Liam Neeson will startle you as legendary sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. He treads into new territory with the unbridled sexuality, including a heavy dose of homo-erotica, on display in the film. It's risqué stuff, but Neeson and the excellent accompanying cast do a great job of shedding some light on America's first sex therapist. Fox is pushing Kinsey as its Oscar candidate for the year, so Liam should be in the running for a little gold statue. He had a sore throat and was very soft spoken, almost inaudible, during the interviews. Still, he gave it his all and the Irish good humor popped out from time to time.
Would you have given Kinsey your sexual history?
Liam Neeson: Oh yeah, I'd love to. Apparently, he has this real special thing that came out of him, out of a 1:1 session. As you know, he interviewed people from every walk of life. I read lots of letters at the institute people sent him after they experienced his sessions, saying how strangely transformed they were.
Did you feel that way about doing the role, maybe the same way they felt after doing the interview?
Liam Neeson: There's always the wonderful feeling that you've completed something. It's a good solid piece of work. But I can't equate that feeling after just a sense of reading some of those people's letters. It must've been a remarkable experience for them to feel normal, no matter how bizarre their sexual practices must have been.
You've been quoted as saying that you had to dig deep into your psyche in order to prepare for this role.
Liam Neeson: That's like something you read in Entertainment Weekly. Dig deep? Well there wasn't enough information available on Kinsey. There were various biographies. It's part of playing a character, getting all this info together with physical characteristics. Glamming it all together and trying stuff out, held by two weeks of rehearsal. I obviously go into the truth of every scene. And if that's called digging deep, then yeah.
What were the scenes that specifically brought you closer to the character?
Liam Neeson: I like the lecture scenes in the film. I remember the day we did those. Very early on, I was delivering the lectures and it was all Kinsey's speech. It was all his words to three to four hundred young people. It was a very, very grueling day. They were great, the extras were fantastic. They were hanging on to every word and it just made me feel good. I thought, well of course, Kinsey absolutely adored teaching. He was a wonderful teacher. So these kids really inspired me. So that was a clue I hung onto. He loved young people, he absolutely loved them. And he loved teaching them and trying to help them.
Kinsey seemed to be humorless. Was that difficult to play? Did you want to inject some humor into him?
Liam Neeson: We had levity on set before we started shooting, which is important, because a lot of the stuff is very, very dry. He was on this single-minded quest. So you're right, there's not a lot of room for humor.
Did you read his report?
Liam Neeson: I did, although I didn't read from page 1 to page 187, but I read chunks of it. I did a little bit of science when I was in the university, so I was able to understand the graphs and pie charts and stuff like that. It was extremely dry.
You share a very intense kiss with Peter Sarsgaard. Was that your first as an actor?
Liam Neeson: No. But it's the first time on film I have. In ‘Oscar Wilde' [the play], I have.
Is it different from when you kiss a woman? What's the mindset?
Liam Neeson: It's no different. The scene was important as to where the film goes after that. So we wanted to get all those elements right. But it wasn't a big deal.
How did you prepare for the scene?
Liam Neeson: It obviously has to be choreographed to some extent. We shot it in a room at the Chelsea Hotel. This sleazy little room in a hotel, it kind of made it all the more sleazier because of the 1950's furniture. But we had a really good working relationship. We did choreograph it, more for Peter, because he's, you know, buck naked. I wouldn't have done that.
Why wouldn't you have done that?
Liam Neeson: (laughs) I'm not showing my dick out.
Is Peter a good kisser?
Liam Neeson: I'm not going to answer that.
Are you concerned that Kinsey's bisexuality will be too prominently discussed in terms of the rest of the picture?
Liam Neeson: I think people think sex is controversial. Not always, but certainly it's something to be discussed. Not to be swept under the carpet, but the man was bisexual. I think he suffered terribly as a young man because of it. He was fearful of it, especially in high school. So it is something to be talked about, but I don't think it overwhelms the structure of the film.
There's a chilling scene where he circumcises himself. Did you think it was necessary and what do you think it tells us about him?
Liam Neeson: I'm still ambiguous about it. Did Kinsey actually do that? Apparently, he did. There are two schools of thought. One, that he was really depressed over his loss of funds to the institute. And the other was that he was so gripped by his subject matter, in interviewing many strange and wonderful people that he being the bench scientist that he was, wanted to experience what they were experiencing. To go into the world, he engaged, not all the time, but he engaged the occasional weird sexual practice. That was part of the scientist in him. It wasn't because he was going loopy; I don't believe that about him at all. I find that extremely hard to do. Where it comes in the film, I realize why it was put in, especially when he loses his grant. But I'm still a bit ambiguous about it.
How was sex education taught when you were growing up? Did you go through a similar situation as Kinsey?
Liam Neeson: That seems vulnerable to go into because it's personal. But let's just say I'm Irish. I grew up in the 1950's. Religion had a very tight iron fist. Of course, there were terrible feelings of guilt and ignorance. I learned my "facts of life" on toilet walls. I'd walk up in school bathrooms and there would be crude drawings and figures engaged in sex. That's how I learned.
What was it like working with director/writer Bill Condon?
Liam Neeson: I was on the jury duty on the Deville Film Festival a few years ago. Bill's film [Gods and Monsters] was being shown, maybe for the first time in Europe. I championed the film. I thought it was quite remarkable. I had never seen anything like that. Just kind of what he achieved and the subject matter was incredibly fascinating. He's a genuine theatrical actor. Before directing he was an extraordinary theatrical actor. Anyway, I was a big fan of Bill's and he quickly got in touch with me about this project that he said he had written. It was kind of a win-win situation.
At this point of your career, how do you choose your films? You follow up the relatively low-budget, independently financed Kinsey with the mega-budget Batman Begins?
Liam Neeson: Sometimes, I'll be on the phone with my agent like, "Hello? What? Who's going to be in it? Oh God. Wait a minute…how much money are they offering me?" (Laughs)