A Shocking Rumor. Liam Neeson was only kidding--he's not quitting (see for yourself in The Haunting)
by Paul Willstein
Allentown Morning Call
To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of Liam Neeson's retirement are greatly exaggerated.
And yet Neeson may hang out the "Gone Fishin' " sign at least for now.
"There's a 20-inch brown trout waiting in a river up in Canada, I'm told, with my name stamped all over it," he says. "He's going, 'Come on. I dare you!'
"I've designed my own dry fly, because, you know, I make my own flies. It's called Qui-Gon (after his Phantom Menace character). It's the absolute Jedi Force of dry flies."
Talk of retirement by the 47-year-old Oscar-and Tony-nominated actor came about because the actor can't suppress his dry Irish wit. Here it comes again:
"I want to be a sheep farmer in Tibet," he says. "After doing this film (Phantom Menace), I want to get in tune with myself again."
"Because I love sheep," he deadpans.
"It's not true," he says, turning serious, about his reported retirement. "It was something said in jest and, in other words, got mangled in some way," Neeson said.
Neeson's retirement was reported in the June issue of Redbook magazine. Also, columnist Jeannie Williams reported that Neeson confirmed that his retirement to her at a Premiere magazine party in May. The headline "Neeson Quits Film Career" ran on Williams' May 6 column in USA Today, which later printed Neeson's denial.
Whild Neeson may be chasing trout in Canada this summer, his image also will be on the big screen in Jan De Bont's The Haunting which opened last month, opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lili Taylor, and in Gun Shy, costarring Sandra Bullock, set for release later this month.
Regarding Star Wars: Episode I--The Phantom Menace, in which he stars as Jedi knigtht Qui-Gon Jinn, Neeson feels little career pressure.
"If I was Kevin Costner in (a starring and producing movie role), I might feel a little pressure. It's George Lucas' Star Wars, so I'm an actor for hire and I did my job and I take pride in doing it."
No need for Lucas to worry, either. The Phantom Menace, which has earned $402.9 million since its May 19 release, is already the No. 3 highest-grossing movie.
Neeson explains why Phantom Menace is a mega-hit despite less than glowing reviews: "(It's) a film (that's ) very much word-of-mouth--the way most films are, actually. Critics have their place--it's very low on the ladder of the species, I think, sometimes."
Star Wars writer-director Lucas has described Neeson as a natural for the part of Qui-Gon: "Liam's very quiet. He's very big. He's very powerful, but he's very contemplative."
Neeson is reluctant to admit seeing himself as a Jedi knight. "There are some parts that appeal to actors more than others. I felt I could bring a quality to that that was right," he says, then quips, "I mean, I did want to be Jar-Jar."
Few actors have successfully displayed such a wide range on film (30 in all, since 1979), from sensitive if emotionally cauterized men (Ethan Frome, Nell) to forceful, courageous and dashing heroes (Excalibur, Rob Roy).
Then there's Nesson's Oscar-nominated portrayal of Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List, and his Tony-nominated Broadway debut in 1993 in the Roundabout Theatre's revival of Anna Christie, co starring his wife, Natasha Richardson.
In The Phantom Menace, Neeson looked to those who went before to play Qui-Gon.
"I just wanted to be absolutely as simple as possible." he says.
"It was something I remembered from the first Star Wars film, which was Episode IV. Here were these wonderful actors, actual, Mark Hamill, Harrison (Ford), Sir Alec Guinness, Carrie Fisher--I absolutely believed that world. You see Mark Hamill jump into a speedster--it's like he's climbing into a taxi. It's an everyday activity."
Neeson found Guinness "very inspiring. He was the first Jedi knight we've ever seen, and an older one. So he did suggest a history. Because he is a consummate actor, he invested the part in the film with his wonderful grace and dignity, this samurai-esque spiritualist aesthetic. So that was the guiding light, the guiding force, if you want to say."
Neeson thinks his children will enjoy his Star Wars legacy. "I hope so, as they get into Star Wars. They're babies now.
"Star Wars is based on ancient myths and legends," he says. "I think they're great sagas. Every culture has those myths and legends, and they're basically the same story, be it the story of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, or a prophet.
"You go way back, pre-Christian times, it's the same. There is a virgin birth in every culture. The goddess gives birth to a young hero and he will go through a trial and ordeal and come out the other end of it having learned something."
Neeson says people want to be reminded of these archetypes and values that are embodied in Star Wars.
"Certainly the Jedis stand for in integrity and truth and the pursuit of justice. It's nice to be reminded of those pillars of ethics.
"They (the Jedis) have spiritual aesthetic, too, like Buddhist monks," he continues. "They're of that universe, but they're kind of not, as well. But they're kind of like Wild West sheriffs of regulators."
Neeson likes the fact that audiences don't know much about his character Qui-Gon.
"You have to bear in mind, this is Episode I of a saga," he says. "It's a piece of a puzzle. It's kind of like Shane, the Alan Ladd character. I like that kind of mystery, the mystique of somebody who rides in on a horse--you don't know where he came from--then he rides out again."
The mystery surrounds Star Wars gizmos, too.
"One time I remember Anakin (Jake Lloyd) was trying to start up his pod in his backyard and I suddenly come up with this thing and I say, 'Here's a power source. Try that.' Suddenly, it starts," he says.
"I say, George, where have I got this from?' He says, 'Believe me, thousands of Star Wars fans will be analyzing this for years to come. Don't worry about it. Just bring it out from below your cloak. You're a Jedi.'"
Nesson didn't get to keep his costume. "But they gave me my light saber. I have it mounted on a plaque--in a vault."
Neeson says that when he first saw Star Wars in a Belfast movie theatre, "not in my wildest dreams" did he ever imagine that he'd one day be in a Star Wars film.
"In those days, all I wanted to do was be Iago in Othello or be with the Royal Shakespeare Company.....Yeah, it's an interesting journey of 22 years."
So, will Neeson be back as Qui-Gon Jinn in Episode II?
"It's Star Wars; you never know," he says in a conspiratorial tone.
About that, Liam Neeson isn't kidding.