His latest hit film, The Grey, is a brutally stark film about survivors of a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness. TheaterMania talked to Neeson about working in the cold, the appeal of acting in films, and the importance of classic theater.
THEATERMANIA: What makes this tale of survival different from others?
LIAM NEESON: It read like a 19th-century epic poem, like "The Tale of the Ancient Mariner." A touchstone of morality and spirituality and Greek mythology. That's right up my alley. And there were no cars, computers or iPhones in it.
TM: How difficult was it to shoot this film on location? Is it true that you worked in 80 mile-per-hour winds and 8-foot snow drifts?
LN: The first week in Canada it was minus 40 degrees. I'm not exaggerating. I remember my first day of shooting, my character is sitting in the snow after the plane wreck, and I thought, "There is no way we're going to be able to film this movie." It was so cold that the equipment was freezing.
TM: How did you prepare yourself for those conditions?
LN: I remember seeing a documentary of this crazy Brit, a guy who swam in the Antarctic from iceberg to iceberg, and he started his training by standing under freezing cold showers for 10 minutes each morning to immunize his body against extremes of cold. So I thought I'd do that every morning -- well, up to seven minutes. It worked! I didn't tell the other cast members. There are certain secrets you want to keep to yourself.
TM: Did you ever wonder, with all the visual effects available to filmmakers, if this was necessary?
LN: Modern audiences are very sophisticated now regarding CGI and all that stuff. When something is real you know it's real. All the weather and storms were absolutely the real deal and you can't fake that.
TM: Will you continue to do action films?
LN: I will. The little period between action and cut is very special to me. I'm still touched that complete strangers will send me a script and ask me to be in their movie. That still bamboozles me. There's a few of these assassin roles. I think my knees will last about a year, and after that it will just be silly.
TM: How important was your theater training to your film career?
LN: There should be a law that every actor should go through real theater training and act in the classics -- Shakespeare, Chekhov, Ibsen -- just to learn the craft. There is something extraordinary about an audience of people and that audience changes every night and it's live and it's never repeated. It taps into something quite mythic.