Liam Neeson comments on the arduous shoot and playing Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg's biopic
Liam Neeson seethes with vengeance in David Von Ancken's existential western, Seraphim Falls. Neeson stars as Carver, a man who will stop at nothing to kill a hated foe (Pierce Brosnan). The journey consumes him and the lives of those who foolishly follow him. It's Neeson's best film in years and dramatically different from his previous roles. I find it odd that the studio would release the film right outside of award contention in January. The performances are very strong and would have certainly garnered a few nominations. He disagreed with my observation and was happy to have a January release. Liam's next film is "Taken", produced by Luc Besson, but his follow-up film is the one creating buzz. He is set to portray Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg's biopic of the president during the Civil War.
The entire film is basically shot outdoors in the winter. What was it like filming under those conditions?
Liam Neeson: It was pretty intense because we were finding light every day. We shot in New Mexico in the wintertime. The sun came up about eight o'clock, but it dropped at 4:15, literally dropped like a stone. There's very little down time, sitting in trailers and all that. We had to be able to mount and dismount. If he [Pierce Brosnan] started a scene on a particular set, he would finish his work, then me and my posse would move into the same set and do our bit. We had to be ready. I had nothing compared to what Pierce had to do. I was always wrapped in a big bearskin coat. If anything, I was always sweating too much.
We've seen you in several films on horseback, but nothing like this. How did you prepare?
Liam Neeson: We had fantastic wranglers. We did get a week, week and a half, to be with our horse. It was a great seven-year-old horse called Spider. Cate Blanchett rode him in a picture with Tommy Lee Jones [The Missing]. He was magnificent. He just made me look good. I'm a competent rider, but he made me look good.
Were there any accidents or close calls on set?
Liam Neeson: A couple of times there were, in our horse riding training, we went out with a couple of the stunt guys. We got the horses into a gallop. My stunt guy, Mark, his horse's hoof went into a gopher hole. He and the horse tumbled over about six, seven times. We're sure this man had hurt himself and that it was a bad omen for the film, but Mark got up, pulled these bits of cactus out of him and said, "I kind of enjoyed that".
This is a film about revenge and the toll it takes. Have you ever grappled with revenge?
Liam Neeson: We live in an age where revenge seems to be the most important thing for individuals and countries. The reason I was attracted to this film was because it had an act of forgiveness in it. I find it very appealing.
Do you think your character can forgive him?
Liam Neeson: It's like the bible says, "Love your neighbor". I always think, love? Do you forgive each other? You decide you have to accept each other's differences and move on.
Is that forgiveness?
Liam Neeson: I think it is. I think so.
If Carver had realized how devastated Gideon was, would he have been as hell-bent on seeking revenge?
Liam Neeson: I think probably. He would have thought his torture is nothing compared to mine.
Did you keep your distance from Pierce outside of filming to keep your anger up?
Liam Neeson: We became good buddies. I think we're good solid pros. We didn't wear our method acting hats at all in this one. We did the day's work and it was good to get back to the heat of the hotel.
You told David Von Ancken [the director] that you've waited sixteen years to do this part. Why?
Liam Neeson: I always wanted to do a western, because it deals with myth and mythology. Both Pierce and myself grew up avidly watching westerns, especially John Ford. He kind of invented the American western myth. I felt it was very much in my blood and indeed there were millions of my countrymen that came out here. They helped build the railroads, the canals, roped the cattle, shoot the buffalo, many of them were Irish. So I kind of felt it was in my blood. I also liked the script. It wasn't cluttered with any complexities. It just had something very clean, very sparse, and elemental.
There are no clear-cut villains or heroes in this story. Were you able to empathize with Pierce's character at all?
Liam Neeson: I kind of did. With this ongoing collaboration for "Abraham Lincoln", I've read a lot of books on the Civil War. The aftermath of 625,000 men killed, sometimes father against son, brother against brother, the scars that were left on the nation. There were lots of leaders in the union, after the war, that wanted revenge, wanted the south to suffer for the secession. Abraham Lincoln was extraordinary and said no. We have to build and heal the nations wounds. There was still an animosity. You can still feel it in the south nowadays towards the north. It's still kind of seething in lots of ways. That's a bit longwinded, but I did understand something of Pierce's character. He has lost two sons in the battle of Antietem. I know the script doesn't go into that, but it's mentioned.
So you're still doing Spielberg's biopic of Abraham Lincoln?
Liam Neeson: We're still going to do it.
Is that what you're preparing to film next?
Liam Neeson: No, a film for Luc Besson's company, "Taken", I believe. It used to be called "Kidnapped". I start that the end of this month.
The film is excellent and the performances are great. Do you wish it could have been released earlier for awards contention?
Liam Neeson: Sometimes a small film like this can get lost, and I use small because it's not a huge budget. There are so many pictures that come out this time of the year. I think the release date is actually a good time because all the academy stuff has been settled. It's all been done and dusted. For the moviegoer, I think there's freshness.
What'd you think of the Oscar nominations? Is it Peter O'Toole's year to finally win one?
Liam Neeson: I think that the film, to be honest, is slight. I wish there was more with he and my mother-in-law, Vanessa Redgrave, because that's the relationship I wanted to see. But he is wonderful.
Liam Neeson: I did. It was a serious omission by the academy. It's a terrific film. I was at the premiere here to honor Bill. It was the first time an audience stood up and applauded halfway through the movie.
You didn't get a nomination for Kinsey. Does getting passed over change the way you look at a film you've done?
Liam Neeson: It's sometimes surprising what gets picked up and rolled along, while other stuff doesn't get mentioned. It's interesting. I thought Jack Nicholson [The Departed] had never been better. Everyone is saying he's over the top. He was so dangerous playing that crazy guy. In fact he didn't go over the top, I wish he'd done a bit more. I was stunned at his omission, but it doesn't affect my remembrance of the performance.