When he’s playing the Greek god Zeus, as he did in “Clash of the Titans,” and does again in “Wrath of the Titans,” Liam Neeson gives us a towering, sometimes glowering character, albeit one wracked with angst over family problems. In person, he’s still towering – standing at 6-foot-4 – but he’s a soft-spoken, laid-back dude, boasting a lilting Irish accent. "Wrath of the Titans" opens Friday.
First noticed by American moviegoers in 1981 as the knight Gawain in “Excalibur,” Neeson moved up to leading man status in films and roles as diverse as “Darkman,” “Schindler’s List” and “Michael Collins.” He also became a part of pop culture when he played Qui-Gon Jinn in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” before entering action hero territory with films including “Taken,” “The A-Team” and “The Grey.”
He had no second thoughts about revisiting Zeus in the “Titans” sequel. He’s a fan of Greek mythology.
“These stories are thousands of years old,” said Neeson. “They tap into every culture in the world, and they’re essentially the same story, which is that an innocent has to go through a trial or ordeal to save his society. He comes out the other end, having learned something, which advances his society onwards.”
But Neeson, 59, wasn’t turned on to the stories when he was growing up in Ireland.
“I went to the movies,” he said. “I watched Westerns. Westerns are Greek mythologies. It’s all the same story, you know? And then eventually, in my 20s, I started reading Greek mythology.”
He laughed, and added, “And then I read them in preparation for ‘The Phantom Menace.’ Because they’re the same. ‘Star Wars’ is Greek mythology stories.”
Neeson was also happy to revisit “Titans” because he would again be acting with Ralph Fiennes, who plays his brother Hades in both films, and who played a Nazi in “Schindler’s List.”
“He’s one of my dearest, oldest friends, and it was terrific working with him again,” said Neeson. “When we did ‘Clash of the Titans’ we found it hard to act with each other. So I would look at Ralph’s forehead, and he would look at my forehead. Because sometimes when we made eye contact, it would get quite silly. But we were more restrained this time, and we had a lot more deeper, darker issues to act, so we didn’t laugh as much.”
Of course, Neeson, as well as the rest of the cast, also had to work with a battery of stylized visual effects, with all sorts of monsters coming at them from every angle. Neeson said he got good training when he did “Star Wars.”
“I’m from the old school, which was using colored tennis balls,” he said. “And I have to admit, I kind of like my tennis balls. We had lots of little bits of colored tape, as well. Sometimes you just have to act to bits of tape, and that’s OK.”
Page 2 of 2 - But he also had to work from the inside to create a character he was comfortable with. In his case, that character was a god.
“I think you have to treat them as ungod-like as possible, otherwise you’d be totally intimidated,” he said. “I thought it was important not to show power. Because if you try to show that, you immediately weaken yourself. So it’s best to just intimate it: You are the god of gods. You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to prove it. You just are.”
He thought that over for a moment, then added, “You use whatever you have as an actor for any part. And in this film, I had a great head of hair. That helped a lot, actually, in a strange sort of way.”