Does Liam Neeson not understand the rules of the game? Or is he having us on?

·4-min read

Liam Neeson is making a bid to becoming the greatest interviewee in the world. Every other celebrity understands and adheres to the rules of the game. Their job is to promote a project, to better increase its revenue. An interviewer’s job is to politely disregard all that and ask more personal questions, to better increase the revenue of their publication. It’s an age-old push and pull, and everyone understands their place.

Everyone, that is, except Neeson. Because his interview tactic is different. Neeson likes to sit back, answer questions about his newest film and then, just as everyone is getting ready to pack up for the day, blurt out the single maddest thing that comes into his head.

The most infamous instance of this happened in 2019 when Neeson derailed an interview with the Independent by suddenly revealing that he had once spent a week patrolling his neighbourhood with a cosh, in the hope that he would encounter a “black bastard” who he could kill to avenge the rape of his friend. In that instance, his costar Tom Bateman managed to respond in the only reasonable way to such a bizarre confession, by mumbling “Holy shit”.

Neeson’s revelation dented his career for a moment – at the very least the red carpet premiere of the film he was promoting was cancelled – but he remains a phenomenal actor, critically acclaimed and commercially successful, so he kept making films unbidden.

A career that remains undented … Scot Williams and Liam Neeson in Memory.
A career that remains undented … Scot Williams and Liam Neeson in Memory. Photograph: Rico Torres/AP

However, in February, an appearance on Australia’s Sunrise TV show caused a minor stir when – again, without any prompting – Neeson reminisced about filming in the country, telling his interviewer Nelson Aspen: “I loved Melbourne, I loved our Australian crew … I made a couple of pals and fell in love once there, but she was taken.”

Now, obviously the big question here is who did he fall in love with? Immediately after the interview, a bewildered Aspen joked: “We have just got to track down this woman who captivated his heart. I don’t know who she was, but I’m intrigued.” Of course he wants to know. We all do. Who is this woman? Was the love reciprocated? Was it consummated? If it was, how on earth does one react to being cuckolded by Darkman?

Whatever the case, the admission must bug Neeson a little, because now he has claimed that the whole thing was simply an elaborate gag. “It was bollocks,” Neeson told the Daily Mail this week. “I said: ‘I fell in love, but she was taken.’ That’s a joke.”

Unless I am enormously mistaken, the joke seems to be that Neeson said he fell in love with a woman who was taken, and he also starred in a film called Taken. Which seems to not only reach the furthest imaginable orbit point of what constitutes a joke, but must also make life for him incredibly impractical.

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Because now a precedent has been set. Any time that Neeson says the name of any of his films as part of a sentence, the expectation is that he must be making a joke. Should his car ever be stolen, he will no longer be allowed to phone the police and say, “This is Liam Neeson, my car’s been taken,” for fear that it will be greeted with howls of knowing laughter from the entire police department.

I have to admit at this point that I don’t actually know if Neeson was joking, or just clumsily trying to course-correct. I’ve watched the interview so many times at this point that I’ve lost all frame of reference. There is a pause before he says the word “taken”, but is it a pause designed to set up a punchline, or just a normal space between words? I think his eyebrows might raise a little bit while he says it, but maybe he just had an itchy head.

There is only one way to find out. From now on, we will have to carefully watch every interview that Neeson ever does. If he never drops the title of any of his other films into an otherwise unrelated sentence, then we have every reason to smell a rat. But if he does this sort of thing regularly – if he says, “I fell in love, but I was the third person,” or, “I fell in love, but she ate breakfast on Pluto,” or, “I fell in love, but she was the dark knight rises” – then we can all rest easy in the knowledge that we are in the presence of a comedy genius.

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