On 07 July, City Connect celebrates the birthday of Irish actor, Liam Neeson, OBE, who has been nominated for an Oscar, a BAFTA and three Golden Globe Awards. He has starred in a number of notable roles including Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List, Michael Collins in Michael Collins, Peyton Westlake in Darkman, Bryan Mills in Taken, Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars (the film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey, Ra’s al Ghul in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, and the voice of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia film series.
He starred in other notable films such as Excalibur, The Dead Pool, Nell, Rob Roy, Les Misérables, The Haunting, Love Actually, Kingdom of Heaven, Clash of the Titans and Wrath of the Titans, The A-Team, Unknown and The Grey, as well as smaller arthouse films (e.g. Deception, Breakfast on Pluto, Chloe). He was ranked at number 69 on Empire magazine’s 100 greatest movie stars of all time in 1997.
Neeson was born on 7 June 1952, in Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.
In 1980, filmmaker John Boorman saw him on stage, acting as Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men, and offered him the part of Sir Gawain in the upcoming Arthurian film, Excalibur. After Excalibur, Neeson moved to London, where he continued working on stage, small budget films and television series. He lived with the actress Helen Mirren at this time, whom he met working on Excalibur. Between 1982 and 1987, Neeson starred in five films; most notably alongside Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins in 1984’s The Bounty and Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons in 1986’s The Mission. He also starred as a guest actor in the third season of the television series Miami Vice in 1986.
In 1987, Neeson made a conscious decision to move to Hollywood in order to star in high-profile roles. That year, he starred alongside Cher and Dennis Quaid in Suspect. The role brought Neeson critical applause, but it was 1990’s Darkman that would bring his name to public attention. Although the film was successful, Neeson’s following years would not give him the same recognition. In 1993, he joined Ellis Island co-star and future wife Natasha Richardson in the Broadway play Anna Christie. (They also worked together in Nell, released the following year.)
Director Steven Spielberg, impressed by his performance in Nell, offered him the coveted role of Oskar Schindler in the film about the Holocaust, Schindler’s List. His critically acclaimed performance later earned him a nomination for a Best Actor Oscar; however, the award went to Tom Hanks for his performance in Philadelphia. Neeson also garnered BAFTA and Golden Globes nominations for Schindler’s List. Schindler’s List established Neeson as a widely sought-after actor.
In 1999, Neeson starred as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn, in director George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. As it was the first Star Wars film to be released in over sixteen years, it was surrounded by a large amount of anticipation from the media. Neeson’s connection to the Star Wars films started in the Crown Bar, Belfast. Neeson stated to Ricki Lake, “I probably wouldn’t have taken the role if it wasn’t for the advice of Peter King in the Crown during a Lyric reunion.” The Phantom Menace was an enormous box-office success and remains the most financially successful Star Wars film unadjusted for inflation.
After being nominated for a Tony Award for his role opposite Laura Linney in The Crucible, Neeson teamed up with Harrison Ford in Kathryn Bigelow’s submarine thriller K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) as Captain Mikhail Polenin and appeared in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (with Leonardo DiCaprio, Brendan Gleeson, Cameron Diaz and Daniel Day-Lewis). He also played a recently widowed writer in Richard Curtis’ ensemble comedy Love Actually (2003). His role as Alfred Kinsey in Kinsey again put Neeson up for nomination for a Golden Globe Award but lost to Leonardo DiCaprio for The Aviator.
Neeson starred in the action film Taken in 2008, a French produced film also starring Famke Janssen and Maggie Grace. Taken was a huge worldwide box office hit, grossing $223,882,658 worldwide and making almost $200,000,000 more than its initial budget. The film brought Neeson’s image back into the public eye and resulted in his casting in many more mainstream Hollywood movies.
In 2010, Neeson played Zeus in the remake of the 1981 film, Clash of the Titans. The film went on becoming a huge box office hit and grossing $475 million worldwide.
Neeson also starred in the erotic thriller Chloe, theatrically released by Sony Pictures Classics on 26 March 2010. Chloe had enjoyed commercial success and became director Atom Egoyan’s biggest money maker ever. Later the same year, he played John “Hannibal” Smith in the spin-off movie from the TV series The A-Team.
Neeson was married to actress Natasha Richardson from 3 July 1994, until her death on 18 March 2009, when she suffered a severe head injury in a skiing accident at the Mont Tremblant Resort, in Quebec.
He was appointed as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in her 1999 New Year Honours. In March 2011, Neeson was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF.
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