Memory Star Liam Neeson on Film's Vulnerability & Tempering Struggle
Liam Neeson has become a regular staple within the action genre. While playing a grizzled assassin is nothing particularly new, developing one with a debilitating condition presents its own set of challenges. I spoke to the actor about his latest film, Memory, which is based on the book De Zaak Alzeheimer by Jef Geeraerts and subsequent Belgian film adaptation from Carl Joos and Erik Van Looy, working with director Martin Campbell, and an update on the Naked Gun revival from Seth MacFarlane.
"I thought it was a very good script [by Dario Scardapane]," Neeson said. "I did like playing the character very much because I was able to discover various levels, morale levels for the guy. He is an assassin. He takes on 'bad guys' whether they need it or not, but that's his job and has been for 40 years. He has an affliction that's fast eating away at his brain. Maybe areas in his life that were morally black and white are now very definitely shades of gray as he forgets stuff. This was a man who was a precision killer. That was his job, so I did like the script very, very much, and I like very much the film that it was based on a Belgian film was made in 2003, I believe."
Memory follows Alex Lewis (Neeson), an expert assassin with a reputation for discreet precision. Caught in a moral quagmire, Alex refuses to complete a job that violates his code and must quickly hunt down and kill the people who hired him before they and FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce) find him first. Alex is built for revenge but, with a memory that is beginning to falter, he is forced to question his every action, blurring the line between right and wrong.
"I read several books on the affliction of dementia and Alzheimer's," Neeson said on his research into the role. "There are two [to] three very, very good documentaries that I watched, which were quite harrowing. I do have a friend over in Ireland older than me, but he's who's going through a dementia affliction. There was a lot of stuff I was able to draw on, and I worked very, very closely with Martin Campbell, our director, to try to put any little traits of this disease and trusted Martin to be able to say, 'No, that's too much. Take it back a bit' or maybe a little tremors I was putting into my hands that he would say, 'That's too much, just pull it back a bit.' So I worked very closely with Martin. I just wanted to get it right, you know? Not overact it. Sometimes, it's easy to do that."
While Neeson's developed a knack for playing vengeful types in action films, most famously in the Taken franchise, he was able to parody his own tough-guy persona as the villain Clinch in the 2014 comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West with actor-director Seth MacFarlane. They have since developed a friendship where the Family Guy (which Neeson also lent his voice in a couple of episodes) and The Orville creator is giving him a golden opportunity for fans to view him in a new light in The Naked Gun revival in the way it benefited the original star in the late Leslie Nielsen, who embraced his career renaissance as a comedic actor.
"I haven't heard [of an update]," Neeson said. "Seth did approach me about resurrecting the 'Naked Gun' franchise for one film, but Seth and I keep in touch. I think he's working on something else, I heard a TV series, so I haven't. We don't have a script as yet for the Naked Gun, but I'm looking forward to reading it. Seth's a powerful and a very, very funny writer." Open Road Films' Memory, which also stars Monica Bellucci, Taj Atwal, Ray Fearon, and Harold Torres, comes exclusively to theaters on April 29th.