This is part 2 of my interview with Liam Neeson. The first part centered on how being a father has influenced his acting. Part 2 is about filming A Monster Calls.
How A Monster Calls came to him:
Bayona’s team wanted me and my agent called and said, “I’m sending you this book. They want you.” I had seen Orphan and thought he’s quite special. He works with the Pan’s Labyrinth people. I thought this would be a pretty special film. A multi-textured film.
On using motion capture:
I find it strange. You’re in this space with 70 cameras. Above you are cameras and you’re in the middle. The good thing is you don’t need to reset for his point of view or their point of view. Everything is covered. Lewis was there, but he was off to the side. I was acting to a puppet for perspective. Lewis, he was giving it the full 100% every time. We weren’t able to look at each other obviously.
His chemistry with Lewis even though they weren’t filmed together:
I’ve done a few movies with kids over the years, but Lewis is very special. I wasn’t aware of him acting at all. It was quite a revelation. I’ve never experienced that before… ever from an actor, actress, or a child… It was like Shakespeare’s Hamlet what he had to do; emotional wise. It’s very easy to empathize with Lewis and this extraordinary story. This kid can’t talk to anybody. At the start of the film, he’s washing dishes and doing the laundry. Here’s a kid having to manage by himself. And nobody to talk to. It’s sad. His mom’s dying, you know? Nobody’s confronting it, you know?
Comparing Bayona to Spielberg:
Steven does and J.A. does it. I could see him huddled. And he’s a small little figure. I could see him huddled when we were doing our motion capture stuff with Lewis and never once does he talk down to a child. That’s the big mistake (talking down). Talk to him as an equal. He would say, “Well, what about we think of this,” or, “what about you try it this way,” or, “don’t move so much.” They were really connected. A lot of directors tell actors and kids, “Hit the mark! Say the line! Thank you! Go back to your trailer.”
What it was like playing a tree:
Do you want the bullshit answer? Are we in Los Angeles? I could say, “Well, I hung out with trees. I was in this forest in Ireland and I lay naked every night.” No, I’m a big myth and legend fan. And the hue tree is always featured in Irish literature and fairy tales and such. It’s an ancient tree and a healing tree. J.A Bayona showed me a sculptured bust of what he wanted this creature’s presence to look like. Its nose was broken. I developed the voice to a certain extent. How it breathes and stuff. Patrick’s book, I rate it with the best of Oscar Wilde… his parable, his fairy tales. The Brothers Grim. It’s amazing.
His favorite roles:
Michael Collins, that’s still my favorite. The Grey I’m very proud of too. Schindler’s List of course. There’s no thought there. Steven made a wonderful picture. I wouldn’t have cast me in it, but he made a wonderful film. Yeah, Michael Collins is still my favorite. Every movie has a unique experience. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good. I always carry some positivity away.
What he took away from A Monster Calls:
The motion capture process was interesting and a bit intimidating for the first day. And working with Lewis. I mean, this boy… the cannon of emotions he went through. I’m not even doing it justice. It was extraordinary. And it wasn’t showing off. It wasn’t acting, well, of course it was acting. Yeah, just taking that experience of working with him and Bayona. He brings these performances out of these kids and like Spielberg, can get these performances from these kids. You think of Drew Barrymore in E.T., and you think God, it’s an extraordinary performance.
What he wants audiences to take away from A Monster Calls:
I think it’s a wonderfully entertaining film. It’s unusual. It’s always cliché to say there are life lessons, but they’re actually are. There are no absolute solutions to any of the stuff the monster presents the kid with. These horrible tales; they’re ongoing. He’s basically saying, “life’s complex. Human beings are complex. We’re never just black and white.” When I read the book for the first time, it kept haunting me in some way. Something gripped me to it. And hopefully people can relate to the film. I call them “refrigerator questions.” You’ve seen the movie, then you go back to the fridge and are, “wait a minute. I don’t understand… oh!” It’s always at the refrigerator.