On Monday morning in Dubai, talking to a roundtable of media at a press event for his latest film, Taken 3, Liam Neeson managed to spark a heated debate all the way over in America.
Known for his pro-gun control views, he was asked, in light of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France and protests against police brutality in the US, the 62-year-old expressed that he was still in favour of gun control, despite his latest portrayal of the trigger-happy character, Bryan Mills.
His statements have since been picked up online across various American outlets, including the Washington Post. On Tuesday, conservative political radio show host Rush Limbaugh dedicated a segment to refuting Neeson’s comments on his website.
Neeson began by saying his thoughts and prayers and his heart were with the deceased and all of France. “I’ve got a lot of dear friends in Paris,” he added.
The actor then touched upon gun control in the US. “There’s too many [expletive] guns out there. Especially in America. I think the population is like, 320 million? There’s over 300 million guns. Privately owned, in America. I think it’s a [expletive] disgrace. Every week now we’re picking up a newspaper and seeing, ‘Yet another few kids have been killed in schools’,” he said.
Asked whether or not he thinks this issue extends to police responsibility, he said: “Let’s not get into it. Let’s put it this way: I think a light has been shone on the justice system in America, and it’s a justifiable light.”
Neeson, who is seen holding a gun on Taken 3 posters all around town, said that cinema has the power to explore fantasy without encouraging violence.
Limbaugh, known for his criticisms against liberal views in the US, said on his website that Neeson “hasn’t done one thing to solve gun crime. He hasn’t done one thing to keep guns out of the hands of bad guys.”
Ahead of a red carpet premiere of his film in the UAE on Monday, Neeson had much to say about the Taken franchise, rumours that he could be converting to Islam, and the little known fact that, for all his on-screen bravado, he’s never actually been in a brawl.
Congratulations, ‘Taken 3’ has topped the box office in the US. Why do you think this franchise translates to so many people?
I think there’s a bond of love that people recognise between a father and a daughter, and I think it’s real and it’s genuine, certainly between myself and [actress] Maggie Grace. She’s become a dear friend over the years, and I love her very, very deeply. I think that comes across, so when that’s threatened, audiences go for the ride.
The film’s slogan is ‘it ends here’. Is ‘Taken 4’ a possibility?
For me, I think it’s over. The poster says ‘it ends here’, I think that’s it.
With regards to your decision to launch your movie here, do you think that’s an acknowledgement by Hollywood that the Middle Eastern market is a serious deal?
It’s a serious deal. It takes it very, very seriously. I’ve heard from various actors and actresses over the years how fantastic the Dubai Film Festival is, and how special the fans are. That there’s a thirst for movie actors to come in and experience it, say hi to the fans and say thank you for all the support, because it’s been phenomenal.
With the first ‘Taken’, you said you expected it to go straight to DVD?
Yeah, I did. Not because I didn’t think Pierre Morel and EuropaCorp didn’t make a good film, I thought they made a fantastic little film on a very — quite — a tight budget. And a very, very simple story line, and it connected with audiences. But I still thought it would go straight to video.
You’ve hopped quite a bit between genres. Is there one that feels most at home to you?
I can’t specify a particular genre. I would like to do a real romance story, with someone my age — not a 30 year old. That would be nice to do... 45 is good, yeah, that’s all right.
What’s it like being an action hero at 62 and how did it happen?
I keep pretty fit in life, but with these things, you need to do some extra training, which I love doing, I love doing that stuff. I don’t do my own stunts, but I do my own fighting, I’m very proud of that… My stunt stand-in, we’ve done 16 films together.
Can you tell us about your fitness routine?
I mix it up. I love to power walk a lot. I use kettle bells quite a lot. Rowing machine.
You’re an incredible physical presence on screen, very intimidating. You must have hit a guy?
I’ve never been in a fight in my life. Never once. I was a boxer as a kid, but I’ve never been in a fight. I’m proud of that, too, you know? If a fight’s started, you always check where the door is and leave. You never know if someone’s got a gun, or has got a knife. You never know.
Do you have a Zen philosophy on life? You have a very peaceful presence in person.
Thank you. Listen, the life is good, isn’t it? I’m very blessed. I’m doing a job that I’m passionate about still — I’ve been very, very lucky. I get to meet people like you, I get to — you know, I’m in the Middle East. I’m in Dubai. It beats work. It beats digging ditches, and I’ve done that. It beats factory work, I’ve done that. And it beats teaching, I tried that.
Can we expect you in any of the new ‘Star Wars’ films? [Neeson portrayed Qui-Gon Jinn in the saga.]
I’m always asked the Star Wars question. I haven’t a clue what the stories are. I know George [Lucas] sold the whole caboodle to Disney. I know they have Harrison [Ford] and Carrie Fisher, but that’s about all I know. But no, I haven’t been called up about it.
Your upcoming film, ‘Run All Night’, seems like a new ‘Taken’. How do you change it up between roles?
It’s a different character. It’s not the Bryan Mills guy at all. There’s a couple of fights in it that are very, very basic and very crude. My guy’s not an expert at that at all. In Run All Night, what attracted me to the script is that it read like one of those old Westerns. Two guys growing up together, best friends, and then suddenly they become enemies. There’s nice moral dilemma [that] comes out of it. And it was with Ed Harris, who’s fantastic in the film.
What else is on the horizon for you?
I like writers and writing. I get off on scripts that are well-written. I don’t actively hunt for something, I trust my agent and his tastes and if he sends something. I’m an avid reader, I’m reading a lot of these Norwegian noir [books] at the moment, I can’t get enough of them. They’re fantastic stories. These tiny little towns in Norway or Sweden, and then these incredible crimes are committed. They’re very exciting to read.
Are you itching do something else outside of action? Do you think you can keep up that character?
As long as my knees hold up, I’ll give it a couple more years, I guess, then I think audiences will go, ‘Come on, he’ll be on a Zimmer frame next’. [I want to] go back to theatre, I want to try and go back to the stage for a while.
Outside of your own work, what films have caught your eye lately?
I haven’t seen all the Academy films, and I’m a member of the Academy, too. I was very taken with the Polish film, Ida, which was absolutely extraordinary film. Birdman, American film, it was very good. The Theory of Everything, wonderful — great, terrific acting by those two young people, Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne. But Ida was just — that is a real work of art, I think. Cinematic work of art. Real masterpiece of storytelling. Bleak and deceptively simple. And the storytelling is just profound.
In the Daily Mail, you were quoted as saying, “[Visiting Turkey] really makes me think about becoming a Muslim.”
I probably said that, actually.
Is it something you contemplated?
No. But I did love — I loved being in Turkey and Istanbul, and hearing the call to prayer, which for the first few mornings, five o’clock in the morning, I was like, ‘Ah, here we go…’ Second week? ‘Oh, that’s actually quite nice.’ Third week, I loved it. Absolutely loved it. It’s an amazing city. And those mosques — wow.
— Taken 3 opens across cinemas in the UAE on Thursday.