Name: William John Neeson
DOB: 7 June 1952
Place of birth: Ballymena, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Mr. Neeson, you’ve been acting for over 40 years. Do you still love this job as much as you always have?
A couple of times I’ve felt weary of it! The main thing that would concern me is if I ever felt jaded — I don’t mean tired, physically tired, because that is a sort of exhaustion I kind of welcome. But I sometimes have worked with actors and actresses that are just jaded, they are kind of not putting in the effort that’s required, they can’t be bothered with the emotion of a scene, or they just phoned it in. It hasn’t happened very often, but a couple of times I have been with actors who have been like that for years, I must admit.
Do you worry that will happen to you one day?
I mean, I remember thinking, “God I do not want to end up like that.” I really don’t want to end up becoming that sort of actor that can’t really be bothered to make the effort to explore another aspect of a scene.
What have you found is the best way to stop going down that path?
I don’t know what the secret is! I guess it’s just forging an interest in other people and listening to them and trying to engage with them. I try to follow that sort of line of attack, especially with young actors and actresses. I like to engage them in conversations before scenes and just hear what their life is, get involved with the people around you.
“When I receive a script, it’s usually a gut feeling! The script is the most important element for me.”
Is that what you miss the most when you’re not working?
Well, last year I sat at home due to the pandemic, and I have to say, I was very content. (Laughs) Maybe I wouldn’t use the word happy, but I was certainly content. I don’t go out that much anyway, I don’t hang out in bars because I don’t drink… I keep pretty much to myself. But the one thing is that I do love being in the company of film people, especially film crews, certainly actors and actresses, yes, but especially film crews. I find them a particularly special group of people. And I like to work, I like to be offered work from strangers, strange producers I have never met before.
I can imagine those offers are always very exciting.
I get a huge compliment out of that because generally when I receive a script, it’s come from a friend or a colleague that I have known for a number of years or have worked with before. And with that, it’s usually a gut feeling! The script is the most important element for me. For The Ice Road, which tells the story of a truck driver’s mission to rescue miners from a collapsed mine in Manitoba, the director Jonathan Hensleigh told me he was inspired by that 1950s French film called The Wages of Fear, which I did see and very much enjoyed — so I was very, very interested. I felt it was a really, really good script, really good because he had added a lot of elements which enriched the story for me.
What do you think makes you such a good fit for these kind of action packed films?
I don’t actually know the answer to that. I think I’ve been lucky enough to branch out. I’ve worked with Martin Scorsese a couple of times, I did a film in Belfast… So occasionally those films come along that I like to do and sort of mix it up a bit. But In 2009 when the first Taken movie opened here in the States, Hollywood started seeing me in a different light.
You ended up getting a bit pigeonholed as an actor.
They started sending me a lot of action scripts… Some were okay, some were downright awful, which I didn’t do. But it was interesting to be seen in that light at that late age! I turned 55 when I did the first Taken film, and now I am 69 years of age and they are still offering me not full-on action movies, but some scripts that contain quite a bit of action!
“You have to create your own luck, it’s not going to come to you when you are lying on your bed. I think you have to go out there!”
And you’re still up to the challenge?
Well, it’s nice with these so-called action movies, I get a real kick out of being with a bunch of stunt guys, working out with them, choreographing a fight and rehearsing it. And I do like that aspect of it! It’s important, especially if you are a leading man in these films, being in every scene pretty much, it behooves me to stay fit, and I do. I’m not interested in looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger at age 35, but I have a routine and I do it every day because making any film, especially if you are playing the lead, requires stamina and endurance. It can be quite demanding.
Would you say that’s one of the key ingredients to an actor’s success?
The other thing that you need in this profession is luck. I have very dear friends, especially in London who haven’t had work, even before the pandemic, for a good year to 18 months — and they are superb actors and actresses. So you do need lady luck on your side! That being said, I think you do have to create your own luck too, it’s not going to come to you when you are lying on your bed. I think you have to go out there!
What did that mean for you as a young aspiring actor?
I grew up outside Belfast and there was always theater shows. I did a lot of amateur productions from the age of 17 onwards. But I didn’t go to a drama school because I couldn’t afford to. I mean, we grew up fairly poor, we essentially lived in a two up, two down council house… So for me, that meant traveling from Belfast to Dublin, then to London. After that, I went to Los Angeles, and then I went to New York. I live in New York now, and I have done so for many years now. So I kind of created my own luck, if you know what I mean.