Taken by Action: Liam Neeson on his 10 years of kicking ass — and why he's still loving every minute of it
Liam Neeson knows what you’re thinking. “Oh f—, here we go again,” the 66-year-old actor jokes about what he guesses is people’s reaction to hearing the plot of Cold Pursuit (out Feb. 8), in which he plays a snowplow driver seeking vengeance against the drug dealers who killed his son. But this is not Taken 4, or like anything else in Neeson’s last action-packed decade.
“With Taken, it was a guy with a particular set of skills, and here is a guy on the revenge path but who’s a total f—ing amateur,” he says of Nels Coxman, his character in the part-thriller, part–black comedy. “I like that he’s just a simple, country guy who found his niche in life, which is to keep this strip of civilization open. And then the horror of horrors happens.”
Like Coxman, Neeson has found his niche, becoming Hollywood’s go-to action star, something that was far from the plan as he worked in theater and starred in award-winning films like Schindler’s List. But that changed with a script for which he literally had no expectations. “Taken was an accident,” he admits of the 2009 film. “I never focused on, ‘Oh, I’d love to do action movies.’ It wasn’t really on my periphery. I read [it] and just thought, ‘This would be great; just hang out with stuntmen every day and beat guys up.’ I did think it would be straight-to-video, and that was no problem.”
Taken was released theatrically and earned a shocking $226 million worldwide, spawning two sequels and cutting a new path for Neeson. “I enjoyed doing that first Taken movie so much; I had no idea that it would lead onto other films and other action scripts,” says Neeson. “They started sending me action scripts and you’d see ‘Leading man, age 37’ crossed out and ‘late 40s, early 50s’ written in instead [laughs]. I feel very privileged, and a little bit guilty. I’m having fight scenes with guys half my age and I just can’t stop laughing. It’s just so silly on one level and great fun on another.”
No matter how silly or guilty he feels, he sees no end in sight, despite those false headlines of his action-film retirement (he will, however, take a break for this year’s romance-drama Normal People). “If I can intersperse them every now and then with A Ballad of Buster Scruggs or Martin Scorsese’s Silence, you couldn’t ask for a better career than that,” declares Neeson. “I know myself. When I have to reach for the walker to go and beat up two guys, I’ll know: ‘No, Liam, the audience is really going to laugh this time.’ ”
Plus, after checking snowplow off the list of modes of transportation that he’s fought bad guys on (joining airplanes and trains), he’s still on the lookout for new ideas. “A car seems to be calling out doesn’t it?” he says, before perking up at suggestions of an Uber or cruise ship. “You’ve got me thinking. Okay, a family station wagon that I use for Uber to make extra money, and then something happens. And the sequel is getting away from all that. I need a break and I’m having a nervous breakdown, so somebody pays for me to have a cruise. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, this is bliss,’ and then it isn’t.”
In other words, oh f—, here we go again!