Liam Neeson has told how his close relationship with his two teenage sons inspired his performance in his new action film.
The Irish star spoke of his thrill at playing a New York gangster in the mould of cinema greats like James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.
The 62-year-old star said playing a washed-up member of the Irish mob in his new film, Run All Night, made him feel part of a cinematic tradition stretching back to Cagney, Bogart and Robert Mitchum in the Thirties and Forties, via Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy.
But he said it was the story of the father-son relationship in the movie that moved him, as he has two teenage sons, Micheal and Daniel, with his late wife Natasha Richardson. "I can't imagine losing their love or trust and I can relate to being willing to do anything - no matter what it takes - to get that back," he added.
He said: "There are very few of them now. But there's a great, great tapestry of stuff you can tap into."
The star of Schindler's List and Taken said that was why he wanted to make the film: "There was an element of, 'I'm in a real gangster movie in New York and shooting in New York.'"
Neeson plays Brooklyn hitman Jimmy Conlon, who has long protected the back of mob boss Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), until Maguire's son is killed and the two men are left at loggerheads. Conlon decides he must do all he can to save the life of his own long-estranged son, Mike, played by Joel Kinnaman of The Killing.
Comparing it to John Steinbeck classic Of Mice And Men, Neeson said of the Jimmy/Shawn friendship: "He was the brains and I was the brawn but we always had each other's back. There's an amazing bond."
Harris compared the story to the "fundamental" passions of Greek theatre when a child is killed.
Inspired by real-life Manhattan gang the Westies, who operated between the Sixties and the Eightes, the film is packed with fights and car chases. "It's an action genre but it really does have a heart," Neeson said.
The thrills and spills are carefully co-ordinated: "I've worked with our fight choreographer (Mark Vanselow) on 16 films now and he's a very deep pal. We rehearse at great length so when we get onto the floor and shoot the fight sequences, there's very little chance anyone's going to get hurt." It was certainly not an encouragement to settle real conflicts with guns, he added: "You're not going to come out and start shooting." There are no firearms in his next project, Martin Scorsese's Silence, in which he plays a 17th-century Jesuit priest.
And while he is "dying to get back on stage", and is to see his friend Ralph Fiennes in Man And Superman at the National Theatre, Neeson said he still adored filming: "I love the little period between 'action' and 'cut'."
Harris, meanwhile, who will be in a new independent film, Cymbeline, inspired by the Shakespeare tragedy, revealed: "I would love to do some theatre in London."
If I was cast as a supporting character in anything starring Liam Neeson, I would turn up wearing a crash helmet. So synonymous is the big Ballymena man with violent action at this stage that you know his brooding quietness is simply the calm before the storm, and that sooner or later everyone is going to get their heads kicked in. And though he might look like a harmless old Irish drunk at the start of Run All Night, Liam is only saving himself for the brewing shit-storm that will shortly kick off.
The new Liam Neeson film is called Run All Night, and you can't help but feel that, eventually, one of them had to be. The title fits almost every film Neeson has made over the past eight years: it doesn't suggest a frolic or a caper so much as a hard-bitten test of endurance, taken under adverse conditions by a man who should be old enough to know better.