We catch up with the star of hijack thriller, NON-STOP

NON-STOP is released in Irish cinemas this week, and we took the chance to catch up with local boy done good, and star of the film, Liam Neeson>

In NON-STOP, Neeson plays Bill Marks, a reluctant air marshal with a fear of flying; “Strangely, given his job, he’s a bit of an air-phobic. And, on top of that, he picks the flight from hell,” the actor laughs. “I don’t want to give too much away – but there’s somebody on the flight who’s out to prove something and everyone on board becomes a suspect. My character keeps getting texts on his special telephone saying that unless a vast sum of money is paid into an unnamed account someone on board is going to die every 20 minutes, which sure enough they do. There are definitely going to be a few thrills and spills before the closing credits.”

NON-STOP is the second time that Neeson has worked with the director Jaume Collet-Serra. They first collaborated on the 2011 thriller, UNKNOWN, and enjoyed the experience so much they were keen to repeat it; “I loved working with Jaume because he’s not a dictator, not a shouter and screamer,” Neeson explains. “He’s a great guy and a sweet man to be around. And he just gets on with the job very quietly and methodically. On top of that, he’s also got an incredible director’s eye and a real sense of what’s needed to tell a story in an entertaining fashion while developing tension and pace. But he never lets the action entirely overshadow the characters. So Bill Marks is a very three-dimensional action hero.”

Indeed, Neeson and the director worked together on the original script, fleshing the character out to give him greater depth; “We layered on all kinds of small things,” says Neeson. “When we first meet him, he’s trying to come to terms with the death of his child and he has hit the bottle pretty hard. He used to be in the New York Police Department, so working as an air marshal now is a bit of a demotion. But it’s also a last chance to prove himself as an officer of the law, of sorts and, like it or not, he’s going to be tested to his limits.”

Filming of the movie presented its own unique challenges for cast and crew, he says; “Well, 99 percent of it is shot on board the plane itself. We’ve had a couple of days on location at JFK airport, but the rest of the action takes place in the claustrophobic atmosphere of a plane that’s flying at 40,000 feet and we’ve had a brilliant replica of the inside of the aircraft built in a New York studio to work in. It’s meant that Jaume has had to be very creative about he way that he’s filming, and has been using various special camera rigs. In one particular sequence we’ve filmed 10 pages of dialogue in one big take in which the camera follows me around, going from suspect to suspect. It was pretty intense but it was a wonderful feeling of achievement at the end of it.”

Space constraints also make the role physically demanding for the 6ft 4ins star. A fight scene in the narrow confines of the aircraft bathroom, for example, was particularly challenging; “To add to the problem, the other guy was quite big too,” he laughs. “At one point I had to bash up against a mirror, which shatters during the fight. You’re not aware of being hurt at the time because the adrenaline kicks in. But you do see a bruise or two later on and think, ‘How did I get that? But it’s all good fun and there are great stunt guys for the really difficult stuff. Mind you, there are times when you’re being dragged across the floor or during a fight scene with a bunch of the passengers who attack me at one point because they think I’m the hijacker and you do think. ‘Am I getting a little bit too old for this?'”

Now aged 60, there are no signs of the Antrim born actor slowing down. His career spans more than three decades and includes stand out roles in the movies, SCHINDLER’S LIST, STAR WARS, MICHAEL COLLINS, FIVE MINUTES OF HEAVEN and KINSEY. Next up, he’ll be seen in the Paul Haggis movie, THIRD PERSON, a study of three modern couples in different parts of the globe. To help him play the role in NON-STOP convincingly the actor spent time with a member of the Special Forces who trains air marshals. Yet, the actor says, he is still not sure that he could spot a real air marshal on board a real life flight; “They are very good at traveling incognito, of course,” he says. “It’s part of the job’.

“Mind you,” he adds, “I did stop two guys after a flight about five years ago. You know how it is, you’re sitting on an airplane and you’re bored and you just observe people. And I’d been watching them. So, after we landed I said, ‘Forgive me, but I’m an actor and I like observing people. Are you an air marshal?’
“And it turned out one of them was although the other guy was a teacher! I was only 50 percent right,” he laughs. “So I’m probably a better actor than I am a detective.”

NON-STOP is at Irish cinemas from February 28th