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Liam Neeson on Acting
19 Aug 2020 : Nathan Griffin
Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville in Ordinary Love.
Our interview series returns with legendary Irish actor Liam Neeson who has taken the time to speak with us and give some insight and advice for aspiring actors.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry. 

We find out what they look out for in the projects they take on, what their approach is to filmmaking and on-set collaboration; what inspires them; what current trends and techniques they like, and dislike in the industry.

An Oscar nominee and IFTA Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Neeson is nominated for an IFTA in the Best Actor in a Lead Role – Film category for his role in Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D’Sa’s touching drama, Ordinary Love. Neeson gives a tender performance as Tom, the husband of Joan (Lesley Manville) who discovers she has breast cancer in this romantic feature film, which was filmed in Northern Ireland. 

The Ballymena man has enjoyed an incredible career and spanning more than five decades, which has seen him star in over 70 films including Steven Spielberg’s Schindler's List, Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins, Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, the blockbuster Taken trilogy, Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace, The Grey, Kinsey, and Love Actually.

What do you look out for in a script?

“Well it has to pass my ‘5-minute cup of tea test.’ That is if I get to page 5 or 6 and I feel I need to have a cup of tea, that’s a bad sign. Obviously, story, character and the pace of the script, and does the overall story satisfies.”

When it comes to preparing for auditions, what advice would you give to younger actors?

“Well I don’t audition anymore, but when I did, I sometimes left my own character outside the door.  So, my advice to younger actors would be to just be yourself and for us actors from Ireland, just tell them from the onset that ‘Yes, I can change my accent!’”   

What attracted you to the role of Tom in Ordinary Love?

“It passed the ‘cup of tea test’ I thought it was beautifully written, and having three relatives who died of breast cancer, it took on an added importance for me. It also gave me the chance to work with the great Lesley Manville, and I liked the husband and wife directors.”

How did you approach playing your character, and how much rehearsal was involved.

“I guess I just wanted to be me as much as possible, and to be as honest and truthful to Owen McCafferty’s script as possible.  I can’t remember rehearsing actual scenes, but we on occasion visited the sets which would get our juices flowing, especially the house where our characters lived.”

Tell me about your experience on set, and your favorite moment during this production.

“Each day was a real joy, and certainly working with Lesley and our directors.  We always seemed to keep a certain lightness on the set, even though we were dealing with a very heavy subject matter.”   

What was your first paid role as an actor, and what were the key things you learned from doing that role

“My first paid role was at the Lyric Players Theatre in Belfast in 1976, where I stayed for two seasons. At the time we did a play every four weeks, and with the wonderful actors there; Louis Rolston, Jimmy Murphy, Joe McPartland, Trudy Kelly, and Stella McCusker.  Every night was a learning experience working with these wonderful actors and actresses.”

What filmmaker or actor has influenced or inspired you the most

“There have been many. That wonderful cluster of American Filmmakers that began to shine in the 1970’s (Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, Coppola), and Sydney Lumet.  There were many actors that inspired me from Colin Blakely from the North of Ireland to the great American actor, Robert Duvall and Gerard Depardieu, (Gerard, especially in the early 1980’s), and certainly Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep.”

What international performance by an actor has blown you away.

“There are a few actually: Stephen Boyd in Ben-Hur (1959), Massimo Troisi (Il Postino), Gerard Depardieu  (Cyrano de Bergerac), Takeshi Shimura (Seven Samurai), Daniel Day Lewis (My Left Foot and Lincoln),  Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice), and Helen Mirren  (The Queen).”

What Irish actor/s have you been most impressed by in recent times

“Leaving aside my old acting chums (and there’s a few of those) the following younger breed of actors have impressed me (not in any order): Saoirse Ronan, Killian Scott, Jessie Buckley, Ruth Negga, Colin Morgan, Denise Gough, and the Gleeson boys, Brian and Domhnall. Charlie Murphy, Seána Kerslake, Niamh Algar, and Paul Mescal.”

Is there an Irish film over the last few years that have impressed you

“‘The Guard’, ‘Bloody Sunday’, ‘The Crying Game’, ‘The Commitments’, and even though it’s many years ago, ‘The Quiet Man’ and ‘Darby O’Gill and the Little People.’”

What director or actor would you most like to work with and why (Irish or international)

“Would love to have worked with two or three of the old Hollywood stars, namely Robert Mitchum and Spencer Tracy.  In present day there are too many to mention. I am so impressed with the talent I am constantly seeing from Ireland, Britain and internationally. Would love to work with Neil Jordan again, and I will be forever grateful for my start in film to the great filmmaker and mentor, John Boorman.”

We often are our own worst critics. What is your approach to constructive criticism and inward reflection?

“If the criticism is constructive, and it comes from someone I have respect for, then I definitely reflect upon the criticism, and adjust accordingly.”

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career thus far that you would share with young aspiring actors.

“Colin Blakely when I asked him for advice in the early 1980’s (I had the privilege of working with him) he said, “You must remember to eat.”  I would advise young aspiring actors and actresses, that if they have to work in a restaurant, work in a bar, or do some job in order to keep a roof over their heads, and this extends for a period of time, be it months or even years; my advice is to try and see as much theatre and film as you can, including art galleries, and If it’s impossible to taking acting classes because of your job situation, try to learn a piece of Shakespeare or one of the great European dramatic writers.  Try to learn a new piece every week or every two weeks to remind yourself that this is what you have chosen to do.”

How have you channeled your creativity during lockdown.

“I walk and exercise frequently, I am a voracious reader, I fly fish occasionally, but I’m equally happy and feel creative simply watching paint dry on a wall!”

Click here to read more of our interview series.





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