Liam Neeson, 'Taken 3' Team Talk Making Kidnap Sequel Where "Nobody is Taken"

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Famke Janssen, Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace and Forest Whitaker at Wednesday's 'Taken 3' screening in New York

"The challenge is to escape what everybody thinks"

Liam Neeson reprises his role as Bryan Mills, an ex-CIA operative with a "very particular set of skills," in Taken 3, but the movie is a drastic departure from the previous two installments of the action-driven franchise. For one thing, “in this one, nobody is taken,” said director Olivier Megaton at a fan screening in New York on Wednesday. “The movie is much more mature. There is more emotion.”

This key change — instead of an abduction, the movie centers on Mills' efforts to evade capture by law enforcement after he is framed for the murder of his ex-wife — helped convince Neeson to return for a third time. “I felt [writers] Luc Besson and Robert Kamen came up with a very good and interesting storyline. My guy becomes the hunted — it puts a different twist on it,” he told reporters on the red carpet.

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Famke Janssen, who plays Mills' ex-wife, Lenore, said she was “at peace” with her character’s fate. “Somebody had to take the bullet, figuratively speaking, and I’m glad it was me,” she told THR. “I will do it happily. It’s the last installment, and it propelled the story forward in a good way. It gave it more emotional weight.” Besides, having recently resumed her role as Jean Grey in the X-Men franchise, Janssen joked, “I tend to resurrect in whatever I do, so I’m never that worried about it."

In directing, Megaton said his goal was to break free of stale sequel stereotypes, and upend the audience’s expectations. “The challenge is to escape what everybody thinks … to be in front of this, and say, 'OK. I don’t give a shit about what people say, I’m going to make a good movie,'" he explained. “When you make a sequel, because everybody knows about everything, or think that they know, each time you try to surprise them. That is the challenge, to surprise everybody."

Bringing Forest Whitaker aboard as inspector Frank Dotzler was a big part of this strategy. “Forest is such a heavyweight in the real sense of the word. He can take a simple detective line, police procedural line, and just give it a twist. Give it an extra piece of character,” Neeson told reporters. For his part, Whitaker was already a fan of the franchise before joining the cast. So how did it feel to chase someone as bad-ass as Mills? “It’s pretty fun,” said Whitaker.

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The Taken franchise is perhaps most famous for Bryan Mills’ particular set of skills. So what particular skills does the cast possess in real life? Whitaker lists “martial arts, mediation and chess” among his many talents, while Maggie Grace (who plays Mills’ daughter) is a master chef. “I’m really proud of my cooking. I’ve been cooking for my family since I was 10, and I can create recipes out of nothing,” she said, recounting a recent dessert made from fruit purees that she whipped together for vegan and gluten-free friends. “I don’t need a recipe. I can improvise with flour.”

Meanwhile, Janssen is something of an animal whisperer. “I can look after animals really well. I’m obsessed with them. Everybody says they want to come back as my dog — I’d do anything for him,” she laughed. “That’s the most useful skill set I can think of right now.”

Taken 3 hits theaters on Friday.