I attended a press screening of the new film, A Monster Calls, directed by J.A Bayona and starring Sigourney Weaver, Felicity Jones, Lewis MacDougall, and Liam Neeson. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bayona, MacDougall, Patrick Ness (who wrote the book and screenplay), and Liam Neeson. My interview will go up on January 3rd and my review of the film will be posted on December 23rd.
During my interview with Liam Neeson, our discussion bounced from filmmaking to acting and into fatherhood. We even discussed politics for a moment.
After chatting about Lewis MacDougall’s fantastic performance in A Monster Calls, I asked Mr. Neeson as a dad, if he felt the need to protect Lewis during his emotional scenes and if being a dad impacted his on-screen relationship with Lewis. As a father, I’m always interested to hear from other men how fatherhood informs their work.
Liam: I remember when my first son was born, somebody asking me, “does it change you?” I don’t think I’ve changed, but I know that I have. Every time I put on a shirt, I boil the kettle, whatever I do is informed by the fact that I am a father. So hopefully my acting has been informed by the fact that I am a father of two boys. I don’t do anything deliberate being a dad to Lewis’s acting for example, but something obviously worked. You know, an empathy.
Jason: Watching as a dad, I wanted to protect him. I brought my daughter with me to the screening and we had two very different responses.
Liam: Oh yeah, how did she respond?
Jason: I wanted to comfort Connor (Lewis’s character) and make everything okay. My daughter on the other hand wanted to see what was going to happen next. Her opinion was, okay, this kid was dealt a bad hand, I feel bad for him, but let’s see what he does.
Liam: What age is your daughter?
Liam: She empathized with him? She recognized that this was kind of okay. I’m sure she reacted emotionally as well. Maybe in front of you she wanted to appear stoic.
Jason: Maybe. She’s a tough one.
Liam: Connor, Lewis’s character does too. When he sees the monster, he says, “I’m not scared of you!” It’s great. It’s a reaction you don’t expect. Kids are always full of surprises, aren’t they?
I could relate to his comment of not feeling like he has changed, but knowing that he has. I too am a dad no matter what I do. Just like he is a dad putting on a shirt, I am a dad when I clean, coach soccer, or even sit down at my computer to write. All that I do is influenced by the fact that I am a dad, and it’s nice to see that being a dad even influences his performances.
As a parent, we all have to forge our own path in teaching and raising our children. Some times it’s easier than others.
Jason: How did you pass on lessons to your sons? Tell stories, offer advice, or lead by example?
Liam: Well, that’s an ongoing thing, you know? Sometimes you have to be a parent by the seat of your pants. There are so many books written about it, but at the end of the day, you must trust this (Points to his heart). We’ve been around as long as trees. A hundred and fifty-thousand years, so we’re doing something right. And I read all the books. I’m sure you did to when you learned you were going to be a father for the first time. At some point, you have to scrap them. So, I’m still doing that. Parenting is difficult, you know? Especially in today’s age. My boys are 20 and 21 I’m so glad they’re not 3 and 4. I mean, what’s happening?
(This is where we got into politics, but that will stay between us.)
Jason: When I heard you were playing the Monster, I thought it was a perfect choice. Even as a big man, you always show a bit of softness in your characters. Is that something that naturally comes out of you?
Liam: We all have an aura. Everyone in this room has an aura. I think I have those qualities and it shows up in some roles, but there’s nothing I can do about it. For this I think it was a nice mix of who I am. My aura was within the story.
As a long time Neeson fan, I couldn’t help myself and brought up his portrayal of Oscar Schindler. His response has nothing to do with fatherhood or A Monster Calls, but it was too interesting to not include. Here is what he had to say about his performance in Schindler’s List.
Liam: I never felt I had a handle… I never felt there was enough Liam Neeson in that film. I was doing what Steven wanted. And Steven had an idea that Schindler was Steve Ross, the CEO of Time Warner, who I never met. Steven was trying to help me, and gave me tapes of Steve Ross talking and I felt I had two people to play – Schindler and this guy Steve Ross. I didn’t know what to do. 95% of my performance in that film is Steven. There are a couple of things I recognize the actor I am, doing something. And that’s not a criticism, that’s just the way it was 22, 23 years ago. I just felt a wee bit constricted. But he made an extraordinary film.
Check back here on January 3rd to read the rest of the interview.
A Monster Calls opens January 6th .
A Monster Calls social media links: