell my wares’.
‘‘So there’s people crossing the road all the time! Nobody was hurt at all, but it added an exoticism to the film.’’
Being cast as an action hero when you’re 60 is not as easy as Neeson makes it look. With the success of other films such as The Expendables meaning ageing action stars are dominating the box office, is 60 the new 20?
‘‘Sixty is the new 40, that’s for sure,’’ Neeson says, smiling.
Liam Neeson, pictured in a scene shot in the streets of Istanbul, returns as Bryan Mills in