Liam Neeson


  1. Stephen Rea, Angel, 1981.    When John Boorman decided to produce the directing debut of his “creative assistant” during the 1981 Excalibur the UK director suggested Neeson for the innocent bystander lead.  Neil Jordan,  however, stuck to his creative guns and insisted on  another Irishman as the saxophonist witnessing a double murder  – and Rea has since appeared in seven other Jordan  movies.
  2. Mel Gibson, Lethal Weapon, 1986.     In all, 39 possibilities for the  off-kilter, ’Nam vet cop Martin Riggs – not as mentally-deranged as in early drafts (he used a rocket launcher on one guy!)  Some ideas were inevitable: Alec Baldwin, Michael Biehn (shooting Aliens), Jeff Bridges, Michael Douglas, Harrison Ford, Richard Gere, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, William Petersen, Dennis Quaid, Christopher Reeve, Kurt Russell, Charlie Sheen, Sylvester Stallone, John Travolta, Bruce Willis. Some were inspired: Bryan Brown, Nicolas Cage, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum (he inherited Gibson’s role in The Fly), William Hurt (too dark for Warner Bros), Michael Keaton, Michael Madsen, Liam Neeson, Eric Roberts. Some were insipid: Jim Belushi, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, Kevin Kline, Stephen Lang, Michael Nouri (he joined another cop duo in The Hidden), Patrick Swayze. Plus TV cops  Don  Johnson, Tom Selleck… three foreign LA cops:  Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dutch Rutger Hauer and French Christophe(r) Lambert. And the inevitable (Aussie) outsider Richard Norton.
  3. André The Giant, The Princess Bride, 1987.    Liam’s most embarrassing career moment came early when he auditioned for the role of the giant, Fezzik. The director, Rob Reiner “had a look of disgust on his face when he realized I was only 6ft 4ins.” Grenoble’s André René Roussimoff, hyped as 7ft 4ins, was really 6ft 10in.
  4. Duncan Regehr, The Monster Squad, 1987.     Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, Wolfman, even Scary German Guy, they’re all here in Black and Dekker’s horror spoof – writer Shane Black, director Fred Dekker. The Canadian Regehr’s Drac was chosen above all others in Wizard magazine’s 100 Greatest Villains of All Time in 2006. Yet he was never asked for an encore…
  5. Robin Williams, Dead Poets Society, 1988.      Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary…”   From freak show to professor of English forming young minds – things were improving for the Irishman from Ballymena. Disney offered Dustin Hoffman this one to direct –  “and star in, if you like” He did like. Except Rain Manfinally got moving. And Disney couldn’t wait.  Next? Alec Baldwin, Mel Gibson, Bill Murray, Robin’s pal Christopher Reeve and Mickey Rourke backed off. Williams dithered for ages and finally agreed. Neeson was hurt by that. “But you get used to it.” Co-star, Ethan Hawke, called the film: One Flew Over the Robin’s Nest… with Wlliams as Jack Nicholson, Norman Lloyd as Nurse Ratched and Robert Sean Leonard as Brad Dourif.
  6. Dustin Hoffman, Rain Man, 1988. “No sex, no car chases and no third act.” But super-agent Mchael Ovitz had already turned an old script, Tootsie, into a big hit for Dustin Hoffman and hoped for the same with him as the smart alec brother of Bill Murray’s autistic savant Raymond. Except as directors changed from Barry Levinson to Martin Brest to Steven Spielberg to Sydney (Tootsie) Pollack and back to Barry,  Hoffman read the script, and wanted to “Uh-ho!”  He was right. How come a superagent didn’t know that?  
  7. Kurt Russell, Tango & Cash, 1989.     Sylvester Stallone was Raymond Tango – without question. But who would he accept as his equally frame cop pardner, Gabriel Cash? After Patrick Swayze ran (to solo billing in Road House), the list was long… Neeson, Michael Biehn, Pierce Brosnan, Kevin Costner, , Richard Gere, Mel Gibson, Don Johnson, Michael Keaton, Ray Liotta, Michael Nouri, Gary Oldman, Robert Patrick, Bill Paxton, Ron Perlman, Dennis Quaid, Gary Sinise. Plus there future Sly  co-stars: Harrison Ford,  Bruce Willis and James Woods. They lost out on the debatable pleasure of four directors! From the Russian Andrei Konchalovsky to, secretly, Stallone..!
  8. Richard Gere, Pretty Woman, 1989. 
  9. Bill Pullman, A League of Their Own, 1991.  Long-time ball fan, director Penny Marshall had never heard of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1943-1954) until seeing a 1987 PBS documentary. She swiftly contacted the makers to join her Hollywood writers to use their title for a fictional comedy-drama version.  Penny staged baseball tests for about 2,000 actresses – if you can’t play ball, you can’t play the Rockford Peaches.  (Geena Davis, Rosie O’Donnell, Lori Petty were best). Jim Belushi and Laura Dern were set to star in 1990 when Fox suddenly pulled the plug; Tom Hanks, Geena Davis took over at Columbia.  Also on the plate for Bob Hinson were De Niro and Liam Neeson.
  10. Anthony Hopkins, Bram Stoker’s Dracula,   1992.  The giant Irishman was seen by director Francis Coppola for Van Helsing (the old Peter Cushing role). And Neeson wanted it. However, Hopkins was the hot star of the hour headed to an Oscar for The Silence of the Lambs.. Neeson and Hopkins are honorary CDS board members: Conference of Drama Schools, overseeing all UK drama schools.

  11. Christopher Walken, True Romance1992.   “I’m the Anti-Christ. You’ve got me in a vendetta kind of mood…”  Neeson, Robert Forster and Michael were up for Vincenzo Coccotti, Except when it comes to Quentin Tarantino monologues, Walken rules!
  12. James Earl Jones, The Lion King, 1993.  Neeson, plus two ex-Bonds – Sean Connery and  Timothy Dalton – were considered royal enough to voice King Musafa in the 32nd Disney toon –  known as Bambi meets Hamlet in Africa. Neeson voiced another lion (Asian) in The Chronicles of Narnia franchise, 2005-2010. (Omar Sharif dubbed him for the French and Italian language prints). 
  13. Russell Crowe,The Quick and the Dead, 1994.    The Western’s star and co-producer, Sharon Stone was full of good ideas. Like Russell Crowe his Neeson  for Cort – except he was hog-tied someplace else. Which is when, why and how Stone gave Crowe his Hollywood debut as an outlaw turned  preacher – not mentioned in Roger Ebert’s review! 
  14. Pierce Brosnan, GoldenEye, 1994.
  15. Matthew Modine, Cutthroat Island, 1995.  After Schindler’s List,  everyone wanted Liam, including the piratical Geena Davis. And her director husband, Renny Harlin.  So, it was obvious who’d get the best close-ups!
  16. Dennis Quaid, Dragonheart,1995. To join forces with a dragon voiced by Sean Connery!Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Patrick Swayze, Robin Williams were also on  the short-list for Bowen. Neeson was tossed off it as the Universal suits proclaimed that the public would never accept him as an action hereo.  D’oh !
  17. Gary Oldman, The Scarlet Letter,1995.  He must have read the script – “freely adapted from the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne.” And how!
  18. Bruce Willis, Jackal, 1997.    Considered for in the Day of the Jackal re-make that was not – really – a re-make. In fact, it was hardly a film!
  19. Richard Gere, Jackal, 1997.  Also in the mix for the hunted… in the perfect example of ruining a great yarn.
  20. Gabriel Byrne, The Man in the Iron Mask, 1998. D’Artagnan remained Irish when Neeson preferred Victor Hugo to Alexandre Dumas. Neeson was a sexual sequoia said critic John Lahr. And he hadn’t even seen him in the shower. No matter, many ladies agreed with his description.

  21. Geoffrey Rush, Les Miserables, 1998. Director Roman Polanski’s idea of Inspector Javert, if he could not land Nicholson. Two years later, Danish director Bille August turned Neeson into Valjean.
  22. Robert Carlyle, Angela’s Ashes, 1999. Yes, best to avoid this flaccid film of Frank McCourt’s oustanding book about his Limerick childhood.
  23. Johnny Depp, Sleepy Hollow, 1999.    Neeson would have felt right at home. Tim Burton cast boasted three Star Wars sith lords: Darths Tyranus, Sidious and Maul, aka Christopher Lee, Ian McDiarmid, Ray Park.
  24. Sean Bean, The Lord of the Rings triology, 2001-2003.

  25. Heath Ledger, The Body, 2001.  First, the Irish Neeson, then Spanish Antonio Banderas and finally, the Australian Ledger became the rebellious New York priest disbelieving the “suicide” of his Vatican mentor.

  26. Stellan Skarsgård, Dominion: Prequel To The Exorcist, 2003.
  27. Stellan Skarsgård, The Exorcist: The Beginning, 2003.

  28. Val Kilmer, Alexander, 2004.    Liam spurned director Oliver Stone’s offer to have more time with the missus, Natasha Richardson, and their two young sons. “I didn’t want to be stuck in Morocco for months without my family. An easy decision. Every cliché about kids is true – they grow up so quickly, you blink and they’re gone, and you have to spend time with them now. And it’s the same with my wife.”  How old was Alexander’s father, King Philip of Macedonia? Stone did not care. Sean Connery was 74; Neeson, 52; and Kilmer, 45.

  29. Denzel Washington, Man on Fire, 2004. 
    Tony Scott backed out of directing the first version in 1986, but helped  Denzel Washington retrieve his lost taste for acting in this re-make.  Sergio Leone chose  Robert De Niro  and Marlon Brarndo nearly played A J Quinnell’s ex-CIA hero turned mercenary (certainly helped re-write  him) but Scott Glenn won the  role. Tony Scott  had wanted Robert Duvall. The new scriptwriter, Brian Helgeland,  recalled going  into the LA Video Archives store  in the 80s and asking the clerk: “What’s good?” The clerk said:  Man on Fire. The clerk was Quentin Tarantino.  In both films Creasy  is trying to rescue a kidnapped girl, almost a daughter to him, that  he’s bodyguarding.  Yeah, rather like a matrix for Liam Neeson’s Takens. So no surprise to find Liam among some 25 actors up for Creasy. Alec Baldwin, Sean Bean (a neaerly 007),  Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe, Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford, Andy Garcia, Mel Gibson, Ed Harris, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, Viggo Mortensen,  Gary Oldman, Dennis Quaid, Keanu Reeves, Alan Rickman, Kurt Russell,  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis…  even our dear old  Bob Hoskins.  Creasy was later  Bollywooded by the inimitable  Amitabh Bachchan (at age  63!). There were three songs, of course!

  30. Hugh Bonneville, Asylum, 2005.    Too busy with Kinsey, to re-awaken his wife Natasha Richardson’s sex drive as a sheer Mellors of a psychiatric patient.
  31. Nicolas Cage, The Wicker Man, 2006.    Another worthless “re-imagining.” First planned with Robert Caryle.
  32. Ed Harris, What’s Wrong with Virginia, 2010. Something had to give… Burying himself in work after the tragic 2009 death of his wife, Natasha Richardson, Neeson had committed to one project too many – among the eight he was due to make in 2009/10 for directors as diverse as Spielberg… and Johnnie To.
  33. Nick Cassavetes, The Hangover Part II, 2010.    Neeson’s guest spot as a tattoo artist had to be junked  when he was too busy on another sequel,  Clash of the Titans 2, to do re-shoots for  director Todd Phillips.   Fellow director Cassavetes took over.  Originally, Phillips offered the cameo Mel Gibson – until his young cast objected in no uncertain terms to the alleged anti-Semite and wife-beater.

  34. Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln, 2011.
    “I’m past my sell-by date.” Spielberg’s Schindler was his perfect choice for several years until the Irishman got tired of waiting. Within months, Spielberg had found another perfect 16th US President but Daniel, five years younger than Neeson, backed off. “I can’t account for how at any given moment I feel the need to explore one life as opposed to another,” he wrote to Spielberg. “In this case, as fascinated as I was by Abe, it was the fascination of a grateful spectator rather than a participant.
    Then, Leonardo DiCaprio (Daniel’s co-star in The Gangs of New York) was having dinner with the Spielbergs. “And Leo said: What’s happening with Lincoln? You’ve been, what, five years on this thing? And I said: Longer.  I told him I had… anotehr screenplay and I wasn’t able to re-approach Daniel.  And the next day,  Leo’s on the phone.  And he said… This is Daniel Day-Lewis’s cell phone – he’s expecting your call. Leo had gone to bat for me… and got Daniel and I together. Everything at that point started really moving quickly.” “It occurred to me that an actor murdered Abraham Lincoln,” aid Daniel. “ So it’s only fitting that, every once in awhile, an actor tries to bring him back to life again.” For doing so, Day-Lewis won an historic third Oscar.  Spielberg had known Neeson since he helped test kids for Empire of the Sun in 1987, when (despite Excalibur and The Bounty), he was working as a house painter (and living with Helen Mirren). It was vice-versa in 2015 when Neeson subsituted Day-Lewis in Martin Scorsese’s Silence.

  35. Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Last Stand, 2011. Arnie’’s back!  Sheriff Ray Owens was Schwarzi’s  first lead role since Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, 2002, happened because the big Irishman said no, thank you.  He was, er, taken with a second of three actioners as Luc Besson’s surprise hero, Bryan Mills. 
  36. Liev Schreiber, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, 2012.    He didn’t play LBJ, either…!   Liam was first choice for Lyndon Baines Johnson – giving orders while on the can – in director Lee Daniels’ film based on Eugene Allen, a White House butler for eight presidents over 30 years, from Harry S Truman to Ronald Reagan.
  37. Tom Felton, Therese, 2012. Back in 1995, the Neesons – Liam and Natasha Richardson – were tapped as the adulterous lovers of Emile Zola’s 1867 classic, Thérèse Raquin. The collapse of the project led actor and stage director Charlie Stratton to spend decades preparing his version as his film directing debut. His Laurent was the ex-Draco Malfoy, nall grown up from his Harry Potter days.
  38. Ray Winstone, Noah, 2013. Neeson, Val Kilmer, Liev Schreiber – Darren Aronofsky searched far and wide for “an actor with the grit and size to be convincing as he goes head-to-head against Crowe’s Noah.” They could have all played Noah, himself. But the role was Tubalcain, nemesis of the auteur’s life-long fascination with “a dark, complicated character who experiences real survivor’s guilt.” And a lot of water.
  39. Tom Wilkinson, Selma, 2014.     As directors switched from Lee Daniels to Ava DuVernay, Neeson was substituted by Wilkinson as LBJ – President Lyndon B. Johnson – finally stung into action by the Bloody Sunday violence against Dr Martin Luther King’s three Selma to Montgomery anti-segregation marches in 1965.
  40. Kurt Russell,Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, 2016.    Aged between Christopher Plummer and Max Von Sydow’s 87 and Matthew McConaughey’s 47,  fifteen actors were Marveled about for Ego, father of Chris Pratt’s hero, Peter Quill aka Star Lord.  The others in the  loop were Neeson, Alec Baldwin, Michael Biehn, Robert De Niro, Mel Gibson, Stephen Lang, Viggo Mortensen, Gary Oldman, Ron Perlman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Christoph Waltz and Bruce Willis.
  41. Robert De Niro, The Irishman, 2017.   On a another but rather tired  visit to his gangster well, Martin Scorsese had real Irishmen Brosnan and Liam Neeson as first reserves in case (a) De Niro proved unavailable  for their first film in 23 years  or (b) took over Russell Buffalino from the “hey, I’m retired!” Joe Pesci.   Neeson looked more like the real Frank Sheeran than De Niro – who has some Irish in his Italian-American bloodstream.
  42. Jeffrey Wright, The Goldfinch, 2018. Early on, with a different production package, it was Neeson or Ralph Fiennes being “eyed” for antiquarian Hobie, who becomes then mentor of young hero Theo, survivor of a terrorist attack on an art museum.  Finally, Hobie became Wright, reborn in the Westworld series.









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