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TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of Liam Neeson - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
As film stars go, Liam Neeson certainly did it the hard way. In his late twenties he was still struggling in Irish regional theatre. By his mid-thirties, he'd risen only as far as supporting roles in a few of the Eighties' plethora of TV miniseries. Indeed, he was into his forties before his star really rose, when, as the fine character actor he had become, he brought grace, pain and a necessary touch of sleaze to the part of Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winning Holocaust tale, Schindler's List. Suddenly, he was a bona fide star, not just an esteemed player but, with the likes of Rob Roy, Michael Collins and Gangs Of New York, a kind of thespian action hero, to boot. A starring role in The Phantom Menace, the long-long-awaited Star Wars prequel, placed him right at the top of the Hollywood tree. He was 47 years old - it had been a hell of a journey.
He was born William John Neeson on the 7th of June, 1952, in Ballymena, a small County Antrim market town some twenty-odd miles to the north-west of Belfast. It was a predominantly Protestant area - actually in the North Antrim constituency of firebrand preacher Ian Paisley - and the Neesons were Catholics, but Liam claims that, growing up, he saw little sectarian prejudice. Indeed, he's said he was shocked when, visiting his grandparents in the south of Ireland, the local kids ostracized and taunted him, sneering that he was from the north and therefore "followed the Queen".
Neeson's father, Barney, a quiet, self-effacing fellow, worked as a caretaker at the local Catholic girls' school where his mother, Kitty, a lover of music and the craic, also worked as a cook. Liam, named after a well-respected local priest, would live with them, as well as his older sisters Elizabeth, Bernadette and Rosaleen, in a tiny house in a Housing Trust project. Helen Mirren, when she visited the place as Neeson's girlfriend in the early Eighties, would wonder how they'd all fitted in.
As his own father had run a pub, Barney was well aware of the dangers of drink and kept a strictly temperate household. His only indulgence was a weekly poker game with the parish priests. It was a good atmosphere for young Liam, who was a keen reader and, by 1963 when he enrolled at St Patrick's Secondary School (later to become St Patrick's College) a very disciplined student. The boy was also, from an early age, something of a cineaste. Ballymena boasted only one cinema, but it did present double bills that changed every two days. Thus Liam could watch up to 14 films a week, and he often caught them all. This would change only when, seeking the pervy dollar, the cinema turned porno. Neeson has admitted he still occasionally attended, but mostly stayed home and read his books.
Though he was a big boy (and later a huge man), Neeson was not an aggressive sort. In fact, at school many of his battles were fought for him by his tomboy sister Bernadette. Yet even before he'd gone up to secondary school he was already, from the age of 9, training as a boxer, at the priest-run All Saints Youth Club. Though Liam later claimed he'd lacked a killer instinct in the ring, he was certainly tough - at 15 he had his nose broken, then re-set in the corner by his own trainer. And he would become the heavyweight youth champion of Northern Ireland (not bad for a lad with no killer instinct). In fact, dreaming of an Olympic place, he'd only stop boxing when, at age 17, after yet another victory, he found he couldn't understand what his father was saying to him. For several minutes he entered a weird void of incomprehension, a kind of blackout, and it scared him so badly he gave up his dreams and retired from the ring.
Still, with his other hobbies, Liam had plenty to occupy him. And high on the list, as you'd expect from a famed ladies' man, were girls. Having grown up with three older sisters, Liam had no fear of them, but it was still terribly unnerving when, at ceilidhs and dances, with the boys on one side of the room and the girls on the other, you had to cross the hall, ask for a dance, and risk a very public rejection. Still, Liam liked girls, and they liked him. And, along with his friend Donald McLaughlin, he'd travel (often walking) as far afield as Carnlough, a seaside town over 10 miles away, to get a piece of the action. He once recalled how amazed he was when at one dance, having splashed on the Old Spice and expecting the usual routine, he saw barefoot girls with long hair dancing strange hippy dances. It seemed so sophisticated, so new, so appealing. And it was particularly attractive because Neeson, though a boxer and a country boy, was also (and how Irish is this?) already something of a bohemian thespian. Nevertheless, the church still held sway in Ireland, its attitudes dominating, and the young Neeson was, like most others, ravaged by guilt over his carnal desires. He'd later recall how, with no sex education in school, he'd decided at 14 or 15 to confess the sin of masturbation to a visiting missionary. As the priest went crazy, shouting that masturbation was a disease and that Neeson would have no willpower left by the age of 21, Liam sat quaking in the confessional, shocked and terrified and knowing that he'd now have to walk through all the people gathering outside for evening mass.
He'd begun acting at age 11, back at St Patrick's, and continued an on-off career in school plays - at 16 taking a part because he fancied the girl who'd be playing his character's sister. Then, at 17, he joined the Slemish Players, a troupe formed by the same teacher who'd first cast him when he was 11. This group of committed amateurs would play at the many drama festivals set in village halls across the country. Neeson would remember the Patrician Hall in Carrickmore, County Tyrone, as a typically fine place to perform, the play beginning only after the milking was done and the local farmers were washed, dressed up and ready to attend. Success for Liam would come with his very first role when, appearing in Philadelphia, Here I Come, he was voted best actor at the Larne Drama Festival. He'd also take parts in Words Upon The Window Frame and The Informer. Oddly, he'd find inspiration in Ian Paisley, often visiting Protestant churches to see the purple-faced pastor deliver his fire and brimstone speeches, recognising that this was an impressive act from which a wannabe performer could learn much.
His theatre career would be halted briefly when, at 19, he left home for the University of Belfast, to study maths, physics and geology. He lasted less than a year, returning to Ballymena and working for Guinness. For them he'd drive a fork-lift, shifting pallets loaded with crates around the factory. Much later, he'd mention a co-worker, Sam Hannah, a taciturn older man who never spoke a word to him, rather intimidating the boy. Then one day, Hannah suddenly turned to him and said "Don't stay here long, son. Get on with your life". It was advice that really hit home - and which Neeson still repeats to people in lowly positions working towards a dream. After work, he'd hitch-hike into Belfast, rehearsing on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays with the Clarence amateur dramatic group, with whom he'd perform Johnny Belinda and Under Milk Wood. He'd also continue working with the Slemish Players, in 1973 appearing with them in The Dark Of The Moon and in Cinderella as ugly sister Tapioca. Oddly, he'd also play several roles, one of them being Jesus, in The Pilgrim's Progress, an evangelical film financed by Billy Graham and, according to Neeson, possibly still playing at Christian missions in Africa.
Yet, though he loved acting, still he was unsure of it as a career. As two of his sisters had gone into teaching, he went for the safe option and followed them, crossing the Irish sea to enrol at St Mary's teaching college in Newcastle, specialising in physics (notably, he also involved himself in the college's drama programme). He was fine with the subject but, unfortunately, found himself unable to keep a classroom in check, later saying he had particular problems with 13/14-year-old girls, who he noticed would flirt outrageously to get their own way. He failed the exam to enter his third year and returned to Belfast, where he took work in an architect's office, attending to Xerox duties.
It was now that his theatre career really began. At work, he'd continually brag about his acting abilities and his bright future and, eventually, a colleague dared him to back up his boasts and try out for a place at Belfast's Lyric Theatre. He took the dare, made the call and, fortunately, had the theatre's owner answer the phone. As it turned out, she needed a tall man for her next production and Liam's height (6 foot 4) won him a professional stage debut with a 2-minute part in The Risen People. How different it all might have been had a harassed secretary taken that call.
This was in 1976, and Neeson spent that year and the next touring with the Lyric Players. '76 would see him in The Loves Of Cass Maguire, Oedipus, Henry IV Part One, We Do It For Love, Oedipus At Colonus, A Little Night Music and Philadelphia, Here I Come. '77 would bring The Gathering, Mother Courage, Black Man's Country, The Rise And Fall Of Barney Kerrigan and The Plough And The Stars. It was a great experience and a wild time as, just like the punk rockers in Belfast, the Lyric Players spread culture and new ideas against the flaming backdrop of The Troubles. Travelling around, they'd constantly be held up at road-blocks set up either by the British Army or Irish paramilitaries. Neeson's growing calm and authority onstage was noted by one of the troupe's leaders when he delivered an especially focused performance just a couple of hours after their bus was stopped and searched by IRA gunmen in balaclavas.
After two years learning his craft with the Lyric Players, the time felt right for a change of scene. At Dublin's Theatre Festival, Neeson became involved with a small local troupe, performing David Rabe's Vietnam drama Streamers. This stand-out effort would immediately lead to his being signed up by Dublin's renowned Abbey Theatre group. Over the next two years he'd appear with them in, amongst others, City Sugar, The Sea, I Do Not Like Thee, Doctor Fell, Says I, Says He, The Colleen Dawn, The Death Of Humpty Dumpty, Juno And The Paycock, and Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I and The Winter's Tale, adding to earlier festival performances in the Bard's Hamlet, Richard II and All's Well That Ends Well.
But it wasn't to be a British or Irish play that would give Neeson his breakthrough. Rather, it was his performance as the gentle, retarded killer Lenny in John Steinbeck's Of Mice And Men in 1980. In the audience one evening was John Boorman, Oscar-nominated director of Deliverance and Point Blank, who was about to film his latest project in Ireland. This would be Excalibur, a gritty, magical and quite brilliant retelling of the life of King Arthur, with Nigel Terry as the titular monarch, Nicol Williamson as Merlin and Helen Mirren as Morgan Le Fay. Boorman would cast Neeson as Gawain, one of Arthur's famed knights, a telling part that would see Liam, drunk and unable to hold his usually gallant tongue, accusing Cherie Lunghi's Guinevere of adultery with Nicholas Clay's Lancelot. To prove his word he must joust with Lancelot and loses - though his accusations would later be proved justified. Interestingly, before deciding on Excalibur, Boorman had been hoping to film an adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings. Thus Liam was denied the opportunity to become the tallest hobbit in history.
Excalibur was a life-changing experience for Neeson in more ways than one. It gave him his proper film debut, vital experience and added the word Oscar to his CV. But far more important was the relationship that began with Helen Mirren. Mirren had for over a decade been hailed as one of Britain's finest stage actresses. She was regarded as a theatrical force of nature, charismatic and devastatingly sexy. And she'd just achieved new levels of notoriety in a now-burgeoning film career that had seen her break out as Bob Hoskins' gangster-moll in The Long Good Friday, star as a hooker in Hussy and then be taken from behind by Malcolm McDowell in the infamous and much-banned Caligula. Neeson had earlier seen Mirren onstage in Macbeth, alongside Nicol Williamson (a famously fraught production - indeed, Excalibur was the first time the stars had spoken to each other since). He'd read that she was a notorious man-eater and that, if she fancied someone, she had a habit of copying their walk. So, once he joined the cast of Excalibur and became one of Mirren's boisterous drinking gang, he was shocked one day in the pub to see out of the corner of his eye that Mirren was aping his own loping stride. Shocked and, as you'd expect, delighted. After all, she might be a man-eater, but some things are worth being eaten for.
After filming Excalibur, still in 1980, Liam would return to the Irish theatre, joining the touring company Field Day, newly set up by actor Stephen Rea and playwright Brian Friel. With them, he would return to the Patrician Hall in Carrickmore in Friel's own Translations, a production that would also take the company to London's National Theatre. Having taken a brief role in the Northern Irish political drama Nailed, alongside Colin Blakely, Neeson would then move to London to live with Mirren.
Personally, Mirren would be the best thing that ever happened to Neeson. Though now fairly well-schooled in the theatre, he was not particularly worldly-wise and far from sophisticated. She introduced him to a world of art and dinner parties, spaghetti and sushi (rather than spuds), she showed him around London and Paris. She also introduced him to her friends in film and theatre, touted him around, pushed him forward for work. At first everyone considered him simply to be Helen's new toy-boy (she was some 6 years his senior), a gentle giant country lad out of his depth. And indeed he was out of his depth, later recalling his immense feeling of inadequacy when Mirren took him for his very first Chinese meal and he found himself surrounded by beautiful English sophisticates chatting gayly as they tugged the heads off prawns - Neeson having never even seen a prawn before. But eventually Mirren's unshakeable belief in him paid dividends. First came an Excalibur rip-off called Arthur The King, featuring Malcolm McDowell as Arthur, Candice Bergen as Morgan and Rupert Everett as an unlikely Lancelot, with Arthur warring with vikings (no, really) and a Pict army led by a grimy, feral Neeson, here named Grak.
Unfortunately, perhaps because it arrived so close on the heels of Excalibur, the TV movie was shelved until 1985. However, there was plenty of other work to be had. In the early Eighties, many American companies were in London producing miniseries, then a very popular form after the massive success of 1976's Rich Man, Poor Man. Liam would score a major role as Blackie O'Neill in Barbara Taylor Bradford's A Woman Of Substance. This would see Jenny Seagrove as Emma Harte, a young Yorkshire servant-girl who meets Liam out on the moors and has her ambition fuelled by his tales of glittering city life in Leeds. When she's kicked out after falling pregnant by the master's careless son, she goes to stay with caring Liam in Leeds and thus begins an extraordinary international business career that sees her build the mighty Harte Enterprises. Her story would be continued in 1986's Hold The Dream, where she battles to retain control of her empire, Liam again appearing as Blackie, a man she loves but with whom she is destined to remain just good friends.
1983 would also see Neeson in his second proper movie, Krull, another from the sword and sorcery genre. However, though helmed by Peter Yates, director of Bullitt and the Oscar-winning Breaking Away, this was no Excalibur, rather it was a fantasy for kids. In it, a princess (Lysette Anthony, who'd appear alongside Neeson again 9 years later), is kidnapped on the eve of her wedding by evil aliens led by The Beast. Her wannabe hubbie then searches for her across the country (not easy as The Beast's dark fortress magically changes location every day) and gathers around him the usual crew of mavericks and downbeats, including a sage, a cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw!) and a band of robbers, one of whom is Liam, a cynical, happy-go-lucky warrior with a woman in every village.
As said, it was no Excalibur, but it WAS work, and Mirren's machinations continued to push him into all the right places when he scored a showy role in The Bounty, a 1984 retelling of the famous mutiny. Here Mel Gibson would play head mutineer Fletcher Christian, leading the onboard revolt against Anthony Hopkins' Captain Bligh, with Neeson appearing as the wild Charles Churchill, a strong-willed free spirit brought violently to heel by Bligh and, understandably, one of Gibson's chief cohorts.
Though he was still far from established, Neeson's few productions had already placed him alongside some hugely distinguished names - Mirren, Nicol Williamson and John Boorman in Excalibur, Deborah Kerr, John Mills and a young Miranda Richardson in A Woman Of Substance, Peter Yates and Francesca Annis in Krull, and now Gibson and Hopkins, as well as Laurence Olivier and, as a crewmate, Daniel Day-Lewis in The Bounty. And there were many more to come when he won a small part in the epic miniseries Ellis Island. A major melodrama following the tales of various Russian, Italian and Irish immigrants struggling to make their fortune in the States, this would place Neeson on a cast list featuring the weighty likes of Claire Bloom, Richard Burton (in his last role), Faye Dunaway, Alice Krige, Excalibur's Cherie Lunghi and, rather demeaningly credited as Young Whore, Natasha Richardson, a decade later to become Neeson's wife. The series would also give him his US TV debut, and a big hit to boot.
1985 would be a slow year for new releases. Aside from the far from hotly anticipated arrival of Arthur The King, there would only be one movie, The Innocent. Luckily, it was a good one. Set in the Yorkshire Dales in the 1930s, it examined the lives of the poor working classes, in particular that of Tom Bell's young son who suffers his parents' squabbling and the unwanted attentions of a doctor who's keen to have him institutionalized due to his epilepsy. The child is thus the innocent of the title, his naivety constantly challenged by the adult world, and never more so than when he acts as a go-between for Liam and a married Miranda Richardson, a couple engaging in an illicit and eye-poppingly passionate affair (there's plenty of skin on show).
It was now that Neeson finally split from Helen Mirren. It was, she's said, an entirely natural process. Coming to London he'd lived in her flat, lived her life in her world, all their friends were hers. By 1985, though, he was a proper jobbing actor and could no longer be considered Mirren's toy-boy. He was his own man, independent, and was ready to fly the nest. Working schedules were now keeping them apart. He got his own place in Stockwell, south London, and began making plans.
He was now very, very busy. His next project was Lamb, where he headlined as the titular Michael Lamb, a Christian Brother with little experience of the real world who's struggling to cope with the loss of both his father and his own faith. Befriending a small boy from a terrible background, he uses the money he's inherited from his dad to make a break from religious life and goes on the run with the kid, a journey that descends into tragedy as the money runs out and Neeson decides they can never return to the pain of their former lives. Written by Bernard MacLaverty (who'd also penned Cal, the controversial Irish drama that had won Helen Mirren the Best Actress award at Cannes in 1984), it was a tough, touching movie with a shocking climax, and it won Neeson great kudos in the industry. One person impressed by his performance would be director Roland Joffe, then on a high after 1984's Oscar-winning The Killing Fields. He would now cast Neeson in his latest project, The Mission.
First, though, would come another miniseries, If Tomorrow Comes. This would concern a succession of elaborate cons as Madolyn Smith rose to become a prominent international jewel thief whose path keeps crossing that of smooth criminal Tom Berenger. Liam would appear as Inspector Andre Trignant, a French Interpol agent on their trail, who, in typically French fashion, doesn't let catching felons prevent him from enjoying long lunches and a short working week.
And now came The Mission and a gruelling shoot in the jungle, as Joffe told the fascinating tale of slave traders in 18th Century South America, battling with Jesuit missionaries who want to protect the natives and save their souls. Robert De Niro would star as a slave trader who experiences a change of heart and fights for the Jesuits, with Jeremy Irons as the holy head honcho who's betrayed and sent to a violent doom by the Jesuit top brass. Liam would appear, again in religious garb, as one of Irons' missionary brothers, with not much to do but share his miserable fate. Also on hand would be Cherie Lunghi (yet again) and Aidan Quinn, who'd later appear with Neeson in Michael Collins, like The Mission filmed by Chris Menges (who'd win an Oscar for his efforts on the latter).
On the set of The Mission, Neeson would become great buddies with De Niro (he'd later say De Niro taught him to act onscreen - keep it simple, trust the camera etc), and this would come in handy as Liam now attempted to advance his career. Keen to win more film roles, in 1985 he travelled to Los Angeles to meet with several interested agents, only to be told that he stood little chance in Hollywood while he continued to live in London. While on the way to LA, though, he stopped off for a holiday in New York, staying with De Niro and, while there, was persuaded by his host to meet a few friendly casting agents. One suggested a part in the opening show of the new series of Miami Vice, then a huge TV success.
Back in London, Neeson sent some glowing reviews to Miami Vice's casting directors and was accepted. Scoring the relevant performance visa, he now took off for Florida for three weeks' filming. Entering his hotel room, the bell-boy flicked on the TV and was shocked to see the screen filled with a close-up of Liam in Ellis Island. Neeson took this to be a good omen and threw himself into the role of an Irish playboy who's secretly plotting to blow up Concorde, a charming devil who causes further trouble by winning the heart of a Miami cop (a policewoman, that is, not Crockett or Tubbs - that would have caused a major furore). Then, returning briefly to London to put his flat on the market, he moved to Los Angeles in January, 1986, staying in a small hotel on Hollywood Boulevard with enough money to last six weeks. Luckily, having been turned down for the role of the giant in The Princess Bride (at 6 foot 4 he was considered risibly short and the part, naturally, went to Andre The Giant), he would quickly score a meaty role that would allow him a further six months. It was all he needed to break through.
In the meantime, he enjoyed plenty of European releases. First came Hold The Dream, the sequel to A Woman Of Substance. Then came Duet For One, an uncompromising drama that saw Julie Andrews as a famous violinist whose career is destroyed by MS. Her husband Alan Bates is seeing another woman, her favourite pupil (Neeson's Arthur The King adversary Rupert Everett) goes off on tour and, appalled by her present and future, she attempts suicide. Fortunately help is on hand in the form of Liam, a junk collector and merchant married to Siobhan Redmond, who begins a torrid affair with Andrews, their rough sex allowing her to feel once more alive. Liam's fast-growing reputation as a ladies' man would not be harmed by his giving Mary Poppins such a ferocious seeing-to.
Even harsher, and dealing with sex in a very different way, would be the British TV movie Sweet As You Are, which teamed Neeson yet again with Miranda Richardson. This was extremely hard-hitting stuff, one of the first dramas to deal with AIDS, where Neeson played a college lecturer who has a one-night-stand with a promiscuous student and catches the condition. Now he must tell his wife, Richardson, who in turn must face up both to his infidelity and the fact that he has taken a risk with her life. With both leads on top form, it was tortured and telling, subtly played but an emotional bulldozer.
Now Neeson's attempt on America began to bear fruit. The meaty role that he'd scored in LA was in a TV movie called Sworn To Silence. In the tradition of Hitchcock's I Confess, this saw him as a psycho on trial for the serial murder of local teens. A thoroughly unpleasant fellow, convinced he will be found innocent, he actually admits to the killings to his defence lawyers Peter Coyote and Dabney Coleman, they of course being bound by law not to tell anyone else. Sworn To Silence, an ABC movie of the week, won an Emmy for Coleman, but Neeson profited more as his impressive showing was witnessed by his old Krull director Peter Yates. Yates was busy casting for his latest project, Suspect, to star Dennis Quaid and Cher, the latter then hot property after Silkwood and Mask. He had a role that would suit Neeson perfectly.
First though came A Prayer For The Dying. This would see Mickey Rourke as an IRA terrorist who accidentally blows up a bus-load of schoolkids and, wholly disgusted, wants out. Mobster Alan Bates offers him money and consequent freedom for one last job, priest Bob Hoskins sees it and, again like I Confess, Rourke goes to confession to shut him up. Neeson would appear as Liam Docherty, an IRA colleague of Rourke's who's also horrified by the bus incident but still goes after Rourke when he tries to leave the organisation.
And now came Suspect, a superior thriller where a Washington legal secretary is murdered and Liam, a deaf-mute tramp who's opted out of a society that revolts him, is the main, well, suspect. Cher would play the defence attorney assigned to Neeson's case, who must first learn to understand him, then win him over. Quaid would play a juror who, believing Neeson to be innocent, does a bit of dodgy investigating himself. Neeson himself would be eye-catchingly excellent, first angry, resentful and distant, then gradually revealing his humanity and hard history. It would lead to a raft of roles being offered to him and, by now realising that only exposure would lead to Hollywood success, he now took as many parts as he possibly could. This ended a very difficult time for him as, possessing a very European cynicism towards the Hollywood scene, he'd made little attempt to join in with the film community, refusing dinner invitations whenever they were offered. Consequently, his contacts were few and his confidence low. It would only be boosted by continued experience.
The result of this self-imposed work-load was that in 1988 he'd appear in no fewer than four movies. The first of these was Satisfaction (later to be retitled Girls Of Summer), intended to be a cinematic breakthrough vehicle for Justine Bateman, then a big TV hit as Michael J. Fox's co-star in Family Ties. In the movie, Bateman would lead an all-girl rock band, named Mystery, as they played a summer-long residency at a seaside bar, hoping to make it to the big-time. Neeson would play the man who puts them on, a washed-up rock promoter who's been widowed and now drinks heavily while, in true Irish fashion, quoting Yeats. Bateman would fall for him, a relationship complicated when his old flame Deborah Harry shows up, and, as all the girls find unsuitable mates, it seems the band may disintegrate before success arrives.
Satisfaction was not a good film, but it was more experience for Neeson, and it provided a new girlfriend for him when he fell for the girl playing Mystery's slutty bassist. This was a young Julia Roberts, and they quickly became very close. Sadly for Liam, Roberts' star was on the rise. She'd make a name for herself in her very next film, Mystic Pizza then, on the set of her next, Steel Magnolias, she'd hit it off with co-star Dylan McDermott, to whom she quickly became engaged. Then, of course, came Pretty Woman. Neeson was said to be heartbroken (it can't have helped that he'd just had part of his colon removed due to diverticulitis), but the ferocious work-schedule he'd chosen didn't aid matters. He would soon be connected with Brooke Shields, Sinead O'Connor and Barbra Streisand.
Neeson's next release would be The Dead Pool, the last film to feature Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry (also appearing was a young Jim Carrey). Here Harry uncovers a macabre gambling game where players bet on which celebrity on a pre-chosen list will be the first to die. Liam would play a monomaniacal Brit exploitation director making a rock video. When the junkie rock star he's filming winds up dead (he's on the list), Neeson is clearly the prime suspect but, as the members of the Dead Pool continue to die, it gradually becomes apparent that the poor schmoe is being framed.
Having entered the mainstream, it was time for Neeson to court controversy yet again - throughout his career he's regularly chosen scripts that challenge the viewer's morality. He did this with The Good Mother, starring Diane Keaton and directed (affirmative, captain) by Leonard Nimoy. Here Keaton would play a mother, abandoned by her husband, who decides to bring up her kid in an atmosphere of complete trust and emotional and sexual openness. Then, in the laundromat, she's meets Liam, a passionate Irish sculptor, and they begin an affair, with Neeson being encouraged to support Keaton's liberal attitudes to child-rearing. But when the husband returns, seeking custody, the poop hits the fan as liberalattitudes are suddenly made to seem abusive, and Liam in particular is deemed to have done something very wrong. It was stark, well-played and highly charged, though the players couldn't quite rescue the movie from its weak script.
Liam ended 1988 with High Spirits, the first movie he'd make with director Neil Jordan, then on a roll after The Company Of Wolves and Mona Lisa. It would also be his first attempt at comedy, as Steve Guttenberg, hoping to rekindle the flames of his marriage to Beverly D'Angelo, takes her on a second honeymoon to Peter O'Toole's haunted Irish castle. With wifie still refusing his advances, he stumbles upon a ghostly manifestation that occurs nightly in the castle, a spectral re-enactment of Daryl Hannah being knifed by her husband, Liam, 200 years before. Neeson, it turns out, had thought Hannah was having an affair but was in fact repelled by his foot odour - and so begins an odd scenario of ghostly wife-swapping. It had all the makings of a fine farce, but Jordan would later claim he was shut out of the editing process and so much of the humour was lost. He did add, though, that his own superior version still sits in a vault somewhere, awaiting release.
1989 would see Neeson back in action in Next Of Kin, a vehicle for Patrick Swayze after the monumental success of Dirty Dancing. Here Swayze would play a Chicago cop, originally from a hillbilly family, who's investigating the death of his own brother, apparently murdered by the Mob. Swayze wants to do things by the book, but is heavily pressurized by brother Liam, now head of the backwoods family clan, who favours an eye-for-an-eye approach, like grandpappy woulda dun. It was a fairly silly movie, but a good part for Neeson, allowing him to play pained, tough and animalistic, and it led to his first Hollywood starring role, in Sam Raimi's Darkman. Here he'd play a doctor going out with Frances McDormand, an attorney who discovers documents incriminating her dodgy contractor boss. These she hids in Neeson's lab, but the boss sends his heavies to get them and they beat Neeson and blow up the lab, leaving him with massive burns and no nerve-endings. And so, feeling no pain and wearing fake flesh he's invented himself (and which only lasts for 99 minutes) he sets out for violent revenge.
With Neeson adding emotional depth to what might have been a cartoonish caricature, the film was a big hit, doubling its $16 million budget at the US box office, and it might have been bigger had Julia Roberts chosen to play Neeson's love interest rather than taking Pretty Woman. Unfortunately, with Liam disguised for the most part, it did not get his face about much. To do this, he would have to maintain his harsh workload for another three years, and would attempt to do so from a new base, New York City, where he relocated from Laurel Canyon in the hope of finding a more "real" life.
His next two roles would take him back to Britain, when he starred in The Big Man and Under Suspicion. The first of these was a gritty drama by David Leland, then still feted for Wish You Were Here, and saw Liam as an unemployed Scottish miner, unable to support his family and persuaded by Glasgow hoods to take up bare-knuckle boxing. He's desperate, arguing with disapproving wife Joanne Whalley, and must find some other way out. Under Suspicion, meanwhile, would see him as a disgraced cop in 1959 Brighton, reduced to setting up adulterous scenarios for unhappy couples keen to get around the country's tight divorce laws. But when he bursts into one hotel room, armed with his trusty camera, he finds his own wife dead, along with the client, and thus becomes a prime suspect, as does the client's glamorous wife, Laura San Giacomo.
1992 would start disappointingly with Shining Through, a WW2 tale that would see Michael Douglas as a spy masquerading as a lawyer, with Melanie Griffith as a secretary who sees through his disguise. Keen to join in his behind-enemy-lines adventures as she wishes to rescue relatives in Berlin, she's found work as a cook for a top Nazi then as a nanny for Neeson, another high-ranking bod in the Third Reich. Implausibly, Liam has a hoard of vital Nazi plans stored in his basement, and so the film becomes a feast of close shaves, betrayals and secret microfilms, more a romp than a thriller - which was probably not the idea. Oddly, Neeson later recalled that the auditions were so heavily contested he felt like he was up for the part of Rhett Butler. Every British actor was up for it, including David Bowie. Also cast would be Joely Richardson. Very soon, he'd be seeing a lot more of her sister Natasha. And he'd be revisiting WW2, with far, far more success.
As you'd expect from a fine actor living in New York, Neeson now found himself cast in a Woody Allen flick - Husbands And Wives. Here Allen's relationship with Mia Farrow would be thrown into chaos when their close friends Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis, a couple they considered absolutely solid, decide to split and seem to be loving their freedom - Pollack with aerobics intructor Lysette Anthony (earlier Neeson's co-star in Krull) and Davis with romantic Irishman Liam. And so English professor Allen considers getting it on with Juliette Lewis, a student fixated with older men, not realising that all is not so great with his newly broken-up buddies. Davis, for instance, is finding it impossible to concentrate while making love, despite Liam's charm and expertise. The movie was Allen's best in some time, and received extra publicity as his marriage to Farrow was famously disintegrating offscreen as well.
Film-wise, 1992 would end with Leap Of Faith, an oddity in that it saw Steve Martin in a straight role as a itinerant faith healer and showboating evangelist who stops off in a small town after a break-down on the highway. Liam would play the local sheriff who realises that crop failures have brought poverty to the locals and wants to protect them from this fake man of God, causing Martin to send Debra Winger to seduce him. It was a good movie, revealing many of the tricks of such travelling shows, and morally intriguing as Martin, winger and Neeson battle with their consciences. Sadly, audiences still expected only comedy from Martin and it was not a hit. This was disappointing for Neeson who'd decided that the only way to really succeed in Hollywood was to be in a hit, and this had seemed a dead cert.
But 1992 was nevertheless a life-changing year for Liam. Back in New York, Natasha Richardson, daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and thus a member of the great Redgrave acting dynasty, was planning an adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. Extremely keen to have Neeson play lusty seaman Mat Burke, she pursued him and finally he agreed. Not only would this be his Broadway debut but also, during rehearsals, he began an affair with Richardson that led to her leaving her husband, British producer Robert Fox (brother of Edward and James). She and Neeson would marry in 1994, producing sons Michael and Daniel in 1995 and 1996 respectively.
Anna Christie was a major hit, winning Liam a Tony nomination. Backstage was always packed with stars like Gregory Peck, Paul Newman and Francis Ford Coppola. It had taken the industry a long time to recognise Neeson's ability, but they recognised it now, and no one more than Steven Spielberg. Several months earlier, Liam had auditioned for Spielberg's next picture, a deadly serious Holocaust epic to be titled Schindler's List, but his chances were not looking good. Anna Christie changed that. Spielberg saw it, cast Neeson as his lead and, the morning after the big end-of-run party, following a gruelling overnight flight, Liam found himself slapped back down to earth at the gates of Auschwitz.
Before the arrival of Schindler's List, though, there were two other Neeson releases. First came Ethan Frome, adapted from Edith Wharton's novel of doomed love. Set in a wintery New England in the 19th Century, this saw Liam as the titular Frome, a hard-working man caring for his bitter invalid wife, Joan Allen. She dominates and oppresses him, so it's no real wonder when he begins a hot affair with her visiting cousin Patricia Arquette, there to serve as housekeeper. No wonder also that, when Allen discovers their covert trysts, the newly happy couple are damned to a lifetime of guilt and regret. It was bleak, bleak stuff, very different from Neeson's next outing, Ruby Cairo, otherwise known as Deception. Here Andie MacDowell believes hubbie Viggo Mortensen has been killed, but comes to suspect he's faked his death because his business is failing. She thus follows a trail of clues, winding up in Cairo where she meets Liam, the co-ordinator of some Feed The World-type charity. As the pair fall for each other, Mortensen reappears and they're drawn into a mystery involving gangsters and smuggled poison gas. It doesn't sound good, does it? It wasn't.
Following the failure of Leap Of Faith, Ethan Frome and Ruby Cairo would ordinarily have seemed like yet more missed opportunities to Liam. But now he had Schindler's List in the bag. Based on the book by Thomas Keneally, this was being heralded as Spielberg's attempt to escape the tag of blockbusting action director, to be seen as a serious auteur and even a potential Oscar-winner (everyone had conveniently forgotten about the excellent Empire Of The Sun). To do this, he was digging back into the darkest chapter in Jewish history (his own history, that is) and was daring to highlight the story's grimness and violent emotional contrasts by filming in black and white. Thus there was huge pressure on Neeson, who would play Oskar Schindler, a playboy and industrialist who saved thousands of Jews during WW2 by persuading the German authorities to let him use them as slave-labourers. And he came through, displaying macho charm and aristocratic sadism when buddying up to Ralph Fiennes vicious, cynical camp Kommandant, then frustration and a racked conscience in his dealings with Jewish leader Ben Kingsley. It was a superb performance, capped by a heartbreaking finale where, standing before the people he has saved, he cracks up when considering how much greater their numbers might have been, if he'd only tried a little harder. Spielberg got his wish, winning Oscars for his direction and Best Film. And Neeson, too, was honoured with a nomination as Best Actor (he was also nominated for a Golden Globe), oddly finding himself in competition with Anthony Hopkins and Daniel Day-Lewis, two of his ship-mates on The Bounty.
Now, at last, Neeson was a bona fide Hollywood leading man. But it was no surprise, having reached this status at the age of 41, that he mostly shied away from action movies and concentrated instead on more interesting roles. Following Schindler, he'd next be seen in Nell, a small but compact drama that had Jodie Foster as a girl found in the forests of South Carolina who, aside from her now-dead mother and twin sister, has had no contact with another human being, speaking a language all her own (she'd win an Oscar nomination for her efforts). Neeson would play a doctor brought in to communicate with Foster and introduce her to the outside world, his wife Natasha Richardson playing his partner, while dark forces work to have the foundling institutionalized.
Next would come a far meatier part when he picked up his sword for the first time in years to play Scottish hero Robert McGregor in Rob Roy. Set in the Highlands in the 1700s, this saw him as a local clansman who borrows money from laird John Hurt to buy cattle and boost his community. When the money's stolen by loathsome Brian Cox and an effete but murderous Tim Roth, Neeson defaults on repayments and goes on the run, allowing Roth to burn his croft and rape his wife. Determined and unbreakably principled, Neeson now goes seeking justice, even hiding in the belly of a dead cow to escape his pursuers. It was hugely rousing stuff, climaxing in one of the great sword-fights in cinema history, the upright Neeson and beastly Roth producing a classic battle between good and evil. It was also notable that Neeson's wife was played by Jessica Lange, three years his senior. Many lead actors demand a much younger onscreen partner, hoping it will make them appear more virile. But Neeson, having already partnered Diane Keaton, Julie Andrews, Beverly D'Angelo and Judy Davis, was clearly basing his decisions on ability, not age or looks. And, in Rob Roy particularly, it was serving him well.
Unsurprisingly, he made a similar choice for his next part, choosing to star alongside Meryl Streep in Before And After. Here they played a respected couple in New England (she's a doctor, he's a sculptor) whose lives are torn apart when their son Edward Furlong is accused of murdering his girlfriend. In the central role, driving the plot forward, Neeson would explode with rage at the investigating police, refusing to co-operate, then destroy evidence he discovers, attempting to protect his son but actually complicating matters further. Streep, meanwhile, is keen to stay above board, leading to arguments with Neeson and the kind of high-octane emotional meltdown you'd expect from two such accomplished character actors.
1996 would also bring the historical epic Michael Collins (a part he'd been considering since 1990), reuniting Neeson with director Neil Jordan, as well as Julia Roberts, Mission co-star Aidan Quinn and Liam's old Field Day buddy Stephen Rea. The second most popular film ever in Ireland, this would see Neeson star as the titular Collins, the Irish freedom fighter who fought the British invaders in the early part of the 20th Century and virtually invented urban guerilla warfare. Involved in a political struggle with Alan Rickman's sly Eamon DeValera, and a love triangle with Roberts and his chief cohort Quinn, he's eventually betrayed and assassinated (the deadly shot being fired by a very young Jonathan Rhys Meyers). It was tremendous stuff - informative, provocative, exciting and moving - and Neeson would receive a second Golden Globe nomination, as well as winning the Volpi Cup as Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival.
Neeson would not be seen onscreen again for two years, returning with a new adaptation of Victor Hugo's classic Les Miserables. This would see him take the lead role as Jean Valjean, a former convict who steals from a priest (the priest forgives him), uses the proceeds to build a business, teaches himself to read and write and eventually becomes mayor. Meanwhile poor Uma Thurman, sacked from Neeson's factory, is forced to become a whore to raise her daughter. Neeson finds out what has happened, tries to nurse Thurman back to health and, failing, promises to raise the child as his own. And, as the kid grows into Claire Danes and revolution sweeps across France, so Geoffrey Rush, a cop who knows Neeson's ugly past and yearns to expose him, steps in to continue a terrible cycle of guilt, obsession and regret. As befits one of literature's finest melodramas, it was a grand spectacle, but perhaps the story had been told too many times for the movie to score big. Whatever, Neeson would gain succour from returning to the theatre, playing Oscar Wilde to Tom Hollander's Alfred Douglas in David Hare's The Judas Kiss at London's Playhouse, the production then transferring to New York's Broadhurst Theatre, on both runs being directed by Richard Eyre.
The following year, 1999, would see Liam making the most of his Hollywood clout and starring in two high-budget spectaculars. Artistically speaking, if not financially, neither would prove rewarding. The first of them was The Phantom Menace, Episode One of the Star Wars series, where Neeson would play Qui-Gon Jinn, a Jedi knight who, impressed by a young Anakin Skywalker, decides to train him in combat and teach him the way of the Force. The pair would end up attempting to save Princess Natalie Portman's planet Naboo from evil invaders, but it was notreal challenge for Neeson, who just had to look masterful and swing a light-sabre. But at least this was Star Wars. Far worse would be The Haunting, a hugely unnecessary remake of Robert Wise's 1963 horror classic. Here Neeson would play a professor who recruits insomniacs Lili Taylor, Luke Wilson and Catherine Zeta-Jones, claiming he might be able to solve their problems if they stay with him at Hill House. In fact, he's actually experimenting in "primordial fear reaction" and, as we all know, Hill House is the perfect place for that. Unfortunately, though the production looked fantastic, shocks were few and far between and the special effects (and especially the actors' reaction to them) were quite wretched. Really, it was a very bad year for such a good actor.
If he thought 2000 couldn't be worse, he was very wrong. While he was riding back to his Connecticut home one morning on his new Springer Softail motorbike, having gone to collect muffins and a couple of bones for the dogs, a deer came out of the forest and, panicked, tried to leap to safety over Neeson's head. Horribly, it didn't make it, and wound up straddling the handlebars, kicking and struggling as Neeson fought to retain control. They flew off the road and smashed into a tree, the deer being killed instantly and Neeson, who'd been thrown clear, breaking his pelvis and having his heel near-decimated. Ever the Catholic, he sat there, dazed, thanking God and his helmet for his survival as he watched his leg puffing up like a balloon. However, he was still, literally, not yet out of the woods. Realising he might not be found till it was too late, he crawled up the embankment back onto the road and began the agonising drag back to his farm-house. Luckily, he was spotted and rescued, but the rehabilitation process would be long and hard.
Consequently, his only screen appearance in 2000 would be in Gun Shy, filmed prior to the accident. Following Analyze This in mixing therapy with organised crime, this saw him as a burnt-out drug enforcement officer who has to go undercover to catch out gangster Oliver Platt and a Colombian drug lord. Unable to cope, he enters group therapy and meets up with nurse Sandra Bullock, a feisty creature known as the Enema Queen. Yes, it was that kind of screwball comedy, not up to much, and only a strong performance from Neeson saved him from embarrassment. He did, though, have the pleasure of a Grammy nomination for his narration of the audiobook The Polar Express.
Recovered from his injuries, Liam would return to the screen in 2002 in K-19: The Widowmaker, co-starring Harrison Ford and directed by action expert Kathryn Bigelow. Set in 1961, at the height of the Cold War, this would see Neeson as the captain of the first Russian nuclear submarine, who complains to the authorities that there are problems with the craft. But, keen to get one over on the Americans, the authorities simply send aboard Ford, a relative of a Politburo member who outranks Neeson. They can't abandon ship as a nearby US destroyer will nab all their new technology. They can't blow the thing up as they'd also take out the American ship and start an all-out war. And so, out at sea, we have an increasingly tense stand-off, made all the more effective by Neeson and Ford's charismatic performances. The film, maybe because Americans still don't like Russians very much, wasn't a hit, but Neeson did enjoy a theatrical success that year when he appeared as John Proctor, opposite Laura Linney and directed by Richard Eyre, in Arthur Miller's The Crucible at New York's Virginia Theatre. Proctor - honest, flawed, guilt-racked and courageous - was perfect for Liam and he unsurprisingly won his second Tony nomination. the next year, he'd reappear on stage as a mystery guest in Kenneth Branagh's The Play What I Wrote.
Onscreen, things took a turn for the better when he took the part of Priest Vallon in Martin Scorsese's Gangs Of New York, leading Irish gang the Dead Rabbits against the locals thugs of Bill the Butcher (played by Liam's old Bounty buddy Daniel Day-Lewis). Neeson's role was brief and bloody, but he was certainly convincing enough to have us believe his men might remain loyal after his death and years later choose to follow his son, Leonardo DiCaprio, as he sought revenge on the Butcher. Very different would be his only release of 2003 (to be with his family, he'd turned down Oliver Stone's Alexander and Exorcist: The Beginning), Richard Curtis's revoltingly saccharin and mind-numbingly superficial Love Actually, which showed lots of good-looking people in varying loving relationships as they bickered and blubbed their way to a predictably happy Christmas. Neeson's story, which saw him as a recent widower attempting to forge a friendship with his young son, was not as trite or infantile as many of the others on show, but it was nowhere near as charming as Curtis clearly intended it to be.
Love Actually was, of course, a big hit, but intelligent film-lovers could only feel Neeson had damaged his reputation by appearing in such tawdry fare. He needed to find a strong artistic vehicle for his talents, and this he did with 2004's Kinsey, which saw him as the Indiana professor whose 1947 book Sexual Behaviour In The Human Male caused massive controversy as it liberated us from Victorian repression and led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality. It was another superb role for Neeson, who played Kinsey as an intelligent, obsessive humanist who tramples over everyone's feelings to reach the truth. With his Crucible co-star Laura Linney playing his long-suffering wife, and his Gun Shy colleague Oliver Platt as the college president who defends him, the movie was packed with stand-out performances, Neeson being Golden Globe-nominated for the third time.
2005 would see Liam back in full force. First the swords were out again for Ridley Scott's Crusader epic Kingdom Of Heaven, where Neeson would play Godfrey of Ibelin, a self-made nobleman who's won himself an estate in the Holy Land and defended Jerusalem against Moslem attackers. As in Gangs Of New York, he would not last long into the picture, but long enough to bestow nobility and ambition upon his long-lost son Orlando Bloom, who becomes the next heroic protector of the Holy City. Following this would come Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan's dark take on Batman's early years, involving the murder of his parents and his transformation into the warped Caped Crusader (two Crusader films in one year - a record, perhaps?). Christian Bale would play Bruce Wayne, with Neeson as Henri Ducard, who befriends young Wayne as he's travelling through Asia and teaches him martial arts and the ways of the criminal mind. It was not unlike his role in The Phantom Menace. Next would come a second reunion with Neil Jordan and Stephen Rea, and a return to Ireland, with Breakfast On Pluto. Set in the Sixties and Seventies, against a backdrop of the same paramilitary violence Neeson himself experienced when undergoing his theatrical training, this saw Liam as a parish priest who gets a tad carried away with the teenage housekeeper. Later, the child born of their forbidden lust, now a transvestite performer in London, seeks out his family, his path leading him into politics, murder and madness.
Having appeared in an episode of The Simpsons where he played a Catholic priest who manages to convert first Bart, then Homer, Neeson would end 2005 with another mighty hit when - quite naturally - he was chosen to voice Aslan the feline Jesus in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe. Taking a huge $742 million worldwide, the movie would provide a perfect launch for a CS Lewis franchise, Neeson turning up again in 2008's Prince Caspian. His next release would be very different, Seraphim Falls being a revenge western set just after the American Civil War, with Neeson and his posse tracking Pierce Brosnan across the mountains of Nevada. It was gritty stuff, mixing wonderful panoramas with brutal violence as we gradually discover the reasons for Neeson's implacable hatred.
Having chosen to cut his work rate in order to spend time with his fast-growing children, Neeson would now work primarily as a TV narrator, not turning up onscreen again till 2008 in Taken. Co-written by Luc Besson, this would see him as a former CIA operative hoping to spend more time with his 17-year-old daughter, Maggie Grace, the girl now living with his estranged wife, Famke Janssen, and her wealthy new husband. When Grace is kidnapped in Paris, Neeson has 96 hours to save her from enforced prostitution and death, drawing on all his skills in surveillance, torture, fighting and extremely fast driving to do so. With Neeson's character being beyond Bourne in his resourceful violence, it could have been very silly indeed, yet Neeson, as ever, brought a steeliness and anger to the part that kept the movie steady. It would be a surprisingly big hit, taking well over $100 million at the US box office.
Next Neeson would lend his voice to the English language version of Ponyo On the Cliff, Hayao Miyazaki's eighth animation for the Ghibli studios. Here a young boy would befriend a water sprite, in the shape of a goldfish, who wishes to become human. Very much against this transformation would be her father, played by Neeson, a former human who's turned his back on mankind and is now battling to save the oceans from the effects of man-made pollution. Also featuring Cate Blanchett and Matt Damon, it was charming, timely in its warnings and, in these CG days, a welcome example of hand-drawn brilliance.
Neeson's last release of 2008 would be The Other Man, directed by his former theatrical cohort Richard Eyre. Based on a short story by Bernhard Schlink, this would see Neeson as a successful web designer in a seemingly happy marriage with shoe designer Laura Linney (earlier his co-star in The Crucible and Kinsey), the pair doting on daughter Romola Garai. But suddenly Linney walks out, Neeson discovering that she's been having an affair with Antonio Banderas. Bewildered and incensed, Neeson tracks Banderas to Milan and attempts to befriend him to find out the truth, much of the movie involving a cat and mouse game where the pair engage in psychological warfare, Neeson being near-masochistic in his desire for details. Terrible feelings would flit across his face as he struggled to conceal his anguish and rage. Neeson had used his face and eyes to equally devastating effect back in July of that year when appearing in Samuel Beckett's Eh Joe at New York's Gerald W Lynch Theatre. Produced by Dublin's Gate Theatre as part of the Lincoln Centre Festival, and directed by Atom Egoyan, this had seen Neeson sit onstage for half an hour, his face blown up on a screen behind him, as Penelope Wilton's voice related the careless damage his character had inflicted upon the women in his past. Neeson would say nothing but still entrance audiences as the pain, fury, horror and despair he's experiencing passed across his features.
2009 would start well, with Taken remaining in the Top 10 for several months. However, just as Neeson should have been celebrating this triumph, his life collapsed around him. While he was reuniting with Atom Egoyan to film Chloe in Canada, Neeson would be told that his wife, Natasha Richardson, had suffered an accident while skiing at the Mont Tremblant resort north of Montreal. On March 16th she fell on the beginners' slopes and clearly thought nothing of it till several hours later when she began to feel unwell. She was rushed to hospital, then switched to another in Montreal, then on to the Lenox Hill hospital in New York, having been diagnosed with an epidural haematoma. At the first sign of danger, Neeson had left the set of Chloe to be by her side but could only watch helplessly as she passed away on the night of March 18th. It was big news across the world. With hits including Cabaret, Closer and A Streetcar Named Desire, Richardson had become a major theatrical star. The next evening the lights of Broadway would be dimmed in her honour. Her death was a terrible shock for both Neeson and his family.
Still, despite seeking privacy for himself and his boys, he was very much in the public eye, with a string of releases coming up. First would come Five Minutes Of Heaven, a BBC production directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel. Beginning in Belfast in the Seventies, this would see a young kid kill another to prove his mettle to the paramilitary group he wishes to join. Thirty years later, the killer, now played by Neeson, is tortured by the memory, has changed his ways and desperately wants to help his victim's brother, James Nesbitt, heal his mental wounds. It was heavy but fascinating as Nesbitt fought with his desire for revenge, the film exploring the extraordinary depth of strength and compassion necessary to end longstanding cycles of violence. Following this would come the bizarre and creepy After.Life, where Neeson would be a funeral director of sorts, preparing the body of Christina Ricci. When she unexpectedly wakes, he explains to her that she's actually dead, a proposition she naturally finds hard to take on board. So, is Neeson really what he appears to be, a medium helping souls pass into the hereafter, or a mass killer? With Ricci's boyfriend Justin Long hoping to save her, it was a crime flick, a supernatural thriller and a bizarre love triangle. Then, eventually, there would be Chloe, a remake of the French hit Nathalie. In that film Fanny Ardant had played a gynaecologist who suspects husband Gerard Depardieu of having affairs. When he admits it but refuses to discuss his dalliances on the grounds that they're too banal for words, she hires prostitute Emmanuelle Beart to seduce him and report back with details, the film asking why some men use prostitutes and why many relationships fail. Atom Egoyan's new production would see Neeson as the straying husband and Julianne Moore as the curious wife, sending Amanda Seyfried to do the dirty and thus putting her whole family in danger, the film concentrating more on suspense and drama than the Gallic original had done.
Liam Neeson is arguably Ireland's finest screen actor, and certainly one of Britain's best. He 's respected world-wide for his acting and his charity work (he's the longest-serving ambassador for UNICEF Ireland) and has an OBE to prove it. What he doesn't have is a major acting honour under his belt, a quite outrageous situation. Surely it can only be a matter of time.