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INT: Liam Neeson

Despite Liam Neeson’s larger than life presence on stage and in movies, in person he is a modest gentleman who is soft spoken and humble. I was very impressed by his powerful performance as John Proctor in "The Crucible" on Broadway, where he starred with Laura Linney-- a dynamic duo that seem to appear in various projects together. It turns out that they are close friends and in the same social circle, so working opposite each other is a pleasure for both of them.

In KINSEY, Neeson tackles the title role of the brilliant scientist executing sex studies across the country in the 1940s, exposing the vast differences between what people say they do in the bedroom, versus what they actually do. The character of Kinsey is a very complex one. He is socially awkward, yet able to effortlessly hold the attention of an entire room when he is lecturing. While lovingly devoted to his wife, he struggles with his own sexuality and desire to explore its many levels. Kinsey has many sides that both compliment and contradict each other, which make him a fascinating person to study.

Much like his character, Neeson is able to call attention to himself just by his intelligent manner of speaking. It is very hard to divert your eyes from him when he is sitting in your room, because he radiates his subdued, mysterious charisma that casts an unshakable spell upon you. It’s not hard to figure out why Laura Linney described working with him as “heaven.” It’s also easy to pinpoint why he is receiving a lot of Oscar buzz for KINSEY, a movie that is likely to entertain audiences, and provoke lots of sex talk, when it opens this November.

~~~ interview contains minor spoilers about the movie ~~~

LIAM NEESON

When you play a character that is based on a real life person, what do you do to prevent your performance from descending into mimicry?

Well, I tried not to mimic him. There was a certain amount known about Kinsey, but there was not a great deal of film, footage-wise. And I don’t look like him at all. I didn’t look like Oscar Schindler, and I certainly didn’t look like Michael Collins. But to try and capture something of the spirit of the man — certainly with Kinsey, he had this incredible energy and I sensed his life was on, like, a stopwatch, because he shouldn’t have lived beyond his 18th year with all these childhood illnesses he had. He had a very weak heart, so his ID had a stop watch on it. So that kind of gave me a clue to playing him actually. I had this idea of — of course, every actor does it, you’re so sick of hearing it — putting on weight. But when I put on weight I just look bigger and stronger, so I sort of did the opposite. I lost weight to appear just a little bit more vulnerable. He always struck me as looking vulnerable and frail.

In terms of complex characters you’ve played, where does this one rank?

From 0 to 6? (laughs) 5, I think. He’s a pretty complex man.

What is the key to him, for you?

I think his pioneer spirit. When I hear the word “pioneer” I always think of American explorers cutting trails through this extraordinary country, and I put Kinsey in that ilk. I think that was kind of key to him — an adventurer.

When did you first become aware of the Kinsey reports?  Did they at any time, help you to understand your sexuality or the opposite sex?

Well, we never understand the opposite sex. Let’s face it. I became aware of him in my general reading, I think in my 20s, but very, very little. I’d heard of the reports and the American reaction to them. But I didn’t know a great deal until I got offered the part.

Do you think his research is still important today, considering how much time has passed?

The actual data itself I think has relevance. I mean, out of 100 percent of the data he collected, only 10 percent was used to write the book. There is 90 percent of stuff left out — he had planned to write a whole series of books. I believe at the Kinsey Institute for Research and Sex in Indiana, these files are open for various scholars to study from all over the world, and I believe they still do.

Why do you feel Kinsey remains, not just controversial, but fundamentally controversial? There are still people trying to discredit his work.

Oh yeah, absolutely — because sex is controversial. When I think of what western industrialized

countries and America have come through, the liberalization that has broken through over the last 50 years or 60 years — there’s an element in society that is very, very concerned about the so-called breakdown in family values — sex education in schools they are absolutely against. They want to keep young people in ignorance and keep the wraps on everything — go back to the Fifties and the Cold War scenario, and have people feel guilty and ignorant because that way you can control them. That’s why he’s controversial. There is an element that sees Kinsey as the

master architect of all these social and cultural forces that have been happening over the last

hundred years. So if he can be put back in the bottle like a genie, we’ll all go back to how it used to be, living in ignorance. That’s what I think they believe.

Did he ever cross the line between the objectivity of the scientist, and the subjectivity of a person (perhaps) trying to justify his own life style?

I don’t think he was justifying his own life style. I think Kinsey was obviously bisexual. From my research, I think he really only discovered that in his late 20s and I believe he grew up

with enormous fear, enormous guilt, enormous confusion, to the point where when he found his mission in life, he was determined that young people especially would not go through that turmoil that he did. I think that was his building block. That was his springboard.

But he also had this faith in pure science. He didn’t want to sully that.

Absolutely. He was a starred scientist. He was a Bench Scientist and a great one, so of course he was attacked. How can you take emotion? How can you take morals out of sex? He said yes, you can. The scientist’s job is to study matter, and the physiological aspect of sex is matter. He thought, ‘I can measure that’.

When Kinsey published a book on men, he was widely praised. But when he later published a book on women’s sexuality, he was vilified. Do you think that has something to do with the Cold War?

Maybe the Cold War attitude, and there was controversy over that book because how dare he interview women. So therefore loose women must only have answered those questions and been those interviewees. There was a whole school of thought about that, because upright American women would not give interviews. So his facts and figures were attacked — obviously he only spoke to loose women, of loose morals. So he got vilified a lot more.

Do you think his weak heart, and knowing his clock was ticking, played into his obsessive and compulsive behaviors?

I think it had something to do with it, yeah. That’s just my interpretation, I haven’t read that anywhere. The apple never falls far from the tree. His father was a staunch Methodist preacher. Kinsey had that element of his character too. Always calling his coworkers by their last names. Always keeping a certain distance. Always cracking the whip, of course. Working 14-15 hour days and a 6-day week.

In a role like this, is it of great importance for you to know you’re going to be working with good people and be in good hands?

I was a fan of Bill Condon’s. I remember being on the jury of the Deauville Film festival a few years ago and Gods & Monsters was being shown. I remember very, very strongly standing up for that movie, and standing up for Mckellen’s performance in the jury room. I had some detractors but had some other champions of the film. So I was a big fan. It’s rare you find a really good writer-director. Neil Jordan certainly springs to mind, and Christopher Nolan. So he kind of made me perk up when I saw this film. A couple of years ago when he approached me with this, I was very willing.

You and Laura Linney make a good pair.

Yeah. Laura and I — we’re good friends. We did The Crucible together on Broadway for two years. Laura and I have a nice dance together. We don’t over-intellectualize stuff. When we did Kinsey, we rarely even talked about the scenes we were doing. We just started our little dance, you know. She moves that way, I move this way. She moves that way, I do this. We’re very comfortable with each other. We do have a relationship. It’s so comfortable. Especially with this, you don’t have to worry about your costar and what their ego’s going to be like, or what their demands may be.

You’ve previously worked with Peter Sarsgaard on K-19 The Widowmaker. Having worked with him before, was it awkward shooting the kissing scene together?

Oh, far from it. We did 4 months together on K-19, but I can tell you, he’s a wonderful actor. He just gets up and does it, you know. It just wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t something we were banging our heads against the wall about. It wasn’t awkward at all, because it was an important scene for where the film goes after that, and we wanted to do it right. It just wasn’t about a kiss. It was about the lead up to a kiss — is Kinsey going to show his bisexuality? The scene is an invention, you know. Apparently, Kinsey came on to Martin at some point in the relationship.

Were there any crucial scenes in the movie that didn’t end up in the final cut?

There was one scene I was surprised had gone. After he interviews the omniphile in the movie, there is a scene with Laura and I in bed, just a high angle shot, and a simple little two-shot of me deciding to use the information that this man has given. Laura is saying, you shouldn’t use it, just throw it away. But because Kinsey was a collector and because this freak had these ledgers full of this obscene information, Kinsey was salivating at that stuff. That’s science to him. But anyway, the scene went.

Did you have a strong reaction from your parents when you told them you wanted to pursue a career in acting?

Very much so. Oh yeah. It was something you did in your time off — Amateur dramatics. It

certainly wasn’t something where you entertained the thought that you might get paid for it.

Did you experience a day of reckoning?

I did. I had an extraordinary day, actually. I remember it was 1975 when I was accepted into Northern Ireland’s only repertory theatre, the Belfast Lyric Theatre. It was a time when bombs and explosions were going off all over the city. There was just mayhem. I sneaked a day off work in my own time to come up to Belfast and audition, without telling my parents. I was living at home at the time. That afternoon, I got accepted into the theatre and I remember coming back on the train to my home town which was 30 miles away and stopping in at various pubs on the way home, with this Equity contract. But when I arrived back at midnight, my parents were like, as white as a sheet. I was stupid . . . not to have telephoned. They didn’t speak to me for a week. Just the shock. I could see when I walked into the house how dumb I had been. But I was overjoyed that my life was going to change, and that I was going to get paid for acting.

If you’d lived in the south with its stronger theatrical tradition, would there be the same reaction?

Well my mom is from the republic. I don’t think so. The emphasis in Ireland is on education — do your homework, do your schoolwork, get your degree, get a really good job… and get the hell out (laughs).

And this was not a culture where books by Alfred Kinsey were that common.

Certainly not.

What was the first film you remember seeing, and what kind of impression did it leave on you?

I believe it was The Quiet Man. It left a huge impression on me because I did

like John Wayne, of course. I was into westerns, but there was something about Victor McLaglen’s presence and watching it with my dad and seeing tears roll down my father’s eyes with laughter, which I’d never seen before, at this big man strutting across the screen — John Ford films, you know — that’s kind of stayed with me.

Who do you play in the upcoming movie, BATMAN BEGINS?

I play a mentor to Bruce Wayne. I teach him a few skills.

Source: JoBlo.com

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