Liam Neeson has done nine action movies in the last seven years; everything from fantasy like Clash of the Titans to crime thrillers like Non-Stop to ’80s TV show send-ups such as The A-Team. It’s not a career path Neeson planned on taking. He had dabbled in action roles with Batman Begins and The Phantom Menace, but the actor was most well-known for his dramatic work in movies like Schindler’s List and Kinsey. Taken changed all of that in 2008 when it pulled a whopping $226.8 million at the box office. Suddenly, at 61, Neeson found himself to be Hollywood’s newest action star. Neeson told GQ that he simply wanted to try some action stuff and never imagined it becoming such a hit.
“I really thought it would be kind of a little side road from my so-called career. Really thought it would go straight to video. But it just got great word of mouth.”
Neeson eventually did Taken 2, which had even bigger box office success, pulling in $376 million. The third — and supposedly final — film in the series comes out this weekend, and it’s likely to break the series’ own record once again. To celebrate agent Bryan Mills’ particular set of skills, here are a few pieces of trivia you might not know about Liam Neeson’s ass-kicking trilogy.
1. Liam Neeson did the first film to get a free vacation and karate lessons. Adam Sandler got knocked for signing on for Blended just so he could get a free trip to Africa, but he’s not the only star guilty of taking work simply for the shooting location. Liam Neeson never expected the movie to do nearly as well as it did, and reportedly took the part because it meant that he would get to spend four months in Paris and learn karate.
For the martial arts buffs out there, the fighting style he learned is something called Nagasu Dol; a combination of Judo, Aikido, and Ju Jitsu that’s really good for Judo chopping bad guys in the throat.
2. In addition to martial arts skills, Liam Neeson was trained by a Special Air Service soldier. Neeson had done a few action movies prior to Taken, but to perfect those knife-wielding skills for maximum throat slashing, the actor received weapons training from Former Special Air Service soldier Mick Gould, who trained actors on films like Heat, Collateral, and Ronin.
Here’s a montage of Gould showing actors how to kick ass.
3. Sixty-five confirmed kills. If you’re counting the body pileup in the first film, Bryan kills between 32 and 35 people in order to save Kim. In the second film, he manages to kill 30 people. With any luck, he’ll hit 100 kills by the time the credits roll in the third movie.
4. Liam Neeson initially thought a Taken 2 and Taken 3 would never happen. The idea that Bryan Mills’ daughter could be kidnapped more than once seemed ridiculous to the actor, who wasn’t sure about the idea of signing on for a sequel. Eventually, writer/director Luc Besson was able to lure Neeson in with the idea of visiting Istanbul:
“When Luc Besson approached me a few years ago I thought, ‘come on Luc, you can’t. What? What can you do?’ and he said, ‘Leave it with us, were thinking of something.’ So a couple of years ago I think they had me the script. They set it in Istanbul and I thought, ok that’s certainly one city I would love to see.”
When Neeson was asked about the possibility of a THIRD Taken film he didn’t see it happening.
“I don’t think so; I think this is the end. I mean how many times can she be taken? I mean, it’s bad parenthood, really, after that.”
Never say never when it involves Liam Neeson. The third Taken film was shot in Los Angeles and Atlanta, so presumably Liam Neeson had been itching for a reason to visit Georgia.
5. Taken 2 took one of its death scenes from Midnight Express. When Bryan has his final fight showdown with Murad, he takes Murad out by pushing him backwards into a wall mounted coat hook. This was done as a nod to Midnight Express which also has a similar death scene and takes place in Istanbul.
6. Doing the film inspired actress Famke Janssen to get involved in the fight against sex trafficking. Janssen, who plays Bryan’s ex-wife Lenore in all three films, was so impacted by working on the movie that she wanted to take action and now serves as the Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Office against drugs and crime.
7. The film parallels the lies of William Hillar. In the Taken franchise, Bryan Mills plays a retired special forces badass who must save this daughter from sex traffickers — a story that mirrors the lies of complete fraud William Hillar. Hillar fooled military officials and private clients for 12 years into paying him to train agents on counter-terrorism, human- and drug-trafficking, and other forms of international crime prevention. From 1998-2010, Hillar was paid around $171,415 in both private and public sectors for this training and fabricated a story that his daughter had been kidnapped and murdered by sex traffickers. You could say that he had a particular set of skills — for lying.
He frequently speaks out against human trafficking, claiming in marketing materials that his only daughter was kidnapped, forced into the sex industry and killed — a story that became the basis, he has said, for the 2008 film “Taken,” starring Liam Neeson.
But authorities say they can find no evidence of a military background, other than a relatively tame stint with the Coast Guard in the 1960s, according to an FBI affidavit filed in Maryland U.S. District Court. The University of Oregon says it never awarded him a post-secondary degree, either, and others question the story about his daughter.
“This is someone that we still really don’t know who he is,” Maryland Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise said during Hillar’s initial appearance in court Tuesday afternoon.
Whoops! Those who worked with Hillar describe him as a magnetic speaker who knew how to take control of a room, and he was even nominated for a “hometown hero” award by Elon University in North Carolina just a year before his life of lies unraveled. Eventually, Hillar was sentenced to a 21-month prison stint followed by three years of supervised release for his crimes. No word on what he thought about Liam Neeson’s alleged portrayal of his phony life, but he did say that he plans to return to teaching after his release.