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January 28, 2007

Liam Neeson & Pierce Brosnan

Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan Discuss Their Rugged Western "Seraphim Falls"
By Cole Smithey

Seraphim_falls_poster_1 With the 54-year-old Pierce Brosnan hailing from the south of Ireland and the 55-year-old Liam Neeson growing up in Northern Ireland, it seems inevitable that the two actors would eventually work together on a film. In writer/director David Von Ancken’s deconstructionist post Civil War western "Seraphim Falls" Liam Neeson plays Carver, a former Confederate Army colonel obsessed with hunting down the Union Army Captain named Gideon (Brosnan) accountable for a terrible act of cruelty in Seraphim Falls, Georgia during the now-ended war. It’s a chase movie set against a brutally cold wilderness where Carver hunts and wounds Gideon like a wild animal for the duration of the story. The film was shot in Taos, New Mexico during the winter when temperatures plummeted well below minus seventeen Celsius thereby providing a "no acting required" level of performance from two tough Irish actors.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Neeson and Mr. Brosnan at the Regency Hotel in midtown Manhattan on a cold January afternoon that must have seemed mild compared to the primal conditions of "Seraphim Falls."

CS: Pierce, how was it working with Liam?

Pierce Brosnan: Liam is a huge reason that I wanted to do this film. I think he’s such a magnificent actor. He has such a dignity and a presence like no other on film. He’s a fellow Irishman. I liked the sweet irony that Liam is from the north and I’m from the south, and the roles get reversed here in this film. I thought we would be a good compliment to each other, and we’ve become good friends and certainly would strike out again on some other cinematic adventure. I love to work with him.

CS: Pierce, what made you want to do a western?

Pierce Brosnan: I was brought up on a staple of westerns, and I just thought this had an elegance to it. I thought David Von Ancken had an assuredness to him. He’s very erudite and passionate about film, and he didn’t seem to be some egotistical flapper. He’s a man, as you can see and he’s passionate about his work. He’s made one other film called "Bullet In The Brain" and I really enjoyed it. It was a 12-minute haiku of a film that had the same kind of lyricism that this one does, especially in the third act. So much of it is just sensing and intuition. I try not to intellectualize it too much. Does it feel right and make you feel happy? Does it make you feel good? Then go do it.

CS: Liam, director David Von Ancken said that you told him you had been waiting years for a role like this.

Liam Neeson: Like Pierce, I was kind of steeped in western mythology, growing up in Ireland. I was a country boy. I was around horses a lot. It was kind of in my blood. I mean our ancestors left Ireland in the middle of the 19th century especially and came to these shores, and helped build canals and railroads, helped shoot buffalo and kill Indians and dies in the Civil War. So, it was a genre that I was very familiar with.

 

CS: Pierce, here’s an intense scene where you remove a bullet from your arm in the snow. What did you have to do to prepare for it?

Pierce Brosnan: I had a cup of coffee with a shot of brandy in it. It was ten below, or something like that, up in the thin air of Taos. When you look at the photographs of the desperate deaths of boys and men who died on the battlefields, you will find that their clothes are pulled off. That’s from the fact that they are about to die and they’re looking for the bullet hole. They’re looking for the bullet that found them. And so, for a man who’s lost sons, and I almost lost a son in a terrible accident, and this man has lost two sons in a battle, he’s also wondering by this time in the story why he’s being hunted, and wishing for his own death, but scared of really finding the courage to finally plug himself in the head. He’s dying there before your eyes. There was no acting required in the sense that I was freezing.

CS: Liam, the story is about revenge, survival and forgiveness. But in today’s culture it seems governments are primarily concerned with revenge.

Liam Neeson: The idea of dying for your country--the hardest thing to do is to live for your country. We live in an era where revenge is the only flavor. Nobody ever talks of forgiveness. We live in very vengeful times. I’ve ruminated a lot and meditated a lot on revenge because I’m from Northern Ireland, and I’m a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s there. I was surrounded by violence most of my adult life. I wasn’t involved in it, thanks be to God, but I knew men who were. I respected these people’s passion for what they were committed to and some still are.

There is an act of forgiveness in this film that I find extraordinary, which attracted me to the script. I was reminded of a documentary that I saw a couple of years ago where these American Viet Nam Vets went back to Viet Nam and met their former enemy. The men were in their sixties and they shook hands and there was an absolute respect there. Looking into each other’s eyes and recognizing you’re a man, you’re a father, you’re probably a grandfather now. I just thought about it when Pierce and I were doing our scene.

CS: Pierce, how did you prepare for the mental and physical challenges of your character?

Pierce Brosnan: I read up on the Civil War, and it was a wonderful education about what happened at that time in history. So, that kind of permeated the work. Certainly, religion or spiritualism came upon the playing of the character. It was just the landscape which was so mighty. Someone asked me who my leading lady was, and I said, "New Mexico." That landscape was such a character to be a part of and inhabit.

So, you get a lot of it for nothing and it’s really just trusting yourself and trusting that the camera’s in the right place so that you can tell the story. The man is a survivalist. He’s a field agent of great skill. The vocalization and the physicality came from the costume, came from being hunted, came from the landscape, the human animal within. Gideon--just the name alone has biblical connotations. You put all of that together and go out there and do it. You don’t censor yourself.

CS: Liam, did you feel a spiritual connection to the land while you were shooting?

Liam Neeson: Very, very, very much so. We were shooting in these pueblos that nobody had stood in for hundreds of years. There were pottery shards laying around that were a thousand years old. So, there was a sense of the holiness of this land, and we had a lot of respect for it.

CS: Pierce, what films do you have coming up?

Pierce Brosnan: I have a thriller with Maria Bello and Jerry Butler called "Butterfly on a Wheel" which is about love, passion, vengeance and anger. It takes place over the period of a single day.

The other one is called, "Married Life," with Chris Cooper, Rachel McAdams and Patricia Clarkson. It’s a period piece.

We’re also working on "Thomas Crown 2."

CS: Liam, it’s been awhile since you were on the stage. Do you have any plans to return to the theatre?

Liam Neeson: I’ve been asked to do David Mamet’s "Oleanna" in the fall. I’m not sure, I just know that I need the theatre drug. I have to get back soon, and of course my wife (Natasha Richardson) wants to get back to the stage too. So there’s a problem. When you’re married and have kids, the planets have to be aligned in a certain way.

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