the commuter

Liam Neeson on 'fantastic' Leo Varadkar, Brexit and doing fight scenes aged 65

The Ballymena-born actor talked to us as his new film The Commuter was released in Ireland. / YouTube

LIAM NEESON IS not short of opinions.

As anyone who watched the Late Late Show last Friday will know, the 65-year-old actor has strong thoughts on whether there’s a ‘witch hunt’ going on in Hollywood in the wake of a wave of sexual assault allegations. And though he raised questions about some of the allegations, he said he does believe the movement is “healthy”.

Previously, the Goodwill Ambassador for Unicef has spoken out in favour of gun control in the USA, written a column against anti-carriage horse campaign in New York, and narrated an Amnesty International video about legalising abortion in Ireland. (He’s also had to refute reports that he had converted to Islam, after his praise for the Islamic call to prayer was written about).

When meets him to chat about his latest film The Commuter, however, he’s more concerned with politics. Like most of the press assembled that day (aside from RTÉ’s Ryan Tubridy), we’re afforded just a few minutes with the Ballymena-born, Hollywood-based father-of-two.

The Commuter carries Neeson along the same action movie path he’s been treading for the past decade, since the release of 2008′s Taken. In Taken, (which spawned two sequels) Neeson plays a retired CIA operative who winds up having to rescue his own teen daughter after she’s kidnapped in France.

‘We’re all still worried about Brexit’

In The Commuter, there are plenty of gunfights and action sequences, but there’s also the implicit message that the American middle class wants to put its middle finger up to big financial institutions like Goldman Sachs (which is mentioned – and insulted – in the film.

‘Feel downtrodden because of The Man? This movie is on your side’, its message seems to be.

Is this something that drew Neeson to the film? As it turns out, despite being a long way from Ballymena these days, it is. “We’re reading so much now about the middle class. I live in America and have done for 30 years now, every day we’re reading about the dissolution of the middle class and it’s the same in Britain too,” he says.

We’re all still worried about Brexit and what’ll happen – the middle class, all of us. But that had a reverberation for me. And I think it will also be a hook for audiences to identify with.

That hook is also there in how his character McCauley is treated at work. “My character is 60 and his boss who’s half his age is telling him you’re too old for the job. I think people can relate to that,” says Neeson. In a way, Neeson’s embracing of action films at the age of 55 is his own middle finger up to those who think that he should be hanging up his proverbial boxing gloves.

Neeson says he’s “proud” of the fight scenes which he and stunt coordinator (and longtime Neeson stunt double) Mark Vanselow cooked up – at 65, he certainly shows that stunts aren’t just a young man’s game.

But back to the politics.

“We could talk about it all night if you want,” says Neeson when jokes that we won’t be grilling him about politics. Because it turns out that he’s happy out to discuss what’s happening in the world, especially as a man from Northern Ireland, where the government has been in stalemate for over a year.

“It’s a concern, and certainly with what’s happening with Brexit, what’s happening with the British Cabinet,” he says of the situation. But he’s a big fan of one Fine Gael leader.

“Our new prime minister here [Taoiseach Leo Varadkar] I think’s fantastic, I really do,” he enthuses. But he’s mostly concerned with the DUP and Sinn Féin coming to some sort of power-sharing agreement in the north. “And I just hope in the north of Ireland where I’m from, that this devolution will happen, it has to happen. We’ve elected these people, they have to come to the plate, you know? It’s precarious, it really is.”

Northern Ireland is a particularly big draw for the film and TV industry thanks to the success of shows like Game of Thrones. Does he fear the impact of Brexit on Ireland’s film industry?

“Of course,” says Neeson. “Especially now as the world knows about Northern Ireland. My driver today was telling me there’s 56 cruises booked for next year to land in Belfast so that Chinese [people], Asians, all these extraordinary countries want to come and see where Game of Thrones was shot. That has a trickle-down effect to every job, every industry in the north of Ireland and indeed the rest of Ireland. We’ve got to work on that, build on it, we can’t mess it up.”

A man with a past / YouTube

Neeson’s character in The Commuter, Michael McCauley, has an interesting past (he’s a former police officer who lost a load of money during the financial crash), on top of the sort of gun and perception skills that your average train-taker lacks.

At 6ft 4ins, Neeson cuts a striking figure on film – the sort of man who it’s believable is a former CIA agent, but who’s just normal enough to feel like an approachable dad. In The Commuter, he cuts a comforting figure as an insurance salesman who’s deeply in love with his wife, and just trying to earn a crust in New York to ensure his teen son can go to a good college.

Sure, the Commuter is no Oscar-shoe in, but it is extremely – in the best sense of the word – entertaining. There’s enough emotion to keep you invested in all the characters (McCauley’s family life is solidly set out by director Jaume Collet-Serra in a series of Groundhog Day-style vignettes at the beginning of the film), enough action to have this journalist cowering, and a few big twists and turns to keep you guessing about what’s really going on.

As for what’s next for Neeson – if you were wondering where the beard comes from, it’s in aid of his current role. It’s one of six Westerns being directed by the Coen Brothers, together called The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which is due to be aired on Netflix.

It’s an interesting time for an actor of Neeson’s stature - though he stars in films that touch on contemporary events, they’re not at the level of movies like Schindler’s List, which explore tragic moments in history.

But due to being a Hollywood heavyweight, he’s going to be continually asked to comment on topics such as MeToo and the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

And as the response to his Late Late Show comments demonstrate, people are listening closely to what he has to say.

The Commuter reaches cinemas in Ireland on Friday 19 January.

Read: Liam Neeson says there’s a ‘witch hunt’ in Hollywood over harassment allegations>

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