'I've two years left as an action star'
Actor Liam Neeson has given his Hollywood hard man image an expiration date, writes Stephen Milton
The Sony mail leaks gave Liam Neeson a very brief pause for concern. And then a good chuckle. With Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio and Barack Obama all maligned subjects of biting correspondence between loose-tongued studio execs, he kept an eye out for his own name.
"I did check to see if I was going to pop up somewhere there but I don't really have a relationship with Sony," he says. "Now they're saying it's North Korea behind it but come on, I seriously don't believe it.
"Did you see that photograph of Kim Jong-un a few weeks back? He's a naval commander and pictured in front of this clapped out, 1950s submarine. If they're using this as PR for 'our great leader', I just think, 'really!'"
The actor does have a close relationship with 20th Century Fox, the studio behind his action franchise Taken. So should they ever be similarly hacked, what smeared insults could surface? "About me?" He ruffles his hair and shakes his head. Getting into character.
"Dear head of Fox," he says in a questionable French burr. "This is Luc Besson. I would very much like to cast this Irishman, Liam Neeson, to be in my action movie Taken.
"Reply from Fox studio exec [in a thick Californian drawl]: 'You've got to be kidding me! Schindler? I don't think so. Although, he did save all those Jewish people. Maybe he could save his daughter too…'"
Neeson's comic timing is cut-throat. Perhaps this is a taste of his next career evolution after transitioning successfully from historical leading man (Schindler's List, Michael Collins, Rob Roy) to unlikely action star (Taken, The Grey, Non-Stop).
Or is he still keen to kick ass on the big screen? "The way I see it, this came to me relatively later than most and I've been having a blast. I'm an ex-boxer and been shooting these physical scenes with amazing fight choreographers. I've been like a kid in a toy shop.
"There's probably a couple more films in there. I'll give it two more years and I'm out. I'm 62 for God's sake.
"And then, yeah, comedy," he adds. "A couple more would be good. I did A Million Ways To Die In The West [with Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane] and had a great time.
"I like to laugh. Who doesn't like to laugh?"
Scripted by Leon director Besson, the Taken franchise has been a surprise smash for Fox, coining over $600million. A third chapter was clearly a no-brainer.
But while the first two films dealt with, respectively, the daughter, and subsequently, the wife of Bryan Mills, a former CIA operative, being kidnapped by human traffickers, Neeson was adamant no one would be 'taken' in round three.
"I said, 'if someone gets 'taken' on this, I'm not doing it'. You can't do that. You can't insult the audience like that."
With Mills being framed for murder, the threequel sees the action happen on the streets of LA. Magically, however, it was all shot on location in Paris by director, Olivier Megaton [Transporter 3, Colombiana].
It gave Liam the chance to spend time in one of his favourite cities. And do a little 'window-shopping', as it were.
"Paris is great to shoot in. All wonderful crews. Great place, great energy. "And there's something about the girls in Paris too," he offers with a wink. "They're a little bit snooty, they look down at you. It's sexy."
It's nearly six years since Natasha Richardson, the mother of Neeson's teenage sons, Michael (19) and Daniel (18) was killed in a freak ski accident and the actor has often claimed he'll never fully get over her death.
And while assumed to be still dating PR executive, Freya St Johnston, his on/off girlfriend of several years, Neeson laid bare what he looks for in a woman. And it appears Richardson is never far from his mind.
"Someone asked me what I look for in a woman the other day and I always say, 'a cook in the bedroom, a whore in the kitchen'. My wife used to say that. And they asked, what are the most honourable characteristics in a woman? Well I like the dishonourable ones. And I do love physical beauty in a girl. Like the girls in Paris. And in London. And Dublin especially. Used to stop in the street when I lived there and you'd see beautiful girls by the dozen."
Living in New York for the last 20 years, the Ballymena star admits a move back to Dublin could be on the cards, especially as his sons are now both in university.
"I go back to Europe every year so I still feel like I half live there. But I do miss Dublin sometimes. My youngest will be gone soon, I'll have empty nest syndrome. Who knows?
"I'm not sure how practical that would be but it could be time for a change."
Whether he makes the move or not, Liam is hoping a long-mooted movie project he's working on with Bono on the '70s showband era will bring him back to home shores. That said, the U2 frontman's recent bike crash in Manhattan's Central Park, which left him with a badly broken arm, will hardly speed up the process.
"I really hope this happens because it's something we've been talking about for a long time now," he says.
"Six years I think. But you know Bono just had this accident so we could be waiting even longer now.
"But to be totally honest, I'm more concerned about their music than the film. Totally pales in comparison."
Taken 3 is released on January 8