Today: July 18, 2024

Liam Neeson Talks A Walk Among Tombstones

Irish-born actor, Liam Neeson, is an unlikely action hero. Yet, film after film, he keeps coming up with new takes on the genre that are better than one before. Director Scott Frank’s thriller, A Walk Among The Tombstones, is his latest action classic.

The film is based on Lawrence Block’s bestselling series of mystery novels about former NYPD cop Matthew Scudder, who works as an unlicensed private eye. Neeson stars as Scudder, who agrees to help a drug trafficker (Dan Stevens) hunt down the men who murdered his wife.

Tombstones is a bleak and gritty film. And it seems acting ‘bleak’ is what keeps Neeson standing upright. It was only five years ago that he lost his wife and true love, Natasha Richardson, who died of a head injury from a skiing accident.

That was followed by his recent admission of substance abuse struggles, following a motorcycle crash in 2000. “I wasn’t supposed to last the night,” he revealed in an interview. “And when they took me to the hospital and gave me morphine, ugh, I thought, ‘This is how I want to go, with a big fuckin’ jar of this stuff.’ And then when they give you that drip that you give yourself every six minutes… I knew I was hooked, because I was counting those fucking drips, the seconds until I could push that button, and it was instantaneous, that high was.”

Drink also became a problem after the death of his wife. “I was drinking too much” he admitted. “It was like, so easy… Never at work, never would do it like that, but this time of night? Sitting with you, I’d easily be on my second bottle. Before we finished, I would have been halfway down a third – and be totally fine!”

Neeson ultimately beat the painkillers and has focussed his energies into his career, building a reputation for gritty, troubled characters. A Walk Amongst The Tombstones is another fantastic performance … another one of those larger than life roles that Neeson plays so well. So what was it that made this character someone he’d want to play?

Liam Neeson: “I was just telling somebody earlier on, I’m just attracted to, since I was a kid in Ireland, watching Robert Mitchum on TV, or Steve McQueen, or Charles Bronson, to a certain extent. There’s just something very noble and damaged about those sort of American cinematic heroes. I just find them very appealing. So to get the chance to do this, this is very much one of those sorts of characters, you know? Not good in the relationship world, and tortured. In Matt Scudder’s case, a recovering alcoholic, so, those guys, you know, they wake up in the morning, and they have to think of a reason to get up. And then once they’re up to not have a drink. All these little heroic battles they have, they fight with and against every day of their lives. And I think that Scott brought that out really beautifully in the film. So he’s not larger than life, he’s just one of us, really, but his career was in the police force, you know, and these guys see a part of humanity that we don’t want to deal with, on a daily basis.”

The Director, Scott Frank, mentioned that sometimes some character like Matt Scudder has to find the worst in themselves, before they can find the best…?

Liam: “Did Scott say that? He probably would; he’s a writer! Yes, Scott had mentioned that to me, when we’d met, in the early days. I wanted to find some kind of research I could do, other than reading Larry’s book, Lawrence Block’s, books. I know some policemen, on the NYPD, and one of them I know very, very well. I was in to get access to documentaries on serial killers, and not just the crimes, but the police work that went into tracking them down, which was very, very fascinating. Any little minutiae of evidence they would find, and put it together with this, and does it connect, and oh my god, it does connect. That was fascinating, you know. I thought Scott had done that on a continual basis, and maybe, unbeknownst to himself, it brings out the good in him. Because I think he is a good, righteous old-fashioned kind of man. I think he has certain pillars of ethics that never change, even though he’s kind of fucked up in a lot of ways. But he’s essentially a good man, you know? I’m not really answering your question, am I?”

You seem to be attracted to characters that are loners. Are you a loner in real life?

Liam: “I’d like to think I am, you know? No, I don’t think… No man’s an island, as they say. I’ve tried it – I’ve gone on various retreats in my life, for three or four days, and I get desperate to get out of there, and talk to somebody. But I fly-fish a lot, and I can do that really only by myself. I’m never lonesome, when I’m on the river. Far from it, but it’s a lonely practice.

You’ve been taking a lot of projects, recently. How do you balance all the work, with spending the time with the kids, and what support do you get, in terms of picking projects, and balancing that perfect life?

Liam: “Oh yeah, I’ve got to. Mental note: must call! Listen, I have a great support team, I really do. Fantastic family… If I’m away on a project, my mother-in-law moves in. We’re sort of like chess pieces, you know? (Laughs.) But yes, it’s always a balance. I’m very fortunate to get to play these characters, at this stage in my life. I love doing it, and I’ll keep doing it as long as they keep sending me scripts, you know? And my kids are used to it. From when they were born – one of them was born on location. So they’re used to dad being away for certain periods of time. So far, it’s worked out okay. They’re not damaged.”

Do you like doing those action scenes, and is there a way that you keep yourself safe, from little bumps and bruises?

Liam: “Well, I love doing them, and I have a great fight coordinator, who’s my stunt double too, called Mark Vanselow. We’ve done sixteen films now. So we work very, very closely with each other. I don’t do my own stunts, but I do my own fighting and stuff. I love doing that stuff. Yeah, that’s always fun to do. In this film, it’s important to kind of make it real, it’s not that cinema fight stuff. We wanted to make it very dark and gruesome and ugly, you know? You don’t know where punches were coming from, and stuff – the way it would be in real life.

Do you have an exercise routine or special training to be ready for whatever role of action comes?

Liam: “I keep pretty fit, in life. I would step up the regime, a couple of months before we start. I do a whole mixture of stuff. I do a lot of power walking. I use a lot of kettle bells. … Making a film, you do need stamina, whether you’re doing fight scenes or not. They’re long days … Tombstones was set on eight weeks of night shoots, so you do need stamina for that work, so it’s important to keep fit. I’m not talking about having perfect abs or stuff, but you have to be on top of your game, especially if you’re playing the lead. You have to be there, you know? It takes stamina. You have to look after yourself.”

You do a lot of thrillers. Your characters are always heroic, but very real people too. Is there a specific reason why you choose these roles? Or is it just because you’re so good at it?

Liam: “I was in my fifties when the Taken movie came out. I was sure it was just a straight-to-video, good little European thriller … well-made. And Fox Studios took it and did this amazing sell job, and they showed the trailer at big sporting events, and the film became a hit. I started to get sent these action scripts, in my fifties. It was very flattering, and I felt like a kid in a toy shop, So why not do them? But I always wanted to. [But] I didn’t want to become like a twenty-seven-year old, you know what I mean? I try. in some of these fight scenes, to fight as a fifty-year-old. Even though I’m sixty-two! I just have always been attracted to that type of cinema hero … Those types of grizzled characters, who have one foot on the side of law and order, and one foot in the bad guy’s camp. Always treading a very delicate line. I just find them very appealing. It’s great to get a chance to do that. I’m glad you think they’re real, because that’s what I’m trying to do. It’s not super-hero time.”


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