Irish actor, Liam Neeson made headlines in June, when he talked about his fascination with the Islamic faith, sparking reports that he was converting to Islam. His publicist, however, was quick to deny the claims in an email he had sent me, saying that “his client is not, nor has he ever been converting to Islam.”
But speaking to Neeson at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in downtown New York, where he was promoting his latest action thriller, Taken 2, I got the impression that he was deeply affected by the sounds of Islamic call for prayer that he heard 5 times a day while shooting the movie in Istanbul.
“The first week, this call to prayer was like ‘will they ever stop?’” the star recalls, with wondrous eyes. “The second week, it’s just getting under my skin. By the third week, it was like I couldn’t live without it. It really became hypnotic and very, very moving for me in a very, very special way, very beautiful.”
So moving, that he bought CD’s of Islamic chants, which he puts on before bedtime to help him sleep.
Born in North Ireland, Neeson, whose father was a custodian at a catholic school, was brought up a very strict Catholic. In fact, he was the altar boy in the local church. But he became disenchanted by his Catholic faith, when it failed to soothe his soul and fill the spiritual void that was left by the tragic death of his wife Natasha Richardson in 2009, following a skiing accident in Canada. “I guess I’m somewhat lapsed as a practicing Catholic,” he reflects in his soft voice.
Frankly, I have not seen the Oscar-nominated actor in such high spirit since 2009; he had invariably looked stricken by profound grief. Whether it’s his new-found spiritually or the passing of time that healed the wounds of his agonizing loss, he wouldn’t say. “It’s personal,” he insists. He wouldn’t also elaborate on his own religious convictions other than speaking abstractly about spirituality.
“I am a big believer in acts of kindness, no matter how small that is. Thank you notes and giving to charity are very, very important,” he says.
Although he began performing in the mid-70’s as part of an Irish acting company, the 60-year-old gained international recognition when Spielberg cast him to portray the German industrialist in Schindler’s List (1993), which earned him his first Academy Award nomination. He followed it with compelling performances in Michael Collins (1996) and Kinsey (2004), but it was his action roles in films such as Star Wars: Episode I- The Phantom Menace” (1999) The A-Team (2010) and Taken (2008) that endowed him with the widest appeal to moviegoers.
In addition to the sequel Taken 2, which is due to be released next week, earlier this year, he starred in the thriller The Grey. Currently, he is getting into shape -not spiritually- to play a grieved writer in a Paul Haggis movie.
“I’ve got a couple of bed scenes with Olivia Wilde, so the push ups continue,” he quips.