25 Things You Never Knew About Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson is a Northern Irish actor with a very impressive CV under his belt. He’s appeared in a wide variety of films from Schindler’s List to Star Wars and has even managed to reinvent himself as an action star in recent years, thanks to his performances in movies such as Taken.
In 1993, Neeson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor thanks to his unforgettable performance as Oskar Schindler (he was pipped to the post by Tom Hanks in Philadelphia).
After that breakout role, he earned himself a string of high-profile parts and was the lead actor in 90s favourites Rob Roy and Michael Collins.
He married actress Natasha Richardson (pictured below) in 1994 and the couple had two sons together – Micheál and Daniel – before Richardson tragically died after a skiing accident in 2009. Since then he’s had an on-off relationship with publicist Freya St. Johnson.
The actor’s most recent film appearance came in 2018’s The Commuter, and rumour has it that he’s currently got several projects in the works at the moment, so we won’t have to wait too long before he’s gracing our cinema screens once again.
In the article below, we take a look at 25 things you probably never knew about the Northern Irish actor. Enjoy!
25. He loves fly-fishing
Apparently Neeson loves the great outdoors and he’s a massive fan of fly-fishing in particular!
The actor is actually somewhat of an aficionado and regularly enjoys getting out into the water to catch trout and other types of fish.
He has previously spoken at length in interviews about the calm he feels when he’s out fly-fishing.
We’re sure it’s a nice way to relax after a hectic round of publicity for a new movie, or walking the red carpet at an awards event.
In fact, Irish talk show host Ryan Tubridy once gifted Neeson a box of beautiful hand-made flies, just so that the actor had a couple on hand next time he decided to go fishing.
Neeson had previously revealed in an interview with Tubridy that he was once forced to use his own hair to make a fly when he forgot to bring any of his own!
We wonder how many fish were attracted to the sight of Neeson’s hair bobbing up and down on the water’s surface? Probably not that many.
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24. He used to be a boxer
Neeson has played several action roles over the course of his career.
And we’re pretty sure that his previous experience as a boxer must have come in handy at some point.
That’s right – the actor regularly competed in the sport as a teenager, even breaking his nose at the age of 15 years old.
Apparently Neeson went on to win the Irish Youth Championship, which is pretty good going for a young man!
However, the actor decided to quit permanently after an incident following one of his fights. Neeson briefly blacked out after leaving the ring and the experience affected him so much that he left the world of boxing forever.
Neeson is still a huge fan of the sport though, despite his experience.
He has previously stated that boxing legend Muhammad Ali was the most famous boxer he ever met.
23. His most embarrassing acting moment was during his audition for The Princess Bride
We’re guessing that most actors have that one point in their career they’d much rather forget about, and acting veteran Liam Neeson is no different!
He once revealed his most embarrassing acting moment in an interview and it definitely made us cringe for poor Liam.
Early on in his acting career, Neeson auditioned for the role of Fezzik, the giant in The Princess Bride (1987). Neeson turned up on the day and was instantly met with a look of disgust from director Rob Reiner.
Reiner was disappointed to learn that the actor was ‘only’ 6 foot 4 in height.
Neeson was instantly rejected for the part and instead the role went to André the Giant.
Luckily the experience didn’t deter him and as we all know now, his acting career went from strength to strength anyway.
22. Ian Paisley inspired him to become an actor
Liam Neeson was born and grew up in Ballymena, a town in County Antrim, Northern Ireland during a time when the divide between Unionists and Republicans was growing ever deeper.
When he was a young boy, veteran Northern Irish minister Ian Paisley could often be found making speeches in the area and Neeson once caught a glimpse of him onstage.
In an interview with the BBC, the actor recalled that he once snook into a church to watch Paisley preaching. “He had a magnificent presence and it was incredible to watch this six-foot-plus man just Bible-thumping away.
“It was acting but it was also great acting and stirring too”.
Paisley’s ‘performance’ influenced Neeson so deeply that the incident made him want to become an actor.
From then on Neeson was hooked on performance and often appeared in school plays.
The Protestant minister cut a controversial figure during his lifetime, but we’re definitely grateful that he inspired Neeson to enter the world of acting!
21. He gave up drinking alcohol after the death of his wife Natasha Richardson
On 16th March 2009, Neeson’s actress wife Natasha Richardson suffered a brain injury after a skiing accident.
Neeson immediately left filming of the movie Chloe to be by her side, and was with Natasha when she tragically passed away only two days later.
It’s little surprise to learn that Neeson struggled to come to terms with his wife’s sudden death.
But unfortunately he didn’t respond in a healthy manner to the loss.
The actor revealed in 2014 that he had been leaning on alcohol a little too much during the grieving process. Neeson stated that he had given up drinking after getting through two or three bottles of wine a night after Natasha’s death.
He once told GQ: “I gave up drinking about a year ago. I was drinking too much. It started after my wife died. It was so easy. Never at work – never would do it like that.
“But this time of night? I’d be on my second bottle. Before we finished, I would have been halfway down a third — and be totally fine!”
20. He lived with Helen Mirren for four years
Before his marriage to Natasha Richardson, Neeson dated a string of high-profile women one of whom just happened to be veteran actress Helen Mirren.
The pair first met on the set of Excalibur in 1981 – Neeson was playing Gawain whilst Mirren portrayed Morgan Le Fay.
Neeson has admitted that he was ‘smitten’ from their first encounter and the couple ended up living together for over four years.
The actor even told an interviewer: “Can you imagine riding horses in shiny suits of armour, having sword fights, and you’re falling in love with Helen Mirren? It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Sadly it wasn’t meant to be for the pair, and Mirren ended up marrying director Taylor Hackford whilst Neeson moved on with Richardson.
However, the ex-couple are still very friendly and have even appeared together on The Graham Norton Show discussing their relationship.
19. He once dated Barbra Streisand
Shortly after his relationship with Mirren ended, and just before his Oscar-nominated performance in Schindler’s List, Neeson dated veteran singer Barbra Streisand in 1991.
The relationship didn’t last long, but the pair have remained friendly to this day.
It must have been a brief fling because we can’t find any pictures of the actors together in their younger years.
In fact, pictures only recently emerged of Streisand introducing Neeson to her husband James Brolin, an actor whom she has been married to since 1998.
That must have been a bit awkward!
We can’t blame Streisand for going after the young Irish actor though.
We wonder if Barb ever wrote any songs about the dashing Irish actor after their break-up?
Neeson has definitely got a few famous names notched on his bed post.
Fortunately the pair look friendly in these paparazzi photographs from a recent awards ceremony:
18. The rumours that he didn’t get along with George Lucas aren’t true
After Star Wars: The Phantom Menace was released in 1999, rumours abounded in the press about the lead actor and his director.
According to some reports, Liam Neeson (who played Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn) didn’t get along with director George Lucas. However, the actor has rubbished the claims completely.
In response to the rumours, Neeson stated: “That’s simply not true” and that he had “absolutely no misgivings” about being in Star Wars.
He also added that Lucas was “very good” to work with. “He was clear about what he wanted,” said Neeson.
Neeson’s character became a firm favourite amongst fans of the franchise, despite the fact that he only appears in one film. He starred opposite Ewan McGregor (who played a young Obi-Wan Kenobi) but tragically died in the final scenes of the movie.
Neeson’s performance is still remembered as one of the best things about a movie which some hardcore fans really didn’t enjoy.
17. He has a crippling fear of heights
Despite the fact that he’s reinvented himself as an action star in recent years, Neeson is still very afraid of one thing – heights.
The actor suffers from severe acrophobia and even joked to Jay Leno that he gets ‘dizzy on a thick carpet’.
The famously tall actor once told People magazine: “I’m a wimp about heights. I just am. We’re all human, aren’t we? Somebody might freak out over a snake or a spider.
“I don’t – I pick spiders up and put them outside and stuff. But put me on a chair to fix a lamp or something, and then, boom.”
We don’t know about you, but we’d love to have Liam on hand to get rid of any spiders in our house.
We’re sure he’d give them a piece of his mind, especially if his performances in the Taken franchise are anything to go by.
16. He accepted his first job because he had a crush on a girl
Neeson must have been a charismatic young man because at the age of 11 years old, one of his teachers gave him the lead part in a school play.
After watching Ian Paisley at work, we imagine that the young Liam would have been thrilled to test out his own acting skills in front of an audience.
However, the only reason he accepted the part was because he had a crush on one of the girls in the cast!
Still, we can think of worse reasons to get into acting and the role ended up being Neeson’s first ever stage production.
Since then he’s gone on to star in a number of successful stage productions, including a version of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men early on in his career.
In fact, it was his stage work which caught the eye of Steven Spielberg, who asked Neeson to audition for the part of Oskar Schindler after seeing the actor in a play.
15. He nearly played James Bond in Goldeneye!
Believe it or not, the part of James Bond in Goldeneye was very nearly Liam Neeson’s!
The actor once revealed that he was ‘heavily courted’ by producers, and was very tempted by the role, especially if it meant he got to drive fast cars and act alongside beautiful woman.
However, he turned down the role when his fiancée at the time, Natasha Richardson, said that she would refuse to marry him if he accepted the part of 007.
“It was about 18 or 19 years ago and my wife-to-be said, ‘If you play James Bond we’re not getting married’. And I had to take that on board because I did want to marry her.”
Instead the part went to another Irishman – Pierce Brosnan. However, things worked out for the best because Neeson has stated that he’s never regretted turning down a film role in his life.
Still, we would have loved to see him in a tuxedo, waving a gun at some cat-stroking villain.
14. He also nearly studied physics and computer science at university
Neeson very nearly embarked on an academic career before deciding to quit at the last moment.
That’s right – the Schindler’s List actor had actually enrolled onto a physics and computer science course at Queen’s University Belfast before deciding that it just wasn’t for him.
Imagine how different life could have been for Neeson if he had pursued academia instead! We suppose it’s ok though – now he can simply pretend to be a scientist in front of the cameras if he feels like it.
This wasn’t the end of Neeson’s association with Queen’s University either. In 2009, the actor received an honorary doctorate from the institution, almost four decades after he decided not to pursue physics and computer science.
The award was presented to him in New York City by the Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Gregson. Gregson explained the choice of Neeson as a recipient: ” [Neeson] He is to be commended for his continuing contribution to the sector both on the big screen and at his home in Northern Ireland, where he continues to provide vital support for local theatre.”
Apparently Gregson surprised guests by reading out some of Neeson’s original application to the university! Funnily enough, one of the Liam’s old teachers acted as a referee and seemed to guess which way the actor’s career would turn out.
The teacher wrote: “Liam’s chief interest would appear to be amateur dramatics, in which he has played the leading role in the last two productions of the college play.” Neeson himself was delighted with the award and joked he would be able to tell his mum that he had finally graduated from an Irish university.
13. He briefly played football for Bohemian F.C.
Neeson seems to have a few different strings to his bow.
First boxing, and now football! The actor definitely had a sporty side when he was younger, and while he was briefly studying at Queen’s University, the young Neeson discovered that he had a talent for football.
One day while he was out playing, the actor was spotted by a scout – none other than Sean Thomas of Bohemian F.C. Thomas noticed Neeson’s skills straight away and told him to attend a club trial in Dublin.
Neeson showed up and came on for one game as a substitute against Shamrock Rovers F.C. Sadly though his blossoming football career was cut short when the club decided not offer him a contract. Awww. Instead Neeson left Queen’s University and went to work in the Guinness Brewery as a fork-lift truck operator!
Despite being rejected by Bohemian, Neeson has always been a firm football fan. And he has good taste in Premier League clubs, because it’s reported that the Irish actor is a supporter of Liverpool FC.
He’s been seen in the past cheering on his beloved team from the stands. In the photo above, he watched Liverpool beat Fulham along with his two boys, who have no doubt been indoctrinated into LFC.
Neeson has had his fair share of dodgy cameos.
All actors have at least one or two – you bag a minor role in a cringey of-the-time programme and it comes back to haunt you in later life when you’re picking up an Oscar. Well did you know that Neeson once appeared in an episode of Miami Vice?
The actor guest-starred in the third season of the hit cop drama and managed to get himself quite a significant storyline. The episode was entitled “When Irish Eyes Are Crying” (lol) and aired in 1986.
Neeson played Sean Carroon, an Irish ‘pacifist’ who managed to win the heart of Gina Calabrese before revealing that he was actually a member of an Irish terrorist organisation.
Carroon briefly turned into Gina’s love interest before the truth was revealed. Sounds like classic Miami Vice to us, and Neeson is rocking the 80s look surprisingly well.
After this appearance, the Irish actor moved to Hollywood and managed to bag himself some more serious roles, including a part in Suspect (starring Cher) in which he played a deaf-mute Vietnam veteran who was on trial for murder.
11. He appeared in several films with his late wife Natasha Richardson
Neeson and his late wife Natasha often worked hard and played hard together.
They first met on stage during a production of Anna Christie on Broadway in 1993. At this point in time, Natasha was 29 years old and in an unhappy marriage with producer Robert Fox. Meanwhile her chemistry on stage with Neeson was electric, and rumours of an affair (which have never been confirmed) began to swirl.
Only a few days after the closing night of the play, Natasha left Fox and her divorce was finalised four months after the show ended. Both she and her future husband Neeson received Tony Award nominations for their work on the play.
Neeson decided to be tactful and sent her a 30th birthday card with an ‘overly-platonic’ tone. Apparently Natasha snapped and asked Neeson what exactly their relationship was! Rather than being angry, Neeson fell deeply in love with the actress: “That was when I knew I really loved this person,” Liam told the NY Daily News. “I thought, ‘This is real and genuine and is something that has to be protected.’”
Despite entering into a romantic relationship, neither actor saw that as an obstacle to working together in the future. In fact, they decided to go the opposite way and starred in a number of different projects.
Their most significant movie together was the film Nell, released in 1994 and starring Jodie Foster in the lead role. Neeson and Richardson acted as prominent supporting actors in the story of a man who finds a ‘wild girl’ abandoned in the forest after her mother has died.
10. Optimus Prime’s behaviour was inspired by Neeson!
This is probably the strangest thing we’ve ever heard to come out of the Transformers movies…
Apparently in the DVD commentary to 2007’s Transformers, director Michael Bay revealed a very interesting behind-the-scenes fact about how he instructed the animation team to come up with Optimus Prime’s movements.
It turns out that the body language for the super robot was based entirely on Liam Neeson! Bay revealed in the commentary that he told animators to ‘seek inspiration’ from Neeson when deciding how to craft the robot’s body language.
In fact, many fans of the franchise wanted to see Neeson voicing one of the robots, but unfortunately it never happened. Still, Neeson isn’t averse to doing voice over work and did voice a character in one of the most popular PS games of all time – Fallout 3.
Neeson brought the character of James to life in the game – the protagonist’s father who is trying to make the post-apocalyptic world a better place to live. Apparently the character was written specifically for Neeson.
Executive producer Todd Howard once stated: “This role was written with Liam in mind, and provides the dramatic tone for the entire game”. Neeson certainly helped to make the game a success – it sold over 4.7 million copies in 2008 alone.
9. His views on gun control got him into hot water
Neeson once made the decision to publicly speak out on US gun control laws…
…and some people really didn’t like it. The actor called gun control in America ‘a disgrace’ and the comments ended up getting him into a lot of trouble. Critics pointed out how violent his role is in Taken and Neeson fired back: “watching cowboy movies did not turn me into a killer.”
Of course, the firearms that Neeson uses in the Taken movies are supplied by a US gun manufacturer – in this case the company in question was Para USA, an established firearms manufacturer.
Para USA came out with a statement in the wake of Neeson’s comments and vowed never to work with the actor again: “We will no longer provide firearms for use in films starring Liam Neeson and ask that our friends and partners in Hollywood refrain from associating our brand and products with his projects.”
We’re sure he’s really bothered about that considering his views on the matter! Neeson made the comments in 2015, and there hasn’t been another Taken film since so we’re guessing the production company wasn’t that annoyed either.
As we’ll see below, this brush with major sponsors hasn’t stopped the Irish actor from speaking his mind when it comes to causes that are important to him.
8. He keeps getting offered the same parts as Daniel Day-Lewis
Liam Neeson has another Irish actor to contend with when it comes to juicy leading man roles.
Apparently Neeson was offered the part of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s presidential biopic. The actor did extensive research on Lincoln and decided that he was too old to play the role because in his words, most people regard Lincoln as something of a ‘spring chicken’.
So who did the role go to instead? None other than Daniel Day-Lewis, a fellow Irish actor who was born in London and holds dual British-Irish citizenship. The performance would later earn Day-Lewis a coveted Best Actor Oscar.
However, it’s not that surprising that Neeson turned down the role because of his age – the actor has previously stated that he’s too old to do action movies now and can’t take on another character like Bryan Mills again.
Day-Lewis and Neeson are already familiar with each other, having appeared together in Martin Scorsese’s epic Gangs of New York. But it’s rumoured that Neeson got fed up with Day-Lewis’ ridiculously extreme approach to method acting.
Day-Lewis (who was playing the infamous Butcher Bill) refused to break character, even when the cameras had stopped rolling. This meant that when the two actors went out after a day of filming, Day-Lewis would still be acting as Bill in the middle of a restaurant or bar. Sounds relaxing!
7. He used a toothpick to help him quit smoking
Liam Neeson used to be a heavy smoker.
Early on in his career, the actor could often be seen puffing on cigarettes almost constantly. But he eventually decided to break the habit and rather than going full cold turkey, Neeson turned to toothpicks instead!
Neeson has quite smoking and to help him with that need to have something in his mouth that he can hold onto, the actor replaced cigarettes with toothpicks instead.
We have to say, the Irish actor looks just as cool with a toothpick in his mouth as he does with a cigarette. But Neeson’s smoking habit hasn’t always been entirely straightforward in Hollywood.
Neeson played the role of Hannibal in the recent film adaptation of The A-Team and of course he was worried about how many cigars he’d have to smoke during filming (Hannibal is constantly puffing on cigars).
Neeson’s co-star Bradley Cooper revealed that the Irish actor refused to finish them entirely – meaning that Cooper got to have a puff on the rest of the cigar every time Neeson was done. Minesweeping cigars from Liam Neeson is pretty cool to be fair!
6. He’s in favour of abortion and horse-drawn carriages
We’ve already seen that Liam isn’t afraid to speak out about things like gun control.
And the Irish actor has also lent his voice to other important causes, including the legality of abortion in Ireland and…the horse-drawn carriages which operate in New York City.
The Republic of Ireland famously voted to legalise abortion in 2018, which was a huge step forward for a conservative country which is still heavily influenced by Catholicism. However, in Neeson’s home country of Northern Ireland, abortion is still illegal.
The actor responded by narrating a video for Amnesty International which supported the legalisation of abortion across the whole of Ireland. Ironically, Liam was named after his local village priest who probably wasn’t too happy about the actor’s views!
That’s not the only thing Neeson has a bee under his bonnet about. The actor once protested the anti-carriage horse campaign which was spearheaded by NYC’s Bill de Blasio.
The actor claimed that the horse-drawn carriages shouldn’t be banned because they are a safe trade for employees, horses and tourists. Apparently the trade is also a major source of livelihood for many immigrants working in New York City.
5. Rumours once circulated that Neeson had converted to Islam
Fans of the actor were surprised to learn that Neeson was thinking about converting to Islam.
But of course, the rumours turned out to be completely false. They first started when the Catholic-raised actor appeared in Taken 2, which was filming on location in Istanbul. Turkey is a strictly Muslim country and often features a call to prayer or Adhan which can be heard throughout the streets of Istanbul.
Neeson was staying in the city and like most people, he couldn’t escape the sound of the call to prayer. But while he initially found it quite hard to get used to, Neeson ended up really enjoying the Adhan.
The actor once stated in an interview: “By the third week, it was like I couldn’t live without it. It really became hypnotic and very moving for me in a very special way.”
While this is clearly just a nice sentiment about a city that the actor was filming in, members of the press took this as a sign that Neeson was converting to Islam…
Of course he wasn’t, but this didn’t stop journalists ringing up and trying to confirm the big ‘news’. Neeson’s publicist had to deny that the actor was planning on becoming a Muslim.
4. He once refused the key to his own hometown
Neeson has always been very vocal about his upbringing in Ireland.
The actor comes from a town in Northern Ireland named Ballymena. Ballymena is the eight largest town in Northern Ireland and witnessed a large paramilitary presence during the height of the Troubles. Unfortunately, this left Neeson with a few sour memories of his hometown.
Back in the year 2000, Neeson stoked controversy in Ireland when he stated that he felt like a ‘second-class citizen’ in Ballymena due to the fact that he was a Catholic in a largely Protestant town.
As a way to make amends, Ballymena offered the actor the ‘Freedom of the Town of Ballymena’. However, the actor refused because he didn’t want to stoke further tension in the town. But the Ballymena council were undeterred…
Eventually the town’s mayor offered Neeson the freedom again thirteen years later, and thankfully this time Neeson accepted! He returned to Ballymena and was photographed receiving the freedom of the town.
There were plenty of crowds out and about to try and catch a glimpse of the actor, and it’s good that he managed to make amends with his
3. He became a US citizen after his wife’s death
Liam Neeson cut a somber figure for many months after his wife Natasha’s death.
But he received an outpouring of sympathy from the general public in the wake of his personal tragedy, which clearly meant a lot to the actor. In fact, it meant so much to Neeson that he acquired a brand new citizenship.
That’s right, Neeson decided to become a US citizen after receiving hundreds of letters of condolences from his American fans who wished him and his two sons well. Neeson sought citizenship in 2009 and explained his decision to the media.
On the outpouring of sympathy from the American public, Neeson stated: “That is partly the reason why I’ve recently become an American citizen. I’m still a proud Irishman, of course, but I’ve become an American citizen – I’m very proud of that.”
Although he’s still a proud Irishman, Neeson has actually lived in New York with his family for over 20 years.
And if recent comments are anything to go by, then it doesn’t look as though the actor will be moving back to his homeland any time soon.
Neeson recently commented on Irish politics – particularly the 2014 water charges saga – and said that he wouldn’t return due to the state of Irish government: “I just think, ‘Come on, don’t f***ing insult the Irish people any more.’ It’s terrible.”
2. He once climbed a mountain in Utah to try and get over his fear of heights
Neeson isn’t afraid of trying to combat his fears at least.
The Irish actor was on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon when he revealed to the presenter that he and his eldest son Michael did some fly fishing in Utah. Afterwards they decided to go for a trek in the Grand Steppes, Southern Utah.
Apparently Neeson tries to take off two months every year to do exploring, and he decided that during this particular trip he would attempt to conquer his fear of heights by climbing up a small mountain called Molly’s Nipple.
Neeson told Fallon: “It’s beautiful. There’s a place in Southern Utah called the Grand Steppes, very very, America is so beautiful.
”In Utah my son and I climbed a little mountain, there’s about two-and-a-half-thousand feet I guess, and he went up like a mountain goat, but I just kept going, ‘Yeah, I’m with you’, and we got to a certain point and he said ‘Dad, don’t look down’.
”I really do have a fear of heights and of course I went ‘Yeah…. Waaaah’. ” Aww poor Liam! At least he was brave enough to try and face his fears head on.
Unfortunately he might not find America quite as relaxing in the wake of certain comments he made about a rape revenge incident in his youth…
1. He might have ended his career for good with his comments about wanting to go out and kill a ‘black b*****d’
At the start of February 2019, Neeson was all over the news thanks to some bizarre comments he made in an interview with a British journalist.
The actor was explaining how he tapped into the ‘primal rage’ of his character in Cold Pursuit by recounting an incident decades ago in which he found out that one of his close female friends had been raped.
The woman told him that the attacker had been a black man, and Neeson promptly went out looking for trouble.
In his words, he “went up and down areas with a cosh … hoping some ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go” so that Neeson “could kill him”.
The actor then explained that he was “ashamed” to recount the incident and tha this actions were “horrible”: “It’s awful … but I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing?'”
The actor has refused to apologise for his comments because he has stated that is not a racist, but instead he clarified his experience in a follow-up interview on Good Morning America.
Neeson said that he had sought help immediately after the incident and that he would have done the same if the attacker had been “a Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian”. The comments were supposed to open up a debate about underlying racism and bigotry, which the actor believes is still a problem in the US and Ireland.
Unfortunately the jury is still out on Neeson and the red carpet premiere for Cold Pursuit was promptly cancelled in the wake of the incident.