Liam Neeson Warns His 'Love Actually' Co-Star of Competing With 'A Walk Among the Tombstones'

Andy Kropa/Invision/AP
Dan Stevens, Liam Neeson, David Harbour and Adam David Thompson

Producer Danny DeVito says of the crime thriller's franchise potential: "I don't know, we'll see — from your mouth to God's ears"

Liam Neeson may have a very particular set of skills, skills he has acquired over a very long career — one of which is intensely intimidating kidnappers over the phone in crime thrillers. And while the actor does master another chat with a villain in A Walk Among the Tombstones, out Friday, he assures fans that unlicensed private investigator Matt Scudder is noticeably distinct from Taken's Bryan Mills.

"It was the opposite of my character in Taken — he's very vulnerable, quite scared and fearful individual, but still tries to do the right thing," Neeson told The Hollywood Reporter at a special New York City screening on Wednesday night. With a smirk, he added, "And he treads in very gray moral areas, let's put it that way."

Director Scott Frank, who also wrote the screenplay back in 1999, admitted of the coincidental similarities, "I was a little worried and I know Liam was too, but it's a very different movie. We just thought, it'll be what it'll be."

In the adaptation of the tenth novel in Lawrence Block’s long-running, best-selling mystery series, Neeson's Scudder is hired by a heroin dealer to track down the team who held his wife for ransom, but learns that the crime might not have been an isolated incident. Danny DeVito — who greeted fellow producers Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher at the event — said that the onscreen intensity of the Universal and Cross Creek Pictures title comes from the book itself. "When you read it, you just curl up and think, 'Oh my god, what the hell is this guy thinking?!'" he laughed while posing with a horrified face. "That's one of the reasons I got involved in the beginning — I love creepy!"

Neeson is up against a pair of merciless kidnappers, including David Harbour of The Newsroom, Manhattan and The Equalizer. "Liam and I are both big guys — he's actually taller than I am, which is a rarity for me — and I'm Irish as well, so you have two really big Irish guys going against each other!" said Harbour, who had frequently run into Neeson around the New York theatre scene. But the two actors' connection roots back to 2004. "My first movie was Kinsey — I played his younger brother and I had one line. And now I get to go toe-to-toe with him, like a younger brother would."

Though Tombstones' scenes are often ominous, tense and violent, the shoot at large was lighthearted, said the cast. "We all became very close on set — we had one night where it was pouring down rain in the graveyard, and we couldn't shoot, so we all congregated in one trailer and watched documentaries and played board games," said Adam David Thompson, while Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens added, "We played a lot of Cards Against Humanity — there are lots of Cards Against Humanity ninjas out there, and David Harbour is definitely one of them!"

Even more so, most of the cast hadn't met Neeson before production began, and Stevens admitted, "if his onscreen characters are anything to go by, you should be afraid!" But Mark Consuelos laughed off the misconception and said, "He's so calm and relaxed, super chill — such a nice guy!" Danielle Rose Russell, who had just turned 13 when she booked the role as her first feature, "He was like a friendly grandpa, almost — so sweet and very humble. He would hug me and bring me warm water bottles, because it was so cold."

After the screening at Chelsea's Bow Tie Cinemas, presented with The Cinema Society, the evening's guests — including Neeson's Third Person director Paul Haggis, Taken's Maggie GraceLuke Wilson, Paul SorvinoVincent Pastore, Chuck Zito, Gotham's Erin Richards, Condola Rashad, Peter Scolari and Tracy ShayneCalvin Klein, Donna Karan and Gilles Mendel, among others — headed west to the Top of the Standard for Qui Tequila cocktails on the rooftop, with Seth Meyers, Carla Gugino, Andy Cohen, Adam Lambert, Carson Kressley, Troy Garrity and more.

So could Tombstones be the beginning of the next crime-thriller franchise? Of the other Scudder series titles, Frank favors When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, A Long Line of Dead Men and A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, and though the film has enough source material to ground a set of films, Frank said he felt "no pressure, [but] just a desire to do so. ... but I'm worried if I think about it, I'll jinx it." When THR asked DeVito of the possibility, he responded, "I don't know, we'll see. From your mouth to God's ears."

Until then, the film opens Friday — serendipitously, opposite The Maze Runner, which features Neeson's Love Actually co-star, Thomas Brodie-Sangster. Though the young-adult action flick is predicted to outperform Tombstones, Neeson still offered a few words of warning for the boy who played his hopelessly romantic son in the 2003 holiday film: "You're up against the heavyweights, Thomas — now go to bed!"

Twitter: @cashleelee