“Acting is invigorating. But I don't analyse it too much. It's like a dog smelling where it's going to do its toilet in the morning.” – Liam Neeson
Jedi Knight, Batman supervillain, Holocaust hero. Here are a few things you might not have known about this man with a very particular set of skills: Liam Neeson.
Liam Neeson Facts
1. Hometown Hero
Liam Neeson was born in Ballymena, Ireland, which is also famous for being the birthplace of Liam Neeson. You read that correctly.
2. The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree
Neeson’s father was Bernard “Barney” Neeson, a caretaker who no doubt taught Liam how to take care of business.
Liam Neeson was named after the local priest who, you guessed it, was also named Liam.
4. Fight Club
At the age of nine, Liam Neeson started taking boxing lessons at the All Saints Youth Club and became a champion in his province. Just in case you needed more proof he was a badass.
5. Crushed It
At eleven, Neeson was the lead in the school play, but as it turns out, he only said yes because he had a crush on one of his co-stars.
Neeson also credits First Minister Ian Paisley, founder of the Free Presbyterian Church (so much better than the paid version), with inspiring him to act. Said Neeson of Paisley, “He had a magnificent presence, and it was incredible to watch him just Bible-thumping away… it was acting, but it was also great acting and stirring too.”
7. A Great Loss
Before deciding to pursue acting professionally, Neeson was enrolled at Queen’s University in Belfast to study physics and computer science. Just think, if he wasn’t busy saving his fictional family from terrorists, the world might already have nuclear fusion.
8. Dr. Neeson
He later received an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University for neither physics nor computer science.
9. Playing Footsies
While at Queen’s, he discovered he had a knack for football and was spotted by Sean Thomas at Bohemian F.C. There was a club trial in Dublin and Neeson played one game as a substitute against Shamrock Rovers F.C. He was not offered a contract and Hollywood breathed a sigh of relief.
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10. Schindler’s Lift
After a brief stint at university, Neeson worked at the Guinness Brewery as a fork-lift operator.
11. Religious Awakening
His first film experience was in 1977 when he played Jesus Christ and Evangelist in the religious film Pilgrim’s Progress. Makes sense for an actor named after a priest and inspired by a minister.
12. To Sir from Duh
After being seen on stage as Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men, he was offered the role of Sir Gawain in the Arthurian film Excalibur. Because when you play a slow-witted man who accidentally crushes pet rabbits, you’re an obvious choice to play an Arthurian knight of legend.
13. The Spatula is Mightier than the Sword
Neeson met actress Helen Mirren on the set of Excalibur and lived with her in London where, apparently, he did all the cooking.
14. Fair Trade
Neeson credits Mirren with helping him get an agent, which, we’re told, is pretty critical to getting roles. That’s the least she could do after all of that cooking.
15. Ireland goes to Hollywood
Neeson moved to Hollywood after guest starring in the third season of Miami Vice in which main character Gina falls for his character, an Irish pacifist who was actually a member of a terrorist organization. Ugh. Men.
16. The Strong, Silent Type
Neeson received critical acclaim for his role in Suspect in which he played a deaf-mute Vietnam veteran accused of murder.
17. Dirty Pool
He starred alongside Clint Eastwood in the fifth Dirty Harry film, titled The Dead Pool. Not to be confused with the Marvel film Deadpool. Or The Hustler, a film about pool. Or Fast Times at Ridgemont High which features Phoebe Cates undressing next to a pool.
18. Working Relationship
He met his future wife Natasha Richardson while working with her on stage in Anna Christie. He also starred with her in the film Ellis Island and Nell.
19. Oh Yeah
After seeing Neeson in Anna Christie, Steven Spielberg cast him as Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List. After reading the book on which the movie was based, Neeson concluded that his character “enjoyed fookin’ with the Nazis.” Who doesn’t?
20. The Oskars
Neeson was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his role as Oskar Schindler, but lost the statuette to Tom Hanks for his role in Philadelphia because, despite medical advancements, you just can’t beat AIDS.
21. Neeson, Liam Neeson
He was considered for the role of James Bond in GoldenEye. Yeah, that’s exactly what Neeson needs. An actual license to kill.
22. Nice Robes
George Lucas cast Neeson in the role of Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace because he considered the actor to have great skills, presence, and a really high Midichlorian count.
23. He Was Probably Drunk
Neeson once vowed to never play an Irish stereotype, but broke that vow during an episode of Saturday Night Live in which he played an Irishman named Lorcan McArdle in a home makeover show parody called “You Call This a House, Do Ya?!”
24. The Lion King
He was the voice of Aslan the lion in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Again, given he was named after a priest and inspired by a minister, it was no surprise that he would play the Jesus character in the least subtle Christian allegory ever.
25. More Than Meets the Eye
According to the DVD commentary for 2007’s Transformers, Michael Bay claims that he told animators to seek inspiration from Liam Neeson when creating Optimus Prime’s body language.
26. A Very Particular Set of Skills
Neeson starred in the Taken movies in which his daughter is kidnapped in the original, his wife is kidnapped in the sequel, and then his wife is murdered in the second sequel. There should be a fourth movie in which Neeson saves everybody and nobody thanks him called Taken 4 Granted.
27. One Teacher Can Change the World
Neeson played Ra’s al Ghul in the first and third movies The Dark Knight Trilogy which makes him the only guy to have trained both Batman and Darth Vader.
28. Under Control
Neeson spoke out publicly about US gun laws, calling them a “disgrace.” In response, US gun manufacturer Para USA, which provided the weapons used by Neeson in the Taken film series expressed regret at working with him. But Neeson knows that the important thing isn’t knowing how to use a gun. It’s knowing how NOT to use a gun.
29. Emancipation Proclamation
After doing extensive research, Neeson eventually turned down the role of Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg’s Lincoln claiming that he was too old to take the part because when everybody thinks of Lincoln, they think “spring chicken.” Also, if there was anybody who would have been in favor of gun control, it was probably Abraham Lincoln.
30. Butcher vs. Jedi
The role of Lincoln was taken by Daniel Day-Lewis who Neeson had previously fought against in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York.
31. Heavy Quitter
Neeson was a heavy smoker earlier in his career, but quit and now carries a toothpick as a substitute. As a bonus, the toothpick just makes him look cooler.
32. Light it Up
When he took the role of Hannibal on The A-Team he had reservations about smoking cigars, but he did it anyway because it was a signature trait of the character. According to Neeson, Bradley Cooper smoked all the cigars that he refused to finish.
33. Gone Baby Gone
Neeson narrated a video for Amnesty International in favor of legalizing abortion in Ireland which actually is a little surprising for a guy named after a priest and inspired by a minister.
34. Horsin’ Around
Neeson protested the anti-carriage horse campaign of New York City’s Bill de Blasio citing the fact that the carriage trade was safe for employees, horses, and tourists, and was a source of livelihood for many immigrants. He did not mention the constant horse poop.
35. A Spiritual Man
While filming Taken 2 in Istanbul, Neeson became rather taken with the Adhan, the Islamic call to prayer. “By the third week, it was like I couldn’t live without it. It really became hypnotic and very moving for me in a very special way.” As a result, Neeson’s publicist had to deny reports that Neeson was converting to Islam.
36. A Royal Appointment
Neeson was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II making him both an officer AND a gentleman.
37. Ballymena Ballyhoo!
In 2000, amidst controversy over earlier statements that he felt like he was treated as a “second-class citizen” in his hometown because he was Catholic, he was offered the “Freedom of the Town of Ballymena.” He declined as a way of defusing tension. He was offered it again thirteen years later, and he finally accepted because it would really be rude to turn it down twice.
38. Don’t Look Down
Despite fearlessly taking down scores of fictional bad guys, Neeson admits that he’s scared of heights. He tried to conquer his fears by climbing a tiny 3,000 foot peak called Mollie’s Nipple in Utah. Huh. 3,000 feet? How cold is it in Utah?
39. Hang That Talk of Fear
In addition to heights, Neeson also admits that he’s terrified of Shakespeare. “I was always intimidated by Shakespeare,” he confessed. “I still am, to a certain extent.” If Shakespeare had seen Neeson in The Grey, we’re quite certain Shakespeare would have been terrified of him.
40. Til Death do us Part
Neeson’s wife, Natasha Richardson, died after a tragic skiing accident at the Mont Tremblant Resort, northwest of Montreal. He has since spoken of the heartbreaking moment when he had to switch off Richardson’s life-support machine, softly telling her “Sweetie, you’re not coming back from this.”
41. Her Heart Will Go On
After her death, Neeson donated Richardson’s organs and he has said that it has been a source of comfort to him knowing that her death has brought others the gift of life.
42. Method Man
Neeson admits that he started drinking heavily following the death of his wife (and who can blame him?). He says he attended AA meetings, although he claims it was just research for his role in A Walk Among the Tombstones a story involving alcoholics.
43. Making America Great Again
Neeson became a US citizen in the wake of his wife’s death, citing the outpouring of goodwill and condolences from Americans as one of the main reasons for his decision.