Full content for this article includes illustration and photograph.
   Source:  Playboy, Nov 1996 v43 n11 p51(10).
    Title:  Playboy interview: Liam Neeson. (actor)(Interview)
   Author:  Joe Morgenstern
 Abstract:  Neeson portrays Irish hero Michael Collins in a new movie, and
Neeson relates how he first learned of Collins when he studied Irish history
in college. Neeson talks about the life of the Irish activist, his former
boxing career, and other topics.
 Subjects:  Actors - Interviews
   People:  Neeson, Liam - Interviews
Electronic Collection:  A18736536
                   RN:  A18736536

Full Text COPYRIGHT 1996 Playboy

Exceptional actor and eloquent Irish talker that he is, Liam Neeson has
described his profession as an "ancient craft of rogues and vagabond
make-believers." The fact that he can toss off such a phrase sets him apart
from most of today's actors, not to mention today's movie stars, who are apt
to define ancient history, as their last flop, agent or spouse. But Neeson's
distinctions encompass more than his silver tongue, his massive physique--once
a promising amateur boxer, he stands 6'4"---and his lightly ironic, slightly
rueful sense of himself as a working stiff-cum-certified celebrity. His moving
portrayal of Oskar Schindler, the flamboyant yet complex hero of Steven
Spielberg's "Schindler's List," earned him an Oscar nomination. He won the
role after Spielberg saw him in the 1993 Broadway revival of Eugene O'Neill's
"Anna Christie"--opposite Natasha Richardson, who is now his wife-- and was
struck by his powerful, lyrical presence as the drunken, seafaring coal stoker
Mat Burke.

Neeson, a native of Northern Ireland, has made his presence felt in American
entertainment for a decade. He played the deafmute Vietnam vet in "Suspect" as
a passionate soul trapped in a damaged body, then brought a similar quality to
the older, crippled Ethan Frome in the PBS adaptation of Edith Wharton's
novel. Devotees of stylish pulp cherish "Darkman," a fantasy-thriller in which
Neeson's supersmart scientist, Peyton Westlake, turns into a supertwisted
avenger alter being disfigured by an acid bath. Starring opposite Jodie Foster
and Natasha Richardson in "Nell," he is a country doctor who discovers and
tries to protect a young woman who has been raised apart from civilization. In
Woody, Allen's "Husbands and Wives," his romantic, plainspoken Irishman
clearly tells the truth when he proclaims to the woman he loves: "I'm from a
different era." Romantic passion also rules the roost in "The Good Mother," in
which he plays an Irish sculptor opposite Diane Keaton. His appearance earlier
this year as an American sculptor--and Meryl Streep's husband--in "Before and
After" lent authority to a thinly written flop. The same is true of his work
as an honest sheriff in "Leap of Faith," a comedy about a phony evangelist.
The movie, with Steve Martin and Debra Winger, was supposed to be a big hit,
but no one told the audience.

"Rob Roy," the story' of the swashbuckling Scottish Highlander, displays
Neeson's physical and dramatic gifts to greater advantage. That movie was one
answer to the question of what an actor can do to follow an artistic and
commercial success such as "Sehindler's List." The next answer has come with
"Michael Collins," a large-scale biography of the Irish Republican hero, which
opened in theaters this fall.

Neeson was born in 1952 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. His father, now
deceased, was a school custodian, and his mother worked as a cook in the
public school system. Neeson had planned to teach school and studied physics,
computer science, math and drama at Queen's University, Belfast. But drama
carried him off from a career in academia. In 1976 he joined the Lyric Players
Theater in Belfast. Two years later he moved to the venerable Abbey Theater in
Dublin, where he appeared in Brian Friel's "Translations. "He won an acting
award for his work in Sean O'Casey's "The Plough and the Stars" at the Royal
Exchange Theater.

Neeson's screen work started when director John Boorman saw him playing Lennie
in a Dublin production of John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" and cast him as
Sir Gawain in the 1981 "Excalibur." That led to a string of performances in TV
movies and TV series in the United Kingdom and the U.S., then to roles in such
feature films as "The Bounty" (Roger Donaldson's remake of "Mutiny on the
Bounty"), Andrei Konchalovsky's "Duet for One," "A Prayer for the Dying" with
Micke3, Rourke and Bob Hoskins, and Roland Joffe's "The Mission," in which he
plays a Jesuit priest. But his American career didn't take off until the
mid-Eighties, when he made the fateful decision to move to Hollywood.

Success has transformed Neeson's life, but not so much as have marriage and
fatherhood. He and his wife have a one-year-old son, Micheal, who is named
after both Collins and Natasha's grandfather, Sir Michael Redgrave (her mother
is Vanessa Redgrave, her father the late director Tony Richardson). They were
expecting another child as this interview was being prepared. A few short
years ago Neeson was a loner in the movie business with a house in Laurel
Canyon, a reputation for solid professionalism and a powerful way with women,
especially women who were smart, beautiful and/or famous. Gossip columnists
linked him romantically to Helen Mirren, Brooke Shields, Sinbad O'Connor,
Barbra Streisand and Julia Roberts.

Today he's a devoted family man who makes his home in Manhattan. He still has
a reputation for solid professionalism, but in his movies also conveys sex
appeal and such rare intangibles as kindness 'and decency.

We asked Joe Morgenstern, film critic for "The Wall Street Journal," to meet
with the actor in New York. Here is his report:

"Liam Neeson has certainly accepted his success, even embraced it. For all his
old-country dislike of Hollywood excess, I sense that he gets a kick out of
turning up at Morton's for Oscar festivities, in Las Vegas for prizefights or
at the White House for adventures in the politics of culture. At the same
time, he seems to be searching for some sort of bump-up in professional
status. It has nothing to do with conventional ambition but with a yearning,
perhaps, for wider acceptance than he imagines he has achieved. He seems
compelled to explore questions rather than spin or deflect them. Not that this
makes him eager to talk with reporters. He's been burned in the past by things
he's said about various women in his life, or by things he never said but that
were attributed to him all the same. When we discussed getting together for
this interview, he insisted that the subject of women was off the table; he's
a husband and a father now, a man who speaks lovingly of his family.

"On one of our two days together we had a late lunch in an elegant restaurant
on the Upper West Side. By the time our conversation wound down it was almost
four o'clock, at which point two women came in for tea. They filed past our
table without a glance, unaware of Neeson's presence. As soon as they sat down
they started talking about movies, and during a lull in our own conversation
we heard one of them say: '1 don't want to be entertained. That's why I loved
"Schindler's List. "' Neeson grinned wryly but said nothing."

PLAYBOY: You are playing Michael Collins. Who was he, and who did you think he
was when you were growing up in Northern Ireland?

NEESON: He was a figure who was talked about in hushed conversation. You have
to understand how it was then. I remember visiting my grandparents when I was
eight years of age. They lived in Waterford, which is Republic of Ireland, and
I lived in the North. I'd want to play with the kids in the street, but there
were occasions when they wouldn't play with me because I was from the "Black
North," as it was known. Because I "paid homage to the Queen."

PLAYBOY: They thought that you were English?

NEESON: They thought everyone from the North was English. I was staggered by
that. I would tell my grandmom, "They're not playing with me because I look a
queen or something." It was around that time when I started hearing about
Michael Collins and Eamon De Valera, who became president of the Irish
Republic. When I got into my teens, and especially after my one year at
university, I started studying Irish history on my own and found out who
Michael Collins was. I was immediately attracted to him because his potential
had been cut off in the prime of life. He was so capable and so dynamic.

PLAYBOY: How old was he when he died?

NEESON: He was shot on August 22, 1922; he would have been 32 that October. He
was the first man in Ireland's history to sit down and negotiate a treaty with
England. And at that time the English cabinet was the creme de la creme of
politicians: Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, these staggering men! And
in comes this big country lad from west Cork who brought the British Empire to
its knees in Ireland through a series of master espionage strokes. PLAYBOY:
Sounds like a hero right out of the movies.

NEESON: In Dublin you can buy posters of Michael Collins dressed as the
commander in chief of the Irish Army. He looks like a typical hero in his
uniform with his gun in a holster hanging low. But he was a statesman, a pen
pusher. That's where his brilliance was, in financial organization. When he
became leader of the government after the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed in
1921, he wore that uniform I think six more times in his life. And he was the
opposite of De Valera, who produced, I feel, an Ireland that was conservative,
very Catholic and quite inward-looking. Collins wanted to put Ireland in the

PLAYBOY: Yet the paradox is that Collins was the one who agreed to the

NEESON. Well, he was hoodwinked by a masterful British cabinet. They were
going to appoint a boundary commission a few months after the signing, but it
never happened. So he was hoodwinked. Brilliantly so. But he got a free state
that eventually did become a republic. Even though his friends turned against
him and called him a traitor and said, "You should have come back with a
republic," he said, "Look, the republic was never on the negotiating table.
They would never have given us that, but what we have is freedom. These
people, these occupying forces, are going to leave. We're going to have
autonomy, and from there we can achieve a republic. Please see it as a
stepping-stone." He was perfectly right, and he did this all at the age of 31.

PLAYBOY: He was always controversial, wasn't he?

NEESON: He was the most wanted man in Europe. Dublin back then, in the
Twenties, was basically a big village. There was a curfew from ten at night
until seven the next morning. Yet Collins always insisted on wearing steel toe
caps on his shoes so that when he walked there was a loud click.

PLAYBOY: So he'd be noticed?

NEESON: Yes. He was inspired by a book by G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was
Thursday, about an organization that meets out in the open and is about to
overthrow the government. He read the book and said, "That's the way---don't
be covert and sneak around in shadows." So he dressed as a civil servant and
rode around on a bicycle, and he whistled and stopped at checkpoints. He would
talk with soldiers and offer them cigarettes--and he was the guy that they
were looking for!

PLAYBOY: So it wasn't just a matter of defiance or megalomania, it was
political consciousness. NEESON: Absolutely. And it was a superb strategy that
worked. I mean, he avoided capture.

There's a great story about when he went to Number 10 Downing Street for a
meeting. Everybody was taking his photograph and it really pissed him off. He
said, "Now we have no ace up our sleeve. Before this I was the Scarlet
Pimpernel. Nobody knew what I looked like. Now my fucking face is all over the
place. So these talks have to succeed."

PLAYBOY: How was he received by the British?

NEESON: Most cabinet members wouldn't shake hands with any of the Irish
delegates, but Lloyd George did. He stood at the entrance to the cabinet room
and shook their hands and showed them where they were to be seated. That was
the gesture the delegates were happiest with, shaking hands with the prime
minister and not having to shake hands with the rest of them. But once they
all get seated and they're all eyeing one another and wondering who's who,
Collins asks, "Where's the men's room?"

As a butler shows Collins where the men's room is, Winston Churchill, who was
at that time the minister of armaments, says, "So that's Michael Collins?"

Churchill goes out to have a pee too, and while he's at the urinal, he says,
"So you're Mr. Collins." "You're Mr. Churchill."

At that time, there was a price tag on Collins' head for 10,000, which was a
fortune. And Churchill said to him, "Why, when I was your age, Mr. Collins,
there was a price tag on my head of 20,000."

And Collins, without missing a beat, said, "I'm sure, Mr. Churchill. Everyone
knows you're twice the man I am." And left the men's room.

PLAYBOY: Yet many people would say that Collins had a price tag on his head
because he was a terrorist and a murderer.

NEESON: But he actually worked for peace. When the treaty was ratified by the
people of Ireland, he fought tooth and nail for peace. Of course, then the
civil war started. He had to race all over the country meeting groups of men
to try to stop the spread of war, because that was the time to build. That's
what I love about him, and that's what I feel really comes across in the film.
His detractors think he was an out-and-out terrorist, a thug, a brutal
murderer. I don't believe that. He fought a war that he felt had to be fought,
on principle, and once it was over he wanted to get on with the economy of the
country. PLAYBOY: Here we are, 74 years later, and again there's violence and
terrorism involving the IRA.

NEESON: I'm very upset that that kind of mayhem has broken out again.

PLAYBOY: Is the situation hopeless?

NEESON: No. For two years, the people of Northern Ireland, both Protestant and
Catholic, tasted a kind of freedom and peace, and they will not allow it to go
back to what it was.

PLAYBOY: Have you ever been threatened because of your visibility?

NEESON: I've had journalistic threats written in a very weird way because
publicity I had done for Schindler's List was taken out of context. Someone
asked me a question about Gerry Adams, and I said something to the effect that
at least he's breaking the stalemate, something is being done, you know.

PLAYBOY: This was on his first trip to America?

NEESON: Yes. Of course, this was picked up in Europe, and the Belfast
Telegraph, which is our local newspaper, printed something that made me sound
like a big supporter of Adams. And a journalist said something like, "Mr.
Neeson must now be scared for his life, for if Protestant paramilitaries read
this or hear about this, he will be a legitimate target."

PLAYBOY: What did you do?

NEESON: I faxed a letter to the lord mayor in Ballymena saying how proud I was
to be from there, that I went to schools with Protestants and Catholics and
had a really good upbringing. My letter was published in various newspapers in
Northern Ireland.

PLAYBOY: Does that make you reluctant to talk in public?

NEESON: No. That doesn't mean I refuse to talk about AngloIrish politics. I
will obviously be getting into that one way or another.

PLAYBOY: Do you see a solution?

NEESON: The trouble with both Protestants and Catholics is that we always look
to the past instead of to the future. Protestants and Catholics have so much
in common in Northern Ireland. Unemployment, for one thing. Housing, for
another. In Ireland, politics is like the weather. It's talked about daily.
Maybe that's the trouble--it's talked about too bloody much.

PLAYBOY: You grew up in fairly modest circumstances.

NEESON: We were very working-class. I don't want to say we were poor, but
there were certainly years when money to pay bills was a huge issue. That's
not putting my morn and father down; that's just the way it was. But we had
brilliant schooling. That's the other thing Northern Ireland is famous for--a
fantastic level of education and literacy, which is actually the highest in
the British Isles.

PLAYBOY: How do you account for that?

NEESON: In Ireland, education has always been of prime importance. For many
years, Catholics were deprived of any kind of schooling. From those roots grew
a passion to get an education because it was a ticket to a better life. And
when the trouble was at its fiercest in the early Seventies, you didn't dare
go out in the streets. All you did was stay in and do your homework.

PLAYBOY: What kind of student were you?

NEESON: I had one aborted year at Queen's University in Belfast. Before
college, I had always been a model student. I respected my teachers. I always
worked to get my homework done. But that was over when I went to university.
There, nobody gives a damn if you go to your lectures or do your homework. And
I just went to pieces. I didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't date girls. I just
sat in my room or went to physics lectures. My whole system just shut down. I
wasn't ill. One of my sisters was there at the same time, and I used to go to
her apartment. She only recently admitted that when she'd look out the window
and see it was me at the door, she'd pretend she wasn't there. Because I would
come in and just sit and not contribute anything.

PLAYBOY: It sounds like you missed the structure you had in your earlier days.

NEESON: Yeah, that's true. That same year, something happened that affected
the bowels of my soul. I went to a physics lecture, and in my catatonic state
didn't notice that there were hardly any students about. The lecturer was very
subdued, and there were maybe three other students in a class that normally
had 20 or 30. I walked home after the lecture and was suddenly surrounded by a
hundred students with placards, shouting, "Scab, scab, scab!" It was
absolutely terrifying. I had no idea what they were talking about. I didn't
know what the fuck I'd done. It turned out there were 13 people murdered in
Derry the day before by British paratroopers. A wave of shock had gone through
Northern Ireland, but not me.

PLAYBOY: You may not have been much of a student, but you were quite a boxer,
weren't you?

NEESON: I Was amateur, of course. I started when I was nine, though I couldn't
enter competition until I was 11. I was a good classical boxer. I loved the
science of the sport. I had a really good left jab, but I wasn't a
crowd-pleaser because I hated to mix it up with the other guy. I'd sooner do
the right thing according to the science of it.

PLAYBOY: How well did you do?

NEESON: I was Northern Ireland champion for three years, and I was a diocese
champion for six years. I loved the training, I loved the paraphernalia of the
sport. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it gave me a lot of respect for
virtues such as dedication and discipline and respecting your fellowman.

PLAYBOY: After Lennox Lewis won an unpopular decision over Ray Mercer this
past May, you were quoted as saying that Lewis was trying to follow too much
of an American style of boxing. What did you mean?

NEESON: Boxing judges in America tend to give fights to boxers who are
aggressive. In Europe, they tend to reward really good defense work and
footwork; you know, if somebody throws a killer punch and the other guy blocks
it in a classic way. That gets points. In this country it doesn't: The guy who
throws the punch, even though it may land with the inside of the glove, gets
extra points because he's more aggressive. In that Lewis-Mercer fight I got
hoarse from shouting "Stick and move! Stick and move!"

PLAYBOY: Stick and move?

NEESON: Stick with the left and move out of trouble. Just keep doing that.
Because the other guy had shoulders like a brick shithouse and was a very good
fighter. But Lewis always wanted to go in and prove to the audience, as a lot
of boxers do, that "I can take this and I can give it as well." That's usually
how they get beat. Take Ali and Frazier--Ali is a classic example of someone
who should have stuck and moved.

PLAYBOY: What do you think of Mike Tyson?

NEESON: I've seen him live three times. I saw the first Frank Bruno fight and
a couple others that I can't even remember, they were over so fast. I think
he's a wonderful heavyweight. I've never seen a fighter come into the ring who
scares you like he does. But he's going through something in his own life, and
he's growing up.

PLAYBOY: What do you mean?

NEESON: Well, at the age of 14, which wasn't that many years ago, this guy
apparently was mugging people. But I see a real sweetness and goodness in the
guy, too. I hope it doesn't get hammered out of him, and I don't mean by an
opponent. He's lethal in the ring, and it will be exciting when he eventually
goes against one of the classic heavyweights out there. There aren't that many
of them, but I sense a showdown in the air.

PLAYBOY: Was there a showdown that ended your boxing career?

NEESON: I must have been 15, and it was in Ballymena. I think the competition
was Northern Ireland Boys Clubs, and if you won you went on to the British
Boys Clubs Federation. It was a big championship, and I was fighting a guy
whose last name was Liggett. I remember there were three tough rounds. I lost
the fight. I actually thought I won, but I lost the fight, and when I carne
out of the ring I didn't know who I was or where I was. I hadn't been knocked
out, I was functioning. But my father came over to me and said, "Go to the
dressing room and get changed," and I didn't know what that meant--"dressing
room," "get changed." I must have looked catatonic. I started moving toward a
doorway, then had to go downstairs. Everything gradually came back as I
negotiated those stairs, holding on to the banister. It lasted maybe three
minutes, but I got really scared. It's not as if I'd taken a hammering, but I
thought, Well, that's fucking it.

PLAYBOY: You're essentially a working-class guy who married into an acting
aristocracy, almost a royal family of the theater. Do you ever marvel at this
turn of events?

NEESON: I don't, because aristocracy is a term my wife and I hate.


NEESON: When you use words like that you think of tea on silver served on the
croquet lawn at 2:30. We jokingly talk about us royals. It provides a good
laugh. Natasha and her sister, Joely, had a tough upbringing, with Vanessa
filming somewhere and their father making a film somewhere else.

PLAYBOY: Judie Foster said of Natasha and you, "She's a cosmopolitan,
socialized cynic like me, a brain. He lives in the messy world of instinct."

NEESON: Oh, yeah, "He doesn't have the stuff of words," or something.


NEESON: It sounds very Judie, but it's not true.


NEESON: Well, to say that Natasha lives in her brain couldn't be further from
the truth. She's the most sensual woman, in touch with everything that's real.
That actually may be a description of Judie, to tell the truth.

PLAYBOY: Do you and Natasha work differently? Do you have different styles?

NEESON: No, I think we're very similar in our way of working. But she's much
more meticulous than I am. She is always her own harshest critic. She would
say, "I didn't get that moment." Or she would say, "You know, that moment is
starting to get a bit flabby between us." She's a great one for keeping an eye
on that. She'll probably be a very good director.

PLAYBOY: How are you both as actors?

NELSON: I think Natasha is more fearless than I am, actually.

PLAYBOY: Is that the heritage?

NELSON: I think so. It's also part of her psychological makeup. Even when I
was acting with her in the O'Neill play on Broadway, she would experiment with
little moments, she would always push the envelope. And I admire that.

PLAYBOY: Don't you do the same?

NEESON: Not so much as she does. If a moment is working for me, I want to kind
of leave it alone. She will want to investigate it.

PLAYBOY: Is she more cynical?

NEESON: I'm certainly a much bigger cynic than Natasha is. I mean, if we're
bantering with each other, she'll say, "You'll always see a dark cloud in the
silver lining, whereas I try to see the silver lining." And then I'll go into
a really thick Irish accent and say, "I can't be bothered going out today
because something bad will happen." If something good happens, I'll say, "I
wonder why that happened?" Or, "Why is this person praising me? What's behind

PLAYBOY: Is it true that after all these years you're still uneasy with

NEESON- Oh, yeah. I think one should be. I think praise fucks up lots of
people. There should be a law--every would-be actor and every writer and
director should go through theater training, real theater. And act in the
classics--Shakespeare, Chekhov, Ibsen--just to learn the craft. It should be
at its best a democracy. Being a star, being selfish, living in a cocooned
world--that doesn't lead to growth. That just leads to death.

PLAYBOY: Offscreen, you tend to be accessible, and casual almost to the point
of grunge.

NEESON: I like to think I am. Obviously, if we go to events, I enjoy dressing
up. These extraordinary designers throw clothes at you, which always makes me
terribly embarrassed.

PLAYBOY: Do you know that some designers pay stars to wear their clothes to
big events?

NEESON: No, get away.

PLAYBOY: No one has ever offered you a wardrobe?

NEESON: Oh, Mr. Armani has. I have two tuxedos that he made for me, and if I
were doing a press junket, for example, my publicist might call him up and
say, 'Look, Liam is doing this in Europe.' Suddenly there's an invitation to
go over to the New York showroom and get decked out with a couple of shirts or
a jacket, something like that.

PLAYBOY: An offer you can't refuse?

NEESON: He's an extraordinary artist, and it's an honor to wear his stuff.
Armani is the maestro. I went to one of his shows for men in Milan and it was
extraordinary. I knew nothing about the fashion world, so it was something to
be sitting there with my wife, with Eric Clapton beside us, looking at the
fabric and how it falls on a particular jacket and sharing our thoughts.
Armani invited us back to his house and there were all these interesting
people. We went to his showroom in Milan the next morning-- I felt quite
embarrassed by that, so I left with maybe three ties and a pair of socks or
something. I could never bring myself to point to all these great jackets and
suits and say, "I want that, that and that." I just couldn't do it.

PLAYBOY: So you're shy about picking clothes. How about picking scripts?

NEESON: I'm beginning to get more tough-minded. I love reading scripts, the
bad along with the good. But now if I'm on the fence about something, I'll ask
Natasha to read it, and she'll say, "Well, this is good for that reason, or
it's bad for that reason."

To which I'll respond, "Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. That's true. That's why
the second act doesn't work."

PLAYBOY: Is she more analytical than you are?

NEESON: Well, she's another voice and she's very intelligent, very good at
homing in to see exactly what's wrong with something. I'll flirt around it for
a while and get discombobulated.


NEESON: Because I don't think I have that sort of accuracy--we're talking
about scripts now--as to why something's not working. I have to get up and
rehearse it. I've been in situations where people are all sitting around with
pens and paper going through the script, and an actor will say, "This line
doesn't work for me." And I ask, "Why not?"

"Because I don't think he would say that."

I say, "Well, fuck it, at least get up and act the scene and see if it works."

PLAYBOY: You at least try to make it work.

NEESON: I try to make it work because that's my fucking job. Then if it
doesn't work, we'll change it. That's the world I come from.

PLAYBOY: What do you enjoy in movies?

NEESON: What I love in films is a sense of real joy, like the recent Jon Avnet
film with Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford, up Close and Personal. Did you
see that? I loved it. It was like a throwback to Frank Capra's films. There
was a chemistry that came across between them, and I loved it for that.

PLAYBOY: You're a pushover.

NEESON: That time I was. I surprised myself. I thought, here are two stars at
their peak and they're really sharing with each other. You can sense that they
like each other.

PLAYBOY: You say that every actor should be schooled in the classics, but you
praise a big-budget formula picture. Do you really like mindless movies?

NEESON: That is what those kind of movies are--that Friday-night,
buy-the-popcorn, sit-in-a-big-movie-theater movie where you just watch two
wonderful stars. OK, you can take the script and say, "Where's the reality in
this?" but for some films you have to push that aside and just enjoy them.

PLAYBOY: Let's talk about movie stars. Do you see yourself as everybody else
does, as solidly in the company of stars?

NEESON: Sometimes. I'm lucky to be doing this. Let's face it, the rewards are
great, and it's a gamble to start with. It could easily not have been like

PLAYBOY: You and your family live in New York, where you seem happy. Someone
said about you recently, "Oh, Liam is gloomy about living in Los Angeles and
loves to talk about how he hates it. But he dances the dance just like
everybody else." Is that true?

NEESON: Sure. Yeah. But on the outside you can be seen to dance the dance--
whatever that means. The expression, to me, means someone snaps his fingers
and you dance. I certainly never did that.

PLAYBOY: "Dancing the dance" doesn't mean that you're at somebody's beck and
call. We took the comment to mean that you understand there are certain moves
you have to make in a career and you make them.

NEESON: There are times I've had to do that and did. Like taking meetings with
a director or a casting agent that I felt in my heart I shouldn't take because
it didn't feel right, or the piece of material, even though I may have been
interested in it before, was a pile of dross. In that way I've danced the
dance. And inevitably you learn something at those meetings. You have to put
on an act because you're feeling, God, this is awful, but you have a huge bill
to pay next month.

So a lot of that shit goes on. Everybody does it. Then you end up not getting
the part. "Fuck 'em! That's definitely the last time I dance." And then, of
course, you do again, because that's the nature of the beast.

PLAYBOY: What about playing the promotion game, dealing with the media?

NEESON: There's an incredible rudeness in the press, especially by
photographers, that to my mind doesn't marry with this country. I love
America, and I'm proud to have the chance to work here. And generally
speaking, I see the country as very open, very gracious. Having lived in
London, I can condemn the English press in other ways, but I never witnessed
that kind of intrusion there. Alec Baldwin smacked some photographer here a
while ago, and quite rightly, too. I would have followed up with a right hook.
And not just one.

PLAYBOY: Have you read the unauthorized biography of you?

NEESON: I have. I had a lawyer note a couple things in it, too. It hurt
because the author, Ingrid Millar, and I had a very good interview in Dublin
two and a half years ago for an English magazine, I can't remember which. And
then, unbeknownst to me, she went off and claimed in the foreword of the
English version of the bloody book that she had talked with my family. She
wrote acknowledgments to my sisters and to schoolteachers who never said boo
to her.

PLAYBOY: So all of this is false?

NEESON: Honest to God--and I remember that interview with her, which I
genuinely enjoyed. I felt it was such a smack in the face. I'm not saying she
went out to knife me. She says a lot of stuff that's nice, but it's guff, you
know? It sold one and a half copies, I think. Thanks be to God. But now a fan
might stop me with the book and ask me to sign it, and that's the only thing I
won't sign. Because that makes it sort of legitimate in a weird way. And it's
an embarrassment to my mom. My moro's photograph is in the bloody thing.

PLAYBOY: Let's go back to those dark clouds you see in silver linings. You
connected them with cynicism earlier, but is there melancholy at work there as

NEESON: Oh yeah, I think so, sure.

PLAYBOY: I mean, people say glibly that it's the Irish nature, but--

NEESON: I certainly think it's in the Irish temperament, but as melancholic as
I can be, I can turn on a sixpence and be absolutely ecstatic, you know? Which
is a very Irish thing. I see it in my countrymen all the time. But yeah, I
tend to gloat over bad things with a lot more ease than over the good things.
Some critics have described my performances as soulful. I can see that.

PLAYBOY: Has fatherhood changed that?

NEESON: Well my son is one year old, he's still very young. He's changing, I'm
changing, too. Certainly there is, if I were to dwell on it, a fear of the
future. But I think fathers of every generation have felt that. I know my
father did, watching the Rolling Stones on television. Guys with long hair. I
could sense in his quietness, "What is the world coming to? And what will my
son and three daughters grow up into if this is the image of youth?"

PLAYBOY: Was he right?

NEESON: He was right! What's the world coming to? And now the Rolling Stones
are the elder statesmen of the rock-and-roll world. But I think every
generation feels it. And I'm enjoying that in a warped kind of way. Enjoying
those feelings for the first time and thinking, God, every parent in every
country on this planet has felt exactly what I'm feeling now. Today I
discovered an abrasion on my son's leg. It was just from dryness, from pulling
himself across the carpet, but it was a major thing. Five o'clock this morning
I was up with him and I saw that and my heart just started pumping. It was
like, there's something wrong here. Just a tiny little rashy thing. And then
when you quiet down and have a cup of tea, you think, Well, welcome to the
club, Liam. You know, I'll always remember something Gabriel Byrne told me
when I saw him and his little son, Jack, about four years ago. I was visiting
them in the Hollywood Hills and I looked at this beautiful, longhaired, naked
little boy running around at his father's knees. I've known Gabriel for many
years, and I said, "God, Gabriel, what does that feel like?"

He said, "I'll tell you, when he was born I realized my place in the
universe." And that's absolutely right. When Micheal was born it was just
perfect, the jigsaw kind of came together. And then you start thinking, This
is obviously how my father felt. And so the world turns.

PLAYBOY: You said something several years ago that also had to do with
recognizing your place in the grand scheme of things. It was when you were
starring in Anna Christie on Broadway with Natasha. You were talking with
Francis X. Clines, from The New York Times, and you used a wonderful phrase.
You talked about acting as an "ancient craft of rogues and vagabond

NEESON: It's true. I'm proud of the fact that we come from rogues and
vagabonds who were shunned from time to time. They would set up their little
stage on the back of a cart and act plays. That in turn came from shamans--you
still get this in cultures throughout the world--who were go-betweens for a
tribe and God, or the ether, or whatever it is up there. The shaman would
paint his face and dance around a fire, and it became a performance. But more
than a performance, it was, I think, where actors come from--the storytellers
and the go-betweens who explain to an audience something of the mystery of
life. And that's the power of theater. Especially when you see the work of one
of the master playwrights--Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov--and you get a sense of
the religious. That's the purest form of it. I'm from that tradition--rogues
and vagabonds who got kicked out of towns because society couldn't pin them
down. They were mercurial, they played different characters, they wore
different guises. And therefore they were always to be feared. They still are,
I think.

PLAYBOY: Let's talk about your work on the stage. After you did Anna Christie
with Rip Torn and the actress who is now your wife, you expressed a concern
that in the early days of the run you were too theatrical.

NEESON: Whereas on camera I tend to think of myself as being almost too

PLAYBOY.' Was it overcompensation, then?

NEESON: Well, before Anna Christie, I felt I was festering in Hollywood. I'd
done this film Leap of Faith--

PLAYBOY: With Steve Martin.

NEESON: Yes, but leaving aside Steve, who's a friend, for me, doing that
picture was soul-destroying. And I'll not go into details as to why. I just
went through feeling so cheap and so dirty, being part of something that had
the potential to be good but wasn't going to be. Realizing all that very early
on and not connecting with certain people in the cast made me so fucking
depressed. After that--I made sure the money was in the bank-- I thought, I
really have to get out of this town.

And then Natasha, who'd been in touch with me a couple times before that,
said, "Look, we have a venue for doing Anna Christie." It was in that
wonderful dark period in New York, coming up to Christmastime, and without a
moment's hesitation, something in me said, "You have to do it." I was vaguely
familiar with the play. I love O'Neill's work, and when I picked this up and
read it, I cried because I knew I could just fucking go. Just breathe into it
and barnstorm it and know what was right. I knew exactly how to be that

PLAYBOY.. So Natasha had already been in touch with you to work together?

NEESON: To do this play, yeah.

PLAYBOY.' Leap of Faith must have been quite a bitter disappointment for you
because people were talking about it being a big hit.

NEESON: I think everybody talks about every film that's going to be made as a
huge hit. That's one of the things I actually like about the film
business--there's this eternal hope. And, certainly, of the scripts I'd read I
thought it was very good. But it's that thing we were talking about before.
Sometimes the chemistry doesn't work, even though the individual components
are very good.

PLAYBOY.' Someone once joked that the world is divided into people who like
Braveheart and those who like Rob Roy. Two very different kinds of movies.

NEESON: With 400 years separating them,

PLAYBOY: Yet they get lumped together in some people's minds.

NEESON: Because Mel and I both wear skirts in them.

PLAYBOY: You both used the same Scottish locations in the highlands around
Fort William, right?

NEESON: That's right. We arrived there about two years ago. Mel and his gang
had been there just days before us, and we heard these awful stories that they
had been rained on for five solid weeks. I had read Braveheart and thought the
two stories couldn't be further apart. But the crew would always report some
snippet of gossip they'd heard about money being spent and stuff.

PLAYBOY: Gibson's people spent lots of money?

NEESON: They had $60 million to spend and we had $23 million. But the locals
at Fort William pumped up the prices because Gibson and Co. had been in
before. I paid Central Park West prices to stay in a tiny house. It still
galls me when I think about it. I was hoping the landlord would come around on
the last day and ask for my autograph, because I was going to put him up
against the wall and say, "Remember this, you cunt." It just galls me when I
get taken like that. That was the legacy of Braveheart that immediately
affected me.

PLAYBOY: Let's talk about the movie you're most famous for, Schindler's List.
I've read different stories about how and when Steven Spielberg offered you
the part. The one I've heard most is that he was backstage after seeing you in
Anna Christie, and what swung it was that you hugged his mother-in-law--Kate
Capshaw's mother--in a way he thought Oskar Schindler would have.

NELSON: I've read different stories, too, and they're so great I don't want to
tamper with' them. But the essence is true. I did a screen test for him. I
worked on it for two weeks and rented a costume and did all that stuff.

PLAYBOY: A period costume?

NEESON: A period costume, yes. The great thing was that it was just Steven and
me and a video camera at Universal. I always believe if there's something I
really like, it's important to tell the director, "I want to do this." Just to
cut through the bullshit. I certainly told Steven that. But after it was over
I thought, You know something? If I don't get this, I've had the most
wonderful half-day's work with one of the great film directors. Just the two
of us working through a piece of text. And then I didn't hear from him, but I
was so into Anna Christie--I was ecstatic doing this play and it became a
success. Then Steven and Kate and his mother-in-law carne to see it.
Backstage, afterward, they were very gracious and I was determined not to say
anything about Schindler's List.

PLAYBOY: Did you?

NEESON: No, I didn't. And I remember so well his mother-in-law coming to our
dressing room after the play. There was the residue of tears, let's put it
that way, on her cheeks. She was very moved by the play, so I went over and
gave her a big hug. And apparently afterward Kate said, "That's just what
Schindler would have done." So Steven called me a few days later and said,
"The part's yours." And he then said, "You know, I enjoyed you in that play,
especially when you wore the suit." There was one scene where I was all
cleaned up, and he had been thinking, What would he look like as Schindler?

PLAYBOY: He didn't want a hairy ape.

NEESON: Right. But he said, "You know, I kept going back to the screen test,
and that's what swung it." That's the truth, and it kind of debunks some of
these stories. I mean, I did hug Kate's more, and if something came out of
that, then great. Anyway, I finished the play on a Sunday, and on Tuesday at 5
A.M. I was at the gates of Auschwitz, dressed as Oskar Schindler. And I still
feel guilty because on the flight over I read What's It All About, Michael
Caine's autobiography. I felt like a peevish schoolboy. As I was flying into
Europe I thought, I must pick up this script, I have a huge scene tomorrow.
But I couldn't put down the autobiography.

PLAYBOY: Maybe it was just that picking up the script and plunging into the
emotional depths was forbidding.

NELSON: I know, keep it pushed back-- it's true. And particularly Schindler's
List, because of course there is any amount of research one can do on the guy
and the period and all the rest of it. I saw tapes of the real Oskar
Schindler, and I had stacks of books and stuff on that whole Nazi period. But
I thought, It's almost pointless reading this, because I'm going to have an
attitude. The thing is, back in that period nobody knew what the hell was
happening. Rules were being invented every second. You didn't know where to
stand, what to say. It's best to keep that ignorance, so I resisted as much as
possible reading about the period. Now I'm reading about the Holocaust. I'm
still going into bookshops and looking for survivor stories and stuff.

PLABOY: You said darkly to somebody in an interview, "Schindler isn't going to
turn me into Kevin Costner."

NEESON: Did I say that?

PLAYBOY: It's said you said it. And it makes sense that you'd worry about it.
Everybody in the business wants to have as much freedom to operate as they can
get. Costner's and Tom Cruise's success gives them that freedom. Is that what
you want?

NEESON: The thing about Kevin and Tom is, they have these production entities.
They're very clever. And they're also astute businessmen.

PLAYBOY: You don't have any ambitions in that direction?

NEESON: Not really, no.

PLAYBOY: Do yOU ever yearn for the bygone days of the studio system?

NEESON: There's a lovely thing Richard Harris said about the studios and how
they've changed. He said, "When I was out there"--in the early Sixties, I
think it was----"if I picked up the phone on Monday and asked for somebody in
charge, if his name was John, I spoke to John. If I was told to call back on
Friday, I called back on Friday and I could still speak to John. Nowadays, you
speak to John on Monday, and by the time you get to Friday you're speaking to
Frank. John is not there anymore. Nobody knows who he is."

PLAYBOY: Would you have wanted to make movies during the days of the studio

NEESON: It would have been wonderful to be part of that, clock in every day at
six like an honest tradesman. Then someone would say to you, "Today you're
Lord Ponseroy and you're defending the castle." And four weeks later you would
put on a gun belt and go to Dodge City. But God, it must have been exhausting.

PLAYBOY: What about the endless publicity that stars did on command?

NEESON: But at the same time the studios protected you. If you got into any
trouble, they were there for you. PLAYBOY: Let's talk about an upcoming Oscar
in your life, Oscar Wilde. He is obviously a departure from Michael Collins.

NEESON: Yes, but he's Irish.

PLAYBOY: Here we have a conspicuously heterosexual actor playing one of the
most astounding homosexuals in the history of literature. But it does present
a few challenges.

NEESON: Sure. Oscar Wilde was always kind of a hero of mine. I've never acted
in any of his plays, though I've enjoyed reading them. I mean, we all know
stories of Wilde's wit and the things he's supposed to have said. Richard
Ellmann's book, Oscar Wilde, is a wonderful, definitive biography, and it
reads like a great novel. That kind of confirmed in me just how special this
man was. And how heroic he was to pontificate about the importance of art.

PLAYBOY: He was a believer.

NEESON: He would have died for this belief. Some people said perhaps he should
have died, but he went to Reading Gaol in this unbelievable servitude for two
years. He suffered the horrors of being both a homosexual in jail and being a
writer who in the early days was denied writing materials-he had to sew bags
together to write. Hardened criminals took their hats off to Wilde. That
appeals to me. And this all-encompassing love that he had for this asshole of
a character, Lord Douglas, the Marquess of Queensbury's son. A total dickhead,
you know, who used Oscar while everybody said, "You don't see what this cunt
is doing?" But he stood by him and he loved him passionately.

PLAYBOY: Blindly.

NEESON: Yeah, he couldn't stop himself. He recognized the well of love he had
for this person and knew instinctively how he would have felt if he had
followed his friends' advice and skipped the country and never seen him again.
He would have suffered a worse fate, he felt. It's going to be interesting to
get that love in the script, to enable an audience to see that love. They've
seen guys thrashing around on a bed, I certainly don't want to do that. But to
show the nature of that love and to show something about the man Oscar fell in
love with, instead of seeing total asshole. That's going to be the hard thing
to do, because the audience is going to say, "Well, why does he love him? The
guy's a jerk."

PLAYBOY.. Aren't you physically too big for the part?

NEESON: No. Everybody thinks Wilde was this effete Englishman. He was a
lumbering, ungainly six-foot-three Irishman. He was very strong and could box
and fight and punch out people who insulted him. There's a wonderful
description in Ellmann's book about how he walked. He had this ape-like gait,
but then when he would get onstage he'd pull himself up and show his other
side. He traveled all over America, went to little one-horse towns to give
lectures on art to the miners. Stood on barroom tables. It's staggering,

PLAYBOY.' You work almost constantly. What do you do to relax?

NEESON: I'm a fly fisherman. I have developed a passion for it.

PLAYBOY: What about it appeals to you?

NEESON: Yeah, I can see how this will sound, "Liam Neeson talks about his
flies. Liam Neeson talks about his big rod." I must get this issue.

PLAYBOY.' You said it, we didn't. How did this hobby start?

NEESON: I was doing Nell with Natasha and Jodie Foster a couple of years ago
in South Carolina, and we were filming on this beautiful lake. Between setups
the props lady, a very sweet lady who had done the props for A River Runs
Through It, started giving me instructions on fly-fishing, and I just found
myself getting more and more hooked on it. No pun intended. When we wrapped,
Jodie very kindly bought me this beautiful Orvis rod, some gear to go with it
and a wonderful instruction book. That had me off and running.

PLAYBOY: What's your favorite part of it?

NEESON: I love the serenity. I love the absolute focus of it. It's not
relaxing-- you're trying to land a man-made fly delicately on the surface of
some water in order to fool a fish. Each time I go out it's a new set of
problems to be solved. OK, this is the water. I think there are trout over
there beneath that crop of bushes. The sun is shining. Do I use a dull little
fly? Do I use a wet fly that goes underneath the surface, or do I use a dry
fly that's just going to sit on top and float down to where a fish may be?
It's like golf, because one day you go out and have a great game, and the next
day you go out and feel like throwing your gear in the closet.

PLAYBOY: Some people like fly-fishing because it incorporates solitude and a
time for contemplation. But you're depicting something much more active than

NEESON: Well, it is. It's you and a stretch of river. You become one with the
water and the land and the sky and the trees. That's kind of a hippie way of
saying it, but it's true. And that rod becomes another appendage. I've seen
some brilliant fly fishermen, and the rod's just an extension of their bodies.
It's like seeing a wonderful painter whose brush is an extension of his mind.
Also, when you're on a river or a lake and there are other fishermen around,
you don't think, Oh, there's John Doe, he's a banker, or, There's Liam Neeson,
the actor. You just think, There's another fisherman. I wonder what he's
using, You can have some great conversations that way.

PLAYBOY.' Is that important to you?

NEESON: I'm not trying to put myself on any pedestal, I promise you, But since
I was a kid I've always wanted to be able to see both sides. That's why I
could never be a really good boxer. I don't have that killer instinct. That's
just the way I am, you know?