Arts Express: Liam Neeson Talks Non-Stop

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Irish action star Liam Neeson has faced quite a menu of nerve jangling situations so far in movies. But taking on terror in the skies as both savior and suspect may be a very new and different deranged dilemma for Neeson, in his latest thriller, Jaume Collet-Serra’s Non-Stop. Neeson met to talk about both actual and scripted challenges in his life, touching on annoying airport issues, martial arts moves, whiskey, and what scares him on board up in the skies, in the real world.

So how would you handle this kind of terrifying plane hijacking

situation if you really had to?

liam
Neeson at the 2012 Deauville American Film Festival.

LIAM NEESON: What do you do…I mean, I don’t know. Thankfully, I’ve never been in that situation.

And you’d like to think you would be heroic. But who knows, you know? Who knows.

Well, would you be ready to kick ass?

LN: I don’t think so. I’m a pacifist!

Is Non-Stop a post-9/11 paranoid thriller?

LN: No, it’s just that we all know the nightmares of airports. Nowadays! And this movie is playing on those fears.

Um, but it’s entertainment. You know? A lot of the journalists in Europe, quite a few actually, were asking about September 11th.

And I was like, oh please! C’mon. However, that being said, I don’t think this film could have been made a few years ago, of course.

That would have been totally insensitive. But that’s a backdrop to the thriller. That’s what it is, you know?

Do you remember anything scary about the first time you ever flew on a plane?

LN: My first flight, I was…a late developer in every department! But I first got on an airplane at the age of twenty-one, I believe.

It was terrifying! The flight, it was but a hop and a skip. That’s all it was. But it was my first time.

And I was very scared. Very nervous, I should say. Yep. I was flying from Amsterdam to Belfast.

My oldest friend and I, we were going to a theater course. about thirty miles outside of Amsterdam.

Was your friend your lucky charm?

LN: I guess he is in a way, actually. We haven’t flown together since!

Do you think a lot of the characters in this movie are somewhat stereotypes?

LN: At first glance, they are stereotypical. But we, I think Jaume played with that. In our own heads too.

Of course you know, there’s the Muslim doctor. And you go, ah hah. Yep, this is interesting. But it’s not gonna be him.

And it’s not gonna be the African American kid that we think it is. It’s definitely this guy, the guy’s got a real attitude. So he plays with all of that.

Have you taken any martial arts training that you seem to have perfected?

LN: I’ve done a little, a mongrel version of different fight stuff. For years. Depending on what the action is in a film, you know?

But in this one, we didn’t want to adopt martial arts. It’s like so corny, you know? We just did whatever.

You know, what physical alterations happen on the airplane, we wanted to make them real. I worked quite closely with a special forces guy who trains air marshals.

And we came up with that fight in the bathroom. Based on stuff that himself has trained to do, in very close combat situations.

And what you would do to disarm someone. So we tried to keep that real, you know? And exciting too, of course.

Do you think you would ever use those moves in the real world, if you had to?

LN: You learn it, and then you forget about it! It’s like learning a dance. You know, you learn that dance for a scene, or something.

Or like studying for exams. You sweat and sweat. And then the exam is over, and you’ve forgotten half of it. Except for lightsaber! Yeah, I know that stuff.

Did this movie make you rethink anything about the lack of airport security?

LN: I have to admit, I don’t. Listen, we all know what security at airports is like. We’ve all experienced it. And it’s a nightmare.

But these are the times we’re living in. And once I get through that round, I totally relax.

And I love flying, as a result of that. I feel totally safe. And that’s my experience now.

Did filming in an airport heighten the dramatic tension at all?

LN: The actual airport setting, we were at JFK for maybe two nights. And quite later on in the shoot.

And that was kinda strange being in a real airport, you know? So the setting was great.

But it was tough on the crew, I’m sure. Very tough. Because they had to, like fifty guys and girls, trying to disappear.

And pushed into little spaces, and stuff. Whereas we were sitting in first class seats! Every day too.

So it was great. We looked forward to it. But it was lonely to be with these people. Yeah, and the extras too.

There were over a hundred extras. And we got to know them. Some of them quite well, you know. And they had a lot to do.

How did you get into character?

LN: I relied on Jaume a lot. Because he’s a very, very prepared director. And with any questions we had about the script, or what the characters should do or not do.

We always tried to judge it to the nth degree. Because he was always thinking of the overall arc of the whole film, you know?

Or a symphony. I like to use that word. And he would be like, just the raise of an eyebrow maybe would be too much. Or just opening your eyes.

So every little nuance or gesture, we were aware that it would take on some significance. But that being said we weren’t put in a strait jacket, you know?

This character seems darker, and a little less in charge than those you’ve play before. Thoughts?

LN: A little less in charge? I guess, yes. Yep. He’s not in charge because he’s an alcoholic. He’s an addict, you know? That’s always in charge.

So his big battle is, he thinks he’s just doing a seven hour flight. Without having a couple of short ones, you know?

That’s his goal, is to do that, without having alcohol. And of course, all shit breaks loose. And it’s in the script, the audience is banged over the head with it.

And when I first read the script, it did seem like a bland part. But in the height of that crisis, there’s a beautiful bottle of whiskey, you know? Waiting to be drunk.

But he doesn’t, you know? So it’s a little human gesture, that I think can really resonate with people. Because it is human.

And many of us are addicts, you know? Whether it’s tobacco, or what not. So I like those little human touches.

It seems like in a lot of your movies, people don’t trust you. Is that what attracts you to your characters, the distrust?

LN: Sure, yeah. I’d like to think if I play these so-called heroes, action heroes, they’re vulnerable and they’re nervous.

And there’s something very serious at stake, you know? Like if your daughter has been kidnapped, those of us who are parents will do anything for your kids.

So I always try to portray a weakness, or a vulnerability. On top of knowing that you can kick ass!

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.