Full content for this article includes illustration and photograph.
   Source:  Harper's Bazaar, Dec 1992 n3372 p87(2).
    Title:  Stranger in paradise. (actor Liam Neeson)
   Author:  Joe Morgenstern
 Abstract:  Irish-born actor Liam Neeson carries the poetry and grandeur of
Ireland in the roles he plays. His latest movie is the adaptation of the
American literary classic 'Ethan Frome.'
 Subjects:  Motion picture actors and actresses - Interviews
   People:  Neeson, Liam - Interviews
  Magazine Collection:  68M5854
Electronic Collection:  A13614972
                   RN:  A13614972

Full Text COPYRIGHT Hearst Corporation 1992

Actor Liam Neeson brings the grandeur and poetry of classic Ireland to the
contemporary Hollywood scene.

For a non-Freudian analysis of what makes Liam Neeson so attractive, there' no
better place to start than Husbands and Wives, Woody Allen's movie about
modern marriage that had audiences wishing the director would park his jittery
camera on a tripod and focus on the only sane character on-screen. Neeson
plays that character, an impassioned, romantic Irishman, and his voice carries
clear as a bell over all the neurotic clamor as he tells the woman he loves:
"I'm from a different era."

Performers shouldn't be confused with the parts they play; Neeson's shambling
gait in the title role of the upcoming movie adaptation of Edith Wharton's
Ethan Frome is an invention, not an affliction. But at a time when many
make-believe Hollywood lovers look--and act--as if they'd been drafted from
the ranks of Spago's valet car-parkers, Irish-born Liam Neeson really does
seem to have arrived from another time, not to mention another place. A
soft-spoken man of 40, he stands six-foot-four and has a busted nose and a
self-deprecating air that could be mistaken for melancholy.

He learned his craft in the Irish and English theater and will appear onstage
later this month in New York, opposite Natasha Richardson, in a one-month run
of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. But movies have come to dominate his
working life (he also appears with Steve Martin and Debra Winger in this
month's Leap of Faith), which he talks about with the pragmatism that comes
with experience. "I love the !movie-making^ process, but I also love what
Henry Fonda once said about it, that screen acting is learning to wait. That's
what it's about. Learning how to conserve your energy, and releasing it in
little spurts."

When he deals with questions about his love life, which once involved Julia
Roberts and has more recently been linked with Brooke Shields, he sounds like
a man who has learned the hard way: "I'm honestly going to say nothing about
that. It just messes me up. You'll speak for, like, 10 seconds about it, and,
sure enough, that's the sub-headline that the editor picks; suddenly, all
these famous actresses come out in black, heavy print."

But when he enthuses over his contribution to Ethan Frome, adapted for the
screen by playwright Richard Nelson (Two Shakespearean Actors) and directed by
John Madden (television's Wings and Grownups), the actor is outspoken about
what he values and deplores in the present era of slapdash, mostly
semiliterate entertainment. "Ethan Frome was such a delight to be involved in
because it's a story of real substance," Neeson says. "It set a standard that
you want to adhere to for the next one. I don't mean this as a brag, but the
business is still about telling stories. I'm not saying actors should be
treated like gods--they shouldn't be at all--but a lot of these executives
with ponytails and Armani suits have to be reminded that drama depends on the
spoken word."

Considering his work in Ethan Frome, Neeson is entitled to a bit of a brag. As
the ardent and heedless New England farmer in his youth, he's wonderfully
matched with a luminous Patricia Arquette. Playing a man shattered physically
and spiritually, he makes massive sculptures of his broken body against the
snow--a characterization of genuinely tragic stature.

On-screen, Neeson's American accent is fine, if interestingly eccentric.
Offscreen, he expresses himself, volubly, in the musical speech that Irish
actors are known for, even though he has lived in Los Angeles for the past
five years and has become as close a student of great American movies as he
was of great Irish drama when he was a member of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin
in the late 1970s. (An example: "That cigarette continuity was perfect in
Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye; they must've had a special person just to
make sure Elliot Gould's cigarettes were burned exactly right going from one
scene to the next.")

Behind the beguiling voice rhythms are the words themselves. Ireland is still
a verbal culture, though not, Neeson fears, for long: "It's not just in
America that kids don't read books anymore." Neeson is a child of his land,
though--despite the fact that he was the son of a school custodian--he came
fairly late to literature: "I was 16 or 17 before I started getting into D. H.
Lawrence, George Eliot, and people like that," he says.

The more he talks about the books he has loved, or laments the passing of a
theatrical era with the deaths of such actors as Laurence Olivier and Ralph
Richardson, the easier it is to understand what the audience responds to when
he plays such roles as the exuberantly sensual artist opposite Diane Keaton in
The Good Mother; the mute Vietnam vet in Suspect (who, like Ethan Frome,
suggests a passionate sensibility hidden behind a rude exterior); and the
demented hero of Darkman, a stylish pulp thriller in which he takes an even
nastier acid bath than the one that turned Jack Nicholson into the Joker.

Neeson is obviously a mature man with a mind of his own, as well as a strong
physical presence, like that of Gerard Depardieu, and a grace reminiscent of
the young Yves Montand. Back in 1980, when director John Boorman was casting
Sir Gawain, the bibulous knight who accuses Guinevere of infidelity in
Excalibur, he picked Neeson because, the actor recalls, "he was looking for a
kind of rustic, inexperienced energy." Now, more than a decade later, the
energy remains, though it's hardly what you would call rustic. To the
contrary, experience is what makes the performer so appealing. For all his
recent and successful Americanization, Liam Neeson acts like a stranger in a
surprisingly strange land.
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