Evidenced by his recent spate of ass-kicking roles, Liam Neeson seems like the scariest actor in Hollywood.
Tall, broad and blunt, he cuts an intimidating profile, and watching him face down a pack of ravenous wolves in his new film — the mythic, man-versus-nature thriller the Grey — he seems like an equally ferocious creature, especially after he duct-tapes broken airplane liquor bottles to his knuckles.
To hear Neeson tell it, however, he wouldn’t last five minutes in the sub-zero conditions his character endures. “I’d curl up and die,” the Irish actor says. “On our first day, cameras were malfunctioning and equipment wasn’t working, and I thought, ‘This is ludicrous.’”
In the last three years, Neeson has remodeled his imposing dramatic pedigree to suit action fans, spawning the unofficial Neesploitation sub-genre — with films like Taken, Unknown and now the Grey — where he squares off against a rogue’s gallery of international baddies and proves he’s not to be trifled with. While his command of the screen is undeniable, he insists he’s not the alpha-male type he’s become synonymous with in his films. “I can play them, but in life, I’m not one.”
The Grey, which opened in theatres last weekend, reunites Neeson with his the A-Team director, Joe Carnahan, whose survivalist thriller about a small group of plane crash survivors lost in the frozen north appealed to Neeson on both visceral and existential levels. “The script read like a 19th century epic poem for me, something like the Ancient Mariner or something,” Neeson says. Although Neeson’s recent foray into action has led him from the more cerebral films that helped make his name, he says he’s doing movies like the Grey because he’s asked to, not because he feels compelled to test himself physically. “Taken came out three years ago, and they’re offering me a lot of these action films,” he reveals. “I think my knees can maybe hold out another year, but that’s it.”