Liam Neeson is arguably one of the last true "movie stars" of the modern age. Already pushing 70 and still thrilling audiences in films like Martin Campbell's upcoming Memory, Neeson has played a wealth of characters, often imbuing even the most straightforward of them with unique depth. That's the case with his character Alex in Memory, a hitman who develops a conscience late in life only to have his apparent crusade to help the world complicated by his own failing memory and mental state. It's a fascinating role performed well by Neeson, who mines the character for great tragedy while also retaining a dark edge that makes him all the more dangerous.
During an exclusive interview with CBR ahead of Memory's premiere on April 29, Liam Neeson recalled using real-life experiences to shade Alex's version of memory loss and what kind of characters draw his attention -- even when he's not playing them.
CBR: The possibility of losing one's memory must be a truly existential fear for actors, where memory is such a useful tool in a performer's toolbox. What was it like to explore that with this film?
Liam Neeson: It was both fascinating to watch documentaries and read certain books about it and harrowing, too. I have a friend in Ireland who's older than myself but who's going through the early stages of dementia himself. It was traumatic to see it because I know this person very well, yet the actor part of me was observing him, thinking, "I can use that in some way," you know what I mean? I felt guilty about it, but I just couldn't help it, you know?
So I worked very closely with Martin Campbell, our director on Memory, because I want to put little ticks and various things in that I saw from these documentaries that these patients, these afflicted people had. So I worked very close with Martin so that he could tell me, "Look, that's too much, pull it back a bit." Hopefully, what I do to show this memory lapse is... Hopefully, it's subtle enough that it doesn't get in the way of the projection of the storyline.
You look at your career and the scope of parts you've played -- heroes, villains, and everything in-between -- is there any constant to the roles that attract you? What do you look for in a character?
Well, you know, our drama and cinema depend on the spoken word, the written word. Memory, it just had depth to it. It wasn't just a clear-cut action film with two-dimensional characters. Certainly, with this character Alex that I play and Guy Pearce, too, and Monica Bellucci, the two of them were wonderful. I've been fans of theirs for a number of years, and [their characters] were rich. They were rich characters. It's not black and white. There's always, always shades of gray, you know?
Catch Liam Neeson in Memory, hitting theaters April 29.