Liam Neeson’s characters are the ultimate action heroes– He was Batman’s trainer, found his daughter not once but three times in the Taken franchise, and saved hundreds in Schindler’s List for crying out loud!
Now, it’s time to learn a bit about the man behind the camera. From his amateur boxing days to his job at Guinness, here are some facts about the Hollywood hero Liam Neeson.
Qui-Gon Jinn’s Original Lightsaber Is On His Bookshelf
When it comes to swiping props off the set of a film, Liam Neeson is no saint! He actually took his Phantom Menace character, Qui-Gon Jinn’s original lightsaber! During an appearance on The Late Late Show With James Corden, Neeson showed off the prop.
The actor had the lightsaber mounted on a wooden plaque with a metal plate that reads “Star Wars: The Beginning Oct-Jul ’97.” Apparently, “The Beginning” was the working title.
Robert De Niro Helped Get Neeson A Role On Miami Vice
In 1986, Liam Neeson starred alongside Robert De Niro in The Mission. That friendship led Neeson to another role, this time on TV in the hit series Miami Vice. As a Hollywood veteran, De Niro knew Bonnie Zimmerman, a casting agent who helped Neeson win the role of IRA terrorist Sean Carroon.
It was the first episode of the third season, titled When Irish Eyes Are Crying. It’s Neeson’s only credit with the show.
Neeson Lost The Princess Bride To Andre The Giant
At six feet and four inches, Liam Neeson thought he was the perfect choice for the gentle giant Fezzik in the comedy The Princess Bride. He was very tall and had fight training under his belt; it was the perfect fit!
Well, not according to director Rob Reiner. To him, Neeson was actually too short for the role of the giant! Neeson wound up losing the part to none other than Andre the Giant.
He Didn’t Become 007 Because Of Natasha Richardson
Liam Neeson was being heavily recruited for the role of James Bond in the 1995 film Goldeneye. And the role would have been his, if not for his soon-to-be-wife Natasha Richardson.
Apparently, she gave the actor an ultimatum — take the role and not get married or decline the role and get married. According to Neeson, he took the “threat” very seriously because he did want to marry Richardson. So, he declined the role.
A Local Minister Sparked His Acting Bug
It wasn’t his mother, father, or even a teacher that sparked Liam Neeson’s acting bug. It was actually a local minister and founder of the Democratic Unionist Party, Ian Paisley. According to Neeson, he used to sneak into Paisley’s church to hear him preach.
During an interview with BBC News, Neeson said, “He had a magnificent presence, and it was incredible to watch this six-foot-plus man just bible-thumping away. It was acting, but it was also great acting and stirring too.”
He Didn’t Think Taken Was Going Anywhere
Neeson considered the 2008 action film Taken to be more of a fun job than something movie-goers were going to take seriously. And his two nephews going online and illegally downloading the film did nothing to help matters!
During an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Neeson said, “If you can download it, it’s gone into the ether.” He couldn’t have been more wrong. The film was a smashing success that led to two sequel films.
Neeson Was “Weak-Kneed” Meeting The Queen
For his terrific work in film and on stage, Liam Neeson was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE). While he was honored with the award in 1999, he didn’t go to Buckingham Palace to retrieve the award from the Queen until 2002.
According to BBC News, Neeson was very nervous. During the interview, the actor said, “I’ve not been so nervous since I met Muhammad Ali; I really was weak-kneed.”
An Animal Lover To The Core
When Liam Neeson arrived on the set of the 2018 film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, he swears one of the horse’s recognized him from another Western he made. During an interview with The New York Post, the actor said, “I love animals. When we worked together before, I took special care of him. I fed him treats. Gave him apples.”
Apparently, the horse pawed at the ground and whined when he saw Neeson (he might have been remembering the apples and not the person, per see).
A Huge Fly Fishing Enthusiast
Like many actors, Liam Neeson has hobbies outside of the entertainment industry. One of the biggest activities he enjoys is getting outside and going fly fishing. During his downtime, he often makes his way to Wyoming to enjoy a bit of the sport.
According to an interview Neeson did with IrishCentral, the actor tries to take two months off every year to enjoy fly fishing. “I try to take July and August off every year, do a little bit of fly fishing…”
A Scout Brought Him To Bohemian F.C.’s Football Trials
While attending Queen’s University, a Bohemian F.C. scout noticed Liam Neeson had some skill with a football (soccer ball). The actor’s skills prompted the scout to invite Neeson back to a trial with the team.
Neeson wound up on the sidelines as a substitute during a Bohemian F.C. game against Shamrock Rovers F.C. Unfortunately, Neeson’s skills didn’t translate over to the professional league, and the Bohemian F.C. didn’t offer him a contract.
He’s Afraid Of Heights
Liam Neeson might play the likes of a Jedi Master, a God-like lion, and even Batman’s trainer, characters that are seemingly scared of nothing. But, in real life, Neeson is terrified of heights!
During an interview with late-night host Jimmy Fallon, Neeson said, “In Utah, my son and I climbed a little mountain…we got to a certain point, and he said ‘Dad, don’t look down…I really do have a fear of heights, and of course, I went ‘Yeah…Waaaah’.”
An Amateur Boxer For Years
When Liam Neeson was nine, his local parish priest, Father Darragh, began a youth boxing club in Ireland. According to the actor, “He had two ropy pairs of ratty, old, ancient boxing gloves and a book on how to box.”
Eventually, the club became one of the best in Ireland. And while Neeson wasn’t the best in the ring, he became seriously training in the sport when he realized he wanted to pursue a career in acting.
After Leaving College, It Was A Slew Of Odd Jobs
After he left Queen’s University Belfast, Liam Neeson didn’t get into the entertainment industry right away. Even though acting as the reason he dropped out. Instead, he worked an array of odd jobs to help pay the bills. One of those strange jobs was as a forklift driver at the Guinness Beer Company.
It was there that someone told Neeson he had a future as a Western actor, particularly as the next Roy Rogers.
He Lived With Helen Mirren In The ’80s
Liam Neeson met actress Helen Mirren on the 1981 film Excalibur, a film where he portrayed Sir Gawain, and she played the role of Morgana Le Fey. According to Neeson, after seeing her in costume, he was immediately smitten.
The two wound up living together for a few years. During an appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Mirren opened up about their relationship, saying, “We didn’t date, we lived together for four years – we were a serious item for a while.”
He Studied Physics And Computer Science
Before pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, Liam Neeson was enrolled in college. In 1971, he was slotted to complete courses in both physics and computer science. Talk about a far-off reach from acting!
However, he never completed his coursework, opting instead to drop out of school, returned to his hometown of Ballymena, Ireland, and worked odd jobs before joining the Lyric Players’ Theatre in Belfast in 1976. He stuck with the theater group for two years.
He Took The Lead In A School Play, Because Of A Crush
At the young age of 11, one of Liam Neeson’s school teachers told him that he should take up the lead in the school play. Not entirely sure about the whole theater thing quite yet, Neeson accepted the teacher’s offer for one reason and one reason only — his crush was also in the play!
Good news for fans of the actor because who knows what would have happened if Neeson never took the stage.
He Loves The Phantom Menace
While The Phantom Menace isn’t exactly a critically acclaimed film, there is one person who actually very much enjoys the film. Liam Neeson, the actor who plays Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn, adores the film.
During an interview with Andy Cohen, Neeson explained who proud he was of the film, particularly the filmmaking process. On top of that, he explained the sheer joy he had making the film and embodying a Jedi.
Transformers Optimus Prime Is Based On Neeson
He might not have voiced Optimus Prime in the 2007 action film Transformers, but there is a fun fact about the robot. Apparently, director Michael Bay had the animation team base the character on Liam Neeson’s body language!
In some behind-the-scenes commentary on the film’s DVD, Bay explains how he told the animation team to “seek inspiration” from how Neeson walked, talked, and presented himself. Considering the favorable viewer reaction to the film, it’s safe to say the portrayal worked out!
He Once Declined The Key To His Hometown
In 2000, Liam Neeson’s hometown of Ballymena, Ireland, offered him the “Freedom of the Town of Ballymena,” the key to the town. He decided not to accept the honor, stating that he didn’t want to further stoke the tension he’d already brought on the town’s religious sectors.
But Ballymena didn’t take no for an answer. Fourteen years later, they once again presented the “Freedom of the Town of Ballymena” to the actor. The second time, he accepted.
His Hollywood Breakthrough Is Thanks To Steven Spielberg
After seeing him in the Broadway play Anna Christie, director Steven Spielberg offered Liam Neeson a role that would launch him into stardom. The role was Oskar Schindler in the 1993 war drama Schindler’s List.
Neeson rose to prominence after the release of the film. The film was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, including a Best Actor award for Neeson. While he didn’t win, the film did earn seven of its nominations, including Best Picture.