About 80 per­cent of a crime

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - PERSPECTIVE - PHILIP MARTIN

She han­dled the sit­u­a­tion of the rape in the most ex­tra­or­di­nary way. But my im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion was … I asked, did she know who it was? No. What color were they? She said it was a black per­son. I went up and down ar­eas with a cosh [blud­geon], hop­ing I’d be ap­proached by some­body—I’m ashamed to say that—and I did it for maybe a week, hop­ing some “black bas­tard” would come out of a pub and have a go at me about some­thing, you know? So that I could … kill him.

— Liam Nee­son to Cle­mence Michal­lon of The In­de­pen­dent, dur­ing a press jun­ket for Cold Pur­suit

Ev­ery­one in Hol­ly­wood is about 20 per­cent smaller than you think they are. This is a func­tion of the cam­era— it fa­vors the fine-boned and del­i­cate. Peo­ple with rel­a­tively large heads pho­to­graph well. Thin­ness is re­warded. Many ac­tors and ac­tresses are quite small in real life, in part be­cause act­ing is a pro­fes­sion where be­ing rel­a­tively small is not a dis­ad­van­tage. It’s all a mat­ter of scale.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any phys­i­cally im­pos­ing peo­ple in Hol­ly­wood. In fact, it used to al­most be a re­quire­ment that lead­ing men be tall. Cary Grant and Clark Gable were both about 6 foot 1. John Wayne was a fa­mous 6 foot 5. Gre­gory Peck and Jimmy Ste­wart 6 foot 3. Humphrey Bog­art was an out­lier in his hey­day, though at 5 foot 8 he may still have been tall enough to play quar­ter­back in to­day’s NFL.

But in gen­eral, when you meet Hol­ly­wood celebri­ties, they tend to run to about 80 per­cent of your ex­pec­ta­tions. I have stood next to a lot of movie stars in my time. I was sur­prised to learn I am quite a bit taller than Arnold Swarzeneg­ger and that For­est Whi­taker, who seems so im­pos­ing in The Last King of Scot­land, is a bit smaller than I am. I was sur­prised to dis­cover the strap­ping Liam Nee­son, billed as 6 foot 4, is al­most pre­cisely my size.

My ed­i­tor might not like me telling this story, but I was mis­taken for Nee­son once, in the bar of the Penin­sula Ho­tel in Bev­erly Hills. You might bet­ter un­der­stand how that might hap­pen if you know that I was only in the ho­tel wait­ing to in­ter­view the ac­tor and that the peo­ple who took me for him knew he was some­where on the premises. And it was in a bar and though I was drink­ing cof­fee I can’t vouch for what they were hav­ing.

I don’t re­mem­ber much about my in­ter­view with Nee­son ex­cept for the mea­sured gen­tle­ness of his voice and the way he down­played his sup­posed “ca­reer” as a prize­fighter. He only boxed a lit­tle as a boy, he said. He only played tough guys in the movies.

I came away from the in­ter­view lik­ing him more than I did what­ever movie he was in—this was be­fore Taken but af­ter he’d be­gun to carve out a ca­reer as an ag­ing ac­tion star— and wish­ing I’d had more time to talk to him about grow­ing up Catholic in a pre­dom­i­nantly Protes­tant North­ern Ire­land town. But you hardly ever get a chance to talk about real things in those in­ter­views; if you stray too far away from the prod­uct be­ing pro­moted the pub­li­cist in the cor­ner might in­ter­vene.

So while I ad­mired the in­tel­li­gence he seemed to project, the in­ter­ac­tion was strictly trans­ac­tional. He ful­filled his con­tract with the

film’s dis­trib­u­tors and had a chance to bur­nish his own brand; I got enough con­tent for a col­umn inch or two and what­ever else we de­rive from be­ing prox­i­mate to the fa­mous. I got to mea­sure my­self against Liam Nee­son.

And now, years later, when Nee­son is in a bit of trou­ble, I get to re­visit that brief in­ter­ac­tion. I get to say some­thing about some­thing he said to an­other re­porter, in a sit­u­a­tion I imag­ine wasn’t dis­sim­i­lar from the one I found my­self in all those years ago.

It seems ob­vi­ous to say that Nee­son shouldn’t have said what he said to that re­porter be­cause there are things that pru­dent peo­ple do not say out loud to any­one ever. It was the sort of thing maybe you should say to a priest or a ther­a­pist, some­one bound to hold your se­crets. It was a re­gret­table thing to say, es­pe­cially to a jour­nal­ist who, hav­ing heard it, was bound to re­peat it.

Be­cause that is what jour­nal­ists do, even though we un­der­stand bet­ter than most about how stark and au­thor­i­ta­tive things look in print.

Look, I don’t even know if Nee­son was be­ing hon­est when he gave Cle­mence Michal­lon that quote. One of the prob­lems with in­ter­view­ing ac­tors is that they are very good at en­list­ing em­pa­thy while pre­tend­ing to be peo­ple pos­si­bly very dif­fer­ent from who they re­ally are. In their pres­ence, it’s very easy to be­lieve they’ve con­nected to you, and one of the tricks they use to make you be­lieve this is the shar­ing of lit­tle con­fi­dences. Nee­son’s new movie, like a lot of his movies, is about the sin­gle-minded pur­suit of ret­ri­bu­tion by a griev­ing man. He might have man­u­fac­tured an anec­dote to demon­strate his first­hand knowl­edge of his char­ac­ter’s mo­ti­va­tion.

That’s a cyn­i­cal view and I

don’t have any rea­son to be­lieve it, but it is pos­si­ble.

It’s also pos­si­ble that he spoke hon­estly and with­out guile and that he was hor­ri­fied by his own ca­pac­ity for vi­o­lence and hate. It’s pos­si­ble he was gen­uinely vul­ner­a­ble when he told Michal­lon about the worst thing he had ever thought about do­ing.

I sup­pose if you want to “can­cel” him, in the same way we seem to have can­celed Louis C.K. and Har­vey We­in­stein, that’s your busi­ness. Nee­son has had sad­ness in his life, but in the big pic­ture he’s a guy who is paid hand­somely to pre­tend. I prob­a­bly won’t see Cold Pur­suit.

But when I ask some­one a

ques­tion I al­ways hope they’ll an­swer me hon­estly, even if their an­swer puts them in a bad light. Be­cause that’s the point—none of us are the brands we try to project, all of us are some­times scared and an­gry and sub­ject to bad thoughts. We all think them. Maybe our bad thoughts are dif­fer­ent than the bad thoughts

Nee­son talked about. Thoughtcrime isn’t yet crime. Here, it wasn’t just a thought; Nee­son ad­mit­ted to prowl­ing for trou­ble. But he didn’t fol­low through. It’s not as big as it looks.

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