LONDON – It’s hard to believe that, a decade ago, Liam Neeson was better known for prestige Oscar dramas than high-octane action blockbusters. The Academy Award nominee spent the first 30 years of his career making his name in films such as “Kinsey” (2004), “Rob Roy” (1995) and Steven Spielberg’s celebrated “Schindler’s List” (1993), only briefly flirting with the world of blockbusters in George Lucas’ “Star Wars” prequels. In his mid-50s, however, he launched a second career of sorts with “Taken,” the 2008 smash hit that reinvented the actor and spawned a new trend in older action stars.
Meeting Neeson, now 62, it’s easy to see what producer Luc Besson saw in him all those years ago. With a towering stature and deep, authoritative voice, there’s an unmistakable air of toughness about him, which is what probably drew millions to see “Taken” and every Neeson-starring action film since.
The third installment of the “Taken” franchise sees Neeson’s character, ex-government operative Bryan Mills, on the run himself — accused of a crime he didn’t commit and forced to draw upon a “special set of skills” one last time to clear his name.
“It was important to me that there was a good reason to come back,” Neeson says. “(The filmmakers) came up with a great idea for this movie, which keeps it interesting and doesn’t insult the audience or the previous films by repeating itself.”
The new plot twist (this time set entirely in the United States) also reinvigorated his passion for the character.
“I hadn’t starred in a sequel before the second film, and when we made the first film we just concentrated on making it as good as we thought it could be,” he says. “So it was very gratifying, the reception the first two films had. And then journalists were asking if there would be a third. I said before I didn’t think there would be a third, I didn’t think another person being ‘taken’ would work as a credible storyline, but as soon as this story came to me I began to get excited for the film, because I knew there would be a way to do it that would feel fresh.”
The film has Neeson reuniting with Olivier Megaton, the French director with whom he worked on “Taken 2.”
“I loved working with him,” Neeson says. “He has a certain pedigree in this genre and to have him involved in this film lets you know the standard we can expect, which is very high.”
“Taken 3” is just the latest in Neeson’s “second career” as an action star, a move that audiences clearly agree with. The first two “Taken” films have so far grossed more than $600 million worldwide, with this film tipped to push the franchise’s earnings to around the billion-dollar mark. The actor also flexed his muscles in the claustrophobic “Non-Stop” (2014), studio blockbuster “The A-Team” (2010) and the thriller “Unknown” (2011), to name a few. Many other actors of Neeson’s vintage have tried the “Neeson formula” (Kevin Costner, Pierce Brosnan and Mel Gibson have all made attempts at an action-star revival), but so far Neeson is the one who has deftly converted it into box office gold.
“It’s been a wonderful challenge,” Neeson says of his new status. “I’ve been lucky enough for these films to be a success, and to be able to try a number of different things because of the success — more options open up and you’re in a position to do things that interest you. But you have to be careful to take on projects you think people will enjoy, one that can take people in a different direction to what they are expecting.”
Despite this enthusiasm, time catches up with even the toughest adventure heroes, and Neeson admits there are limits to the enormous amount of stunt work he can perform.
“There are a lot of fight scenes involved in these films and I always do those,” he explains. “As you get older, there are certain things you accept you probably can’t get away with. We work very hard to make sure we keep the action believable.”
On the subject of injuries, Neeson shrugs and admits, “You’re eventually going to get some bumps and bruises, that just comes with the job.”
A quick look at his upcoming schedule will show that, while this may be the final chapter in the “Taken” franchise (for now), more action antics from the Northern Irishman won’t be far away. This year he’s set to play an aging hit man opposite Ed Harris and Joel Kinnaman in “Run All Night.” This past week, Neeson even hinted to the press that he would be up for a “Taken 4” — if Besson can figure out a decent plot that is.
With so much on his plate, does the actor ever consider taking it easy?
“Well, when you’re being offered all of these great projects, and the opportunity to work with these talented people, you just can’t say no,” he says with a grin. “It depends on how I feel as time goes on, but at the moment I’m having too much fun to stop.”
“Taken 3” is now playing in cinemas nationwide. For more information, visit www.taken3movie.com.