Neeson, Liam


Neeson, Liam
▪ 2000

      In recent years motion picture audiences had become accustomed to seeing Irish-born actor Liam Neeson portray strong leading men—the Holocaust hero Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List (1993), the legendary Scottish clan leader in Rob Roy (1995), and the Irish revolutionary portrayed in Michael Collins (1996), to name a few—but those characters were all rooted in reality. In 1999, in Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace, the eagerly awaited prequel to the Star Wars trilogy of 1977–83, he became a character of mythological proportion, Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn. As such, he served as mentor to a character already familiar to the filmgoing public—Obi-Wan Kenobi—and recognized the strength of the Force in young Anakin Skywalker, who in later episodes would embrace the dark side of the Force and become another familiar character, Darth Vader. Though Neeson engaged in dazzling displays of light-sabre dueling, he never lost the aura of inner strength and calm that centred his power and that had become a trademark.

      Neeson, born William Neeson on June 7, 1952, in Ballymena, N.Ire., was an accomplished boxer in his early years. He abandoned that activity, however, and entered Queen's University of Belfast with the intention of studying physics and computer science. After a year he left college and worked as a forklift driver for a time, but he then began studying to become a teacher. He also took drama classes, and in 1976 he joined Belfast's Lyric Players Theatre. Two years later Neeson joined the prestigious Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and in 1979 he made his motion picture debut in Christiana, a religious educational film. He followed that with the role of Sir Gawain in Excalibur (1981), which led to supporting roles in such films as The Bounty (1984), The Mission (1986), Suspect (1987), The Good Mother (1988), and Next of Kin (1989). Among his television appearances were the miniseries Ellis Island and such series as Miami Vice, both in 1984. His first motion picture lead came in 1990's Darkman, but it failed to fulfill expectations that it would launch him to superstardom. In 1992, though, he starred in a revival of Anna Christie in his Broadway debut and attracted the attention of both his costar, Natasha Richardson, who became his wife in 1994, and director Steven Spielberg, who cast him as Schindler. That role gained him an Academy Award best actor nomination and cemented his image as a powerful leading man.

      Following Schindler's List, Neeson appeared in such motion pictures as Ethan Frome (1993), Nell (1994; his only film role with Richardson thus far), and Les Misérables (1998)—in addition to the aforementioned Rob Roy and Michael Collins—and in 1998 he returned to the stage to portray Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss in London and on Broadway. The Phantom Menace was but one of the ever-busy Neeson's 1999 films; he also starred in The Haunting and Gun Shy. At year's end he was honoured with an O.B.E.

Barbara Whitney

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▪ Irish actor
in full  William Neeson 
born June 7, 1952, Ballymena, N.Ire.

      Irish actor who was perhaps best known for playing powerful leading men.

      Neeson was an accomplished boxer in his early years. He abandoned that activity, however, and entered Queen's University of Belfast with the intention of studying physics and computer science. After a year he left college and worked as a forklift driver for a time, but he then began studying to become a teacher. He also took drama classes, and in 1976 he joined Belfast's Lyric Players Theatre. Two years later Neeson joined the prestigious Abbey Theatre in Dublin, and in 1979 he made his motion picture debut in Christiana, a religious educational film. He followed that with the role of Sir Gawain in Excalibur (1981), which led to supporting roles in such films as The Bounty (1984), The Mission (1986), and Suspect (1987). Among his television appearances were the miniseries Ellis Island and such series as Miami Vice, both in 1984.

      Neeson's first motion picture lead came in Darkman (1990), but the film failed to garner much notice. In 1992 he made his Broadway debut in a revival of Anna Christie, costarring with Natasha Richardson; the couple married in 1994. The production caught the attention of director Steven Spielberg (Spielberg, Steven), who cast Neeson as the Holocaust hero Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List (1993). The role earned Neeson an Academy Award nomination for best actor.

      After starring opposite Jodie Foster (Foster, Jodie) in Nell (1994), Neeson portrayed the legendary Scottish clan leader in Rob Roy (1995) and the Irish revolutionary in Michael Collins (1996). In 1998 he appeared as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. That year he also returned to the stage to portray Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss in London and on Broadway. In 1999 Neeson starred as a Jedi master in Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace, the first installment in the popular series' prequel trilogy.

Barbara Whitney
      In the early 21st century, Neeson was cast in a series of films that continued to underscore his versatility. In 2002 he portrayed an immigrant gang leader in Martin Scorsese (Scorsese, Martin)'s historical epic Gangs of New York. After appearing as a widower in the comedy Love Actually (2003), he portrayed zoologist and student of sexual behaviour Alfred Kinsey (Kinsey, Alfred Charles) in Kinsey (2004). Neeson went on to have supporting roles, albeit important ones, in the movies Kingdom of Heaven and Batman Begins (both 2005). After voicing the digital lion Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005), Neeson starred opposite Pierce Brosnan (Brosnan, Pierce) in Seraphim Falls (2006), a 19th-century tale of revenge. He then played an ex-CIA agent trying to recover his kidnapped daughter in Taken (2008).

Ed.
 

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Universalium. 2010.

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