Liam Neeson: Martin Scorsese didn't take a salary for Silence (exclusive)

Tom Butler
Senior Editor

The modern meaning of “passion project” suggests an undertaking that you derive personal satisfaction and happiness from; something that’s perhaps taken years to bring to fruition, whereas the Biblical definition of “passion” suggests suffering, or enduring pain in reference to Christ’s time on the cross.

Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating passion project ‘Silence’ (in cinemas on New Year’s Day) fits the bill on both definitions of the word.

The ‘Goodfellas’ director has been developing his adaptation of Shūsaku Endō’s novel of the same name since 1990, with various iterations of the project falling by the wayside over the years due to scheduling conflicts and ongoing legal issues related to the literary rights.

Liam Neeson in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ (Credit: Studiocanal)

To finally get this version of the film – starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, and Liam Neeson – off the ground, sacrifices had to be made. Originally budgeted for $100m (£80m), ‘Silence’ was finally greenlit in early 2015 with a massively reduced budget of just $46m (£37m) after last-minute funding fell through.

Liam Neeson who plays Father Cristóvão Ferreira, a Jesuit priest who renounces God while under torture in 17th century feudal Japan, says all the cast forewent the huge fees they usually command in order to get the film made.

“It wasn’t [a difficult decision to make], certainly for me, I can’t speak for the other actors” admits Neeson who previously worked with Scorsese on ‘The Gangs of New York’.

“[‘Silence’] was made for a certain budget… to the layman it might sound like an absolute fortune… but it was a pittance really. But we all worked for scale, I don’t think Martin [Scorsese] took a salary at all.”

Scorsese and Andrew Garfield on the set of ‘Silence’ (Credit: Studiocanal)

“Scale” refers to the Screen Actors Guild “minimum wage”. Jonah Hill famously worked for scale on Scorsese’s last film ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ earning $60,000 (£48,000) for a seven month shoot.

The sacrifices made by the filmmakers didn’t just extend to the financial, it included the physical too. Neeson, Garfield, and Driver all committed to a gruelling weight-loss regime as well as undertaking Jesuit training.

Garfield and Driver who play Jesuit padres Sebastião Rodrigues and Francisco Garrpe, the two men tasked with tracking down Ferreira in the hostile environment of a Japan where Christianity is outlawed, took the brunt of weight-loss regime in order to play the besieged priests.

“We all lost weight,” says Neeson.

‘Star Wars’ actor Adam Driver in ‘Silence’ (Credit: Studiocanal)

“Adam dropped 51 pounds [over 3 stone] he told me the other day, Andrew dropped a lot too. He was not very big to begin with. I dropped about 16 [pounds], so it was very interesting to physically prepare for it.”

“It does discipline you, and it does discipline the mind, but it’s nothing compared to what these Jesuits had to go through in reality in the 1600s. It was a very, very hostile environment in Japan. It was kind of like training for a fight [for us], a boxing match or something.”

‘Silence’ is in cinemas on New Year’s Day. Watch a trailer below.

Interviews by Stefan Pape.

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