CALL HIM ‘DEEP THROAT’
Liz Braun talks to Liam Neeson about his timely new Watergate film and role
From Aslan to Zeus, Liam Neeson has that gravitas thing sewn up.
You believe the actor as a Jedi Master, legendary Irish revolutionary, enemy of Batman or retired CIA agent.
Neeson, 65, plays serious and mysterious like nobody’s business.
So who better to play special agent Mark Felt, keeper of important American secrets?
Felt was an FBI honcho privy to insider political information, all of which he dutifully protected — until such time as the U.S. government betrayed its own people.
Felt revealed details of the Watergate scandal to reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington
Post. Known only as ‘Deep Throat’ at the time, Felt gave the Post many of the dirty little secrets of a corrupt and venal administration, information that led to U.S. President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974.
No one knew Felt was Deep Throat until 2005.
Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House is a drama from director Peter Landesman (Concussion). Diane Lane, Tony Goldwyn, Marton Csokas and Josh Lucas co-star with Neeson in the movie, which opens Friday.
Neeson has been on movie audiences’ radar since the late 1980s when he appeared in such films as The Mission,
Darkman and The Dead Pool. Schindler’s List made the Irish actor a movie star in 1993. His resume includes such films as Michael Collins, Les Miserables, Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace, Gangs of New York, Kinsey, The Dark Knight Rises
and Silence, among many others.
Starting in 2008, the Taken franchise also gave Neeson a whole new chapter as an action hero. (And despite recent announcements that Neeson’s action days are over, he stars in at least three asskicking features next year.)
We spoke to Neeson when he was in Toronto for TIFF.
Did you have an opinion about Watergate before making this movie?
I knew very little about, other than the broad outline, what Watergate was.
I was brought up in Ireland and we were going through our own troubles at the time. So Watergate was very low on my totem pole of life’s existence.
Do you consider Mark Felt to be heroic?
I admire him. I don’t think he was initially motivated by an act of heroism. I think he was crushed that he didn’t get Hoover’s (FBI) job when Hoover died. He was a committed FBI guy for 30 years. And then the White House administration brought in Patrick Gray, who was a submarine commander! He had nothing to do with the FBI! So I think Felt and his cohorts were hurt and insulted by that … I learned recently that Felt and Bob Woodward only met six or seven times in that underground garage. Woodward knew nothing about Felt’s personal life … that says something about Felt being able to compartmentalize his life.
Was it difficult to play someone as guarded as Mark Felt?
What I did like about the guy, as a performer, I like to think I’m usually pretty emotive, and Mark Felt was almost unreadable, professionally. He had a screen over him … There’s an interview I saw with Felt, I think it was Meet the Press, and he was defending the FBI and he did it in a charming way, but you could not read what was going on in his head. And he had this mane of silver hair, really beautiful. And I thought, ‘He’s really proud of that hair!’ And proud of his suits, and I assumed he had good foot- wear. So I started by getting a good wig made, and incredibly good footwear and suits made, so that was someplace to start building.
This is a movie about a thoroughly corrupt administration — weirdly contemporary, wouldn’t you say?
At the time we made it, we didn’t know Donald Trump was going to be elected. Certainly, when Watergate was over and done with, and when Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon — and I kind of agreed he had to, America had had enough... Anyway, seeing Watergate completely finished, it was staggering in its impact for the idea of democracy, and what was at stake. And having the freedom of the press, with these two neophyte reporters, just chipping away at stuff.
Has your fan base changed since you became an action hero?
Look, the action stuff, that wasn’t planned. (Laughs) It was great fun to do, and great to do all that stuff, and at the age of 65 they’re still offering me stuff where I’m beating guys up and such. But it was nice to do this Felt thing, and Scorsese’s film, Silence, which was very much a man troubled about his faith … But yes, sometimes it happens: the Taken crowd. And if they ask for a photo (flexes menacingly) I always do this!
How did you like working with Diane Lane?
Diane is a great actress, theatre trained, which I love. As I am myself. There’s a line you can just cut through something when you’re with a theatre actor. Josh (Lucas) too, and Tony Goldwyn. Diane’s terrific. She’s a great actor. And she has a butt like a 20-year-old! (Laughs) Please tell her I said that.