Liam Neeson finds poetry in “The Grey”
From Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Liam Neeson finds poetry in “The Grey”
Continuing his recent run as an action-hero, the Irish actor endured of filming in hip-deep snow and subzero temperatures to make the gritty survival story.
LOS ANGELES — Liam Neeson found powerful poetry in the script for his new movie, “The Grey.”
The 59-year-old actor, who has carved out a new career as an action hero in the past few years, thought enough of the survival story to endure days of filming in hip-deep snow and subzero temperatures on a remote mountain in British Columbia, Canada, to tell it.
“It read like a 19th-century epic poem, something like ‘(The Rime of) the Ancient Mariner.’ It just was a beautiful piece of writing,” Neeson said during an interview earlier this month at the Four Seasons Hotel.
“Also, every film that I’ve seen recently there’s always someone at a computer telling the story on a computer, someone on an iPhone. … This movie doesn’t have a car — OK, it has an airplane — it’s just man vs. man vs. nature. I thought it was like a throwback to those films like ‘Jeremiah Johnson’ with Bob Redford.”
For “The Grey,” Neeson reunited with “The A-Team” director Joe Carnahan to play Ottway, a taciturn sharp-shooter hired to fend off marauding wolves, protecting a band of they-put-the-rough in roughnecks working on an oil rig in the Alaskan tundra. Devastated by the loss of his wife, Ottway has seemingly lost the will to live, until he and a half-dozen fellow workers survive a deadly plane crash in the wilderness. He and his stranded cohorts put up a fierce fight for survival against prowling wolves, dangerous cold and rugged terrain.
“The first week was minus-40. That’s absolutely an official, truthful statement. The first day we shot that scene where I … sit up in the snow after there’s a malfunction in the airplane and I’m just in a sweater. And I remember thinking, ‘We’re never gonna finish this film. It’s just impossible.’ The equipment was seizing up. Everything was being challenged, including ourselves,” said Neeson, looking casually dapper in a pinstriped jacket over a white T-shirt.
“There’s no CGI in the film with regards to the weather, you know. It’s all absolutely real, the blizzards, all that stuff was absolutely real.”
There weren’t enough clothes in the world to protect from the biting wind and bitter cold near Smithers, the small Canadian town where the production was based, but the Irish actor said he typically pulled on five layers before venturing out.
“The physical aspect for all of us was just really, really tough. Not the least putting the gear on the in morning; it took me half an hour. You know, you have to wear these layers of thermal underwear and stuff. And so after that you’re like ‘Phew, God.’ You’re like the Michelin man.”
The physical concerns of playing the role outstripped any concerns the seasoned actor had about portraying his deeply depressed character.
“I knew I had a little emotional reservoir to pull from. I wasn’t worried about that aspect of it at all,” Neeson said.
Ottway’s own devastating loss echoes the actor’s personal experience. Neeson’s wife, actress Natasha Richardson, died suddenly in 2009 after hitting her head in a skiing accident.
“I wasn’t consciously channeling anything,” the soft-spoken Neeson said. “If an audience takes that with them or is aware of that, then that’s good, you know.”
Perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated turn in Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List,” until recently Neeson was primarily regarded as a dramatic actor.
While he is hardly an action-movie novice — he made his big-screen breakthrough portraying Sir Gawain in the 1981 Arthurian adventure “Excalibur,” and he played wise Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn in “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” and shadowy villain Ra’s Al Ghul in “Batman Begins” — his lead turn in 2008’s “Taken” established him as an action star.
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