‘They pay me’: Why Liam Neeson is an action hero
LIAM Neeson is fully aware of how silly his late-in-life remaking as an onscreen action hero may seem.
Ten years after the Oscar-winning actor took his first spin as a surprisingly violent father hellbent on rescuing his kidnapped daughter in Taken, he is still being paid "a fortune" to recreate that theme.
"I guess I've done a couple of them, but you know, they just pay me," he tells News Corp Australia with a wry shrug.
"I've been very honest about this, you know. We're not talking Shakespeare or Ibsen here."
In his latest film, the darkly comedic Cold Pursuit, Neeson plays a father who seeks retribution for the death of his son at the hands of a local drug cartel. With its snowbound backdrop of a Denver ski-town and quirky characters, the film is a remake of the well-received Norwegian noir thriller In Order of Disappearance, which has drawn comparisons with '90s classic Fargo.
"I've done a few action films over the past 10 years and this sort of pokes fun at that genre, especially involving me because I don't have a set of skills," says Neeson, 66.
"I'm a total amateur in seeking revenge, although quite good at driving a snowplow. And it just has this great grain of sarcastic, dark humour running through, kind of like the Coen brothers."
Seeing humour in the darkest of moments comes naturally to Neeson, who speaks in a deep Irish brogue punctuated by self-deprecating jokes and the occasional curse.
Neeson has endured more than his share of personal tragedy, having suddenly lost his wife Natasha Richardson in 2009. He was due to visit Australia to promote Cold Pursuit but explained quietly during our interview in New York that he had to cancel due to a "personal situation" in Ireland that required his presence.
Days later, the Belfast Telegraph reported that Neeson's nephew Ronan Sexton passed away later that night. The 36-year-old was in a coma for five years after falling and hitting his head, his death tragically mirroring that of Richardson, a member of the famed British Redgrave acting dynasty, who was just 45 when she suffered a fatal brain injury in a skiing accident.
After Richardson's death, Neeson's focus became his two now-adult sons, whom he continually refers to as "my boys", and work. And with this new project he has managed to bring them together, with the character of Neeson's son in the film played by his own son, fledgling actor Micheal Richardson, 23.
The pair plan to work on another project later this year, but until now Micheal's roles have been limited to bit parts, including several scenes in the upcoming Natalie Portman film Vox Lux.
"He has the genes on his mother's side because Lynn Redgrave, his aunt, god rest her, she died a few years ago … She did research on her family. Sir Michael Redgrave was her father, and they go back theatrically to the late 1700s," Neeson explains.
"So when someone says it's in his blood or her blood, it's in their blood."
When he was first considering acting as a career, Micheal spoke in an interview about how he had battled drugs as a teenager, behaviour he put down to unresolved grief at the loss of his mother.
Just last year he changed his surname from Neeson to Richardson in a tribute to her, according to his actor grandmother, Vanessa Redgrave, who told The Daily Mail: "He wanted to hold his mother close to him - because she was a remarkable actress. Absolutely remarkable".
Although Neeson tried to discourage his eldest from following the family trade, he says he is pleased to see him finding his way in acting.
"I tried to dissuade him because a lot of our profession is about rejection," he explains.
"You go up for a part and you're turned down, not because of your education or because you knows this or that person.
"You're turned down because of the space you occupy, the air you breathe. 'Your nose is too big, you're too Irish, you're too this or too that. It's a shame you're not a foot shorter.' I've had all that, and I didn't want my son to go through that.
"Meryl Streep's an old pal of mine, and if you heard her stories of rejection. You think, 'how can anyone bounce back from that kind of rejection for an audition in two hours time, for a different project?'.
"So you have to develop a thick skin and yet keep your sensitivity. But Micheal's going up for stuff, and a lot of stuff he doesn't get, and it's like, 'Sweetheart, welcome to the game. We've all gone through it'."
Although Neeson said a couple of years ago that he was quitting action films, he explained he was quoted making a joke and that he has no intention of slowing down.
"My boys are grown and I'm nearly an empty nester, and while yes, I love reading, I can't sit and watch paint dry on the wall," he says.
"I like to fly fish sometimes, but I have a work ethic from growing up in Ireland and I just love that complete strangers will send me scripts. That really touches me. It really does. I get a kick out of that."
He's on the lookout for some more cerebral fare and would love to return to theatre for the right project, but in the meantime, if some of those scripts require him to kick a couple of heads and throw some bad guys out windows, that's fine as well.
Neeson chuckles as he mimes holding a phone, talking to his agent, "It's like: 'What? How much? They know I'm 66? Right, okay. I'll be there. That's just kind of how it goes these days'."
Cold Pursuit opens on Thursday.