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At first glance, it might not appear Liam Neeson is acting his age.
It’s true that, over the past decade, he has expanded his brand from that of prestige actor to all-out ass-kicker, beginning with 2008’s Taken and continuing with his latest film, The Commuter. Neeson, 65, has even publicly questioned his continued viability as an action star, saying in September, “I’m like: ‘Guys, I’m sixty-fucking-five.’ Audiences are eventually going to go: ‘Come on.'”
He later backtracked, indicating he has no intention to ever retire from action movies.
That would suit Commuter director Jaume Collet-Serra just fine. The filmmaker has directed Neeson in four films, including Non-Stop and Run All Night, and notes the actor is “going strong” with these roles, partially because he makes sure “the character represents more or less his age.”
“I think he’s going to do more of these, and hopefully we’re going to do more together,” Collet-Serra says of Neeson’s action-movie future. “Yes, he can throw a punch and he loves the fights and he loves all of that, but he’s actually a brilliant actor in the scenes and that’s very important to make a movie successful.”
Sure, Neeson’s grizzled action heroes might be impossibly good at beating people up or have a particular set of skills, but they also have problems associated with getting older. Through these roles, Neeson has tackled divorce, worries about retirement and troubles connecting with children.
In The Commuter, Neeson portrays 60-year-old insurance salesman (and former cop) Michael MacCauley. He’s a man who has played by the rules — going to work day after day, putting money into his 401(k) and taking care of his family. But after a decade with his company, he’s laid off at an age where it can be challenging to find a new job. On the train ride home, he’s offered money by a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) to identify a passenger who isn’t a regular on the train. If he refuses? His family dies.
“He’s just a 60-year-old man. He’s big. He’s had a little bit of training in the past, but he doesn’t have a particular set of skills,” says Collet-Serra of Neeson’s Michael.
Neeson had to perfect a close-quarters fighting style for a character who wasn’t as well-trained as some of his action-hero roles of the past.
“The close quarters are actually an advantage for him,” says Collet-Serra. “For a filmmaker, it’s also better because they cannot move too much — the actor from their marks. So it’s actually a bit easier to shoot it. You can cut faster, because you aren’t changing geographically so much. If you have a big open space, then you have to keep reminding people of the geography and other threads and things. In close quarters, it’s actually a lot of fun to do.”
Up next, Collet-Serra has the Dwayne Johnson Disney film Jungle Cruise on the docket. The action-adventure based on the classic Disneyland ride will have a family appeal, says the director.
“We are working on the script. It will be for all ages, from 8 to 80,” he says.
The Commuter is in theaters now.
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