How Liam Neeson Became An Accidental Action Star In His Sixties

Liam Neeson is back in theatres this weekend in “Taken 3.”

The sequel will close out the franchise that helped transform the 62-year-old Oscar-nominated actor into one of Hollywood’s most sought-after action stars in his sixties.

Though Neeson starred as Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn in 1999’s “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and as assassin Ra’s al Ghul in Christopher Nolan’s recent “The Dark Knight Trilogy,” it wasn’t until after the cult status of 2008’s “Taken” that Neeson started starring more frequently in similar roles which allowed him to deliver his “particular set of skills” over and over again.

“Unknown,” “The Grey,” and last year’s “Non-Stop” were all big hits at the box office. 

It’s an envious role to actors like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, ’80s action stars who have tried to revitalize their careers for younger generations after the success of “The Expendables,” only to turn up with box-office bomb after box-office bomb.

However, most actors don’t suddenly decide to make the switch to action star later in life.

The change in Neeson’s career came after the sudden death of his wife of 15 years in March 2009.

Liam neeson wifeEvan Agostini/Getty ImagesRichardson and Neeson at the ‘Dreamgirls’ premiere after party in Dec. 2006.

Natasha Richardson, daughter of British actress Vanessa Redgrave, died of a traumatic brain injury after she fell and hit her head while taking a beginner ski lesson in Quebec, Canada.

Liam neeson natasha richardsonCBS/60 MinutesNatasha Richardson and Liam Neeson starred together in 1993 Broadway show ‘Anna Christie.’

In an interview with Anderson Cooper for “60 Minutes” in 2014, Neeson said he returned to work days after his wife’s death.

“I’m not good without work,” Neeson told Cooper. “I just didn’t want to, especially for my boys, to seem to be wallowing in sadness or depression.” 

“Taken” debuted two months before Richardson’s death. Neeson thought the film would be straight to video, but the $US25 million movie became a hit, making $US226.8 million worldwide. A sequel debuted to $US50 million opening weekend in 2012 and made more than $US375 million worldwide. 

Since 2009, Neeson has starred in more than a dozen action films including the big-budget “Clash of the Titans.”

He’s currently filming several movies including one that already sounds straight from the “Taken” playbook where he’ll play an ageing hitman (“Run All Night”).

According to a 2011 Esquire interview, Neeson said it has been this work which has helped him get through Richardson’s passing.

Natasha richardson liam neesonScott Gries/Getty ImagesThe two attended the 56th Annual Tony Awards in June 2002.

“I think I survived by running away some,” said Neeson. “Running away to work. Listen, I know how old I am and that I’m just a shoulder injury from losing roles like the one in Taken. So I stay with the training, I stay with the work. It’s easy enough to plan jobs, to plan a lot of work. That’s effective. But that’s the weird thing about grief. You can’t prepare for it. You think you’re gonna cry and get it over with. You make those plans, but they never work.”

While the actor told Cooper he’s a “wee bit embarrassed” by his success as an action star, he believes it’s something his wife would be pleased to learn.

“She’d be very chuffed at that,” said Neeson.

“Taken 3” is out in theatres Friday. Reviews for the finale are terrible compared to the previous two; however, the film is expected to make over $US30 million this weekend, and, like the first two films in the series, be a big hit overseas.

Neeson is reportedly making near $US20 million to reprise his role.

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