“It is fun to explore these kick-butt characters,” says Liam Neeson

Who could have forseen that Liam Neeson, the elegant Irish actor who starred in Schindler’s List 15 years ago, would morph into a butt kicking action hero in several of this decade’s more impressive box office grossing films?

In this year’s Unknown, Neeson stars as a man who survives a car accident, only to discover that someone has assumed his identity.

“When I was in Hollywood in the ’80s, I was not that butt-kicking guy. I was never even considered for those types of roles. At that time, they had all these huge action stars like Willis and Schwarzenegger and Stallone. It was always a genre I wanted to do but never actively pursued because I was nothing like those guys…. I started doing a few sword and sorcery movies so I could use a sword and a light saber. And it went from there really.”

Neeson is not the only “mature” actor enjoying success in the action genre. RED —a film about a group of retired CIA agents starring Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Bruce Willis, and John Malkovich — grossed an impressive $185 million last year, and X Men: First Class‘s Matthew Vaughn is developing a project about a group of superheroes in a retirement home. “Maybe the industry is changing,” Neeson says. “There seems to be more opportunities for old guys like me to do a little fighting and running because the lead characters also require a bit of depth and maturity and gravitas that one is likely to acquire doing drama all those years.”

After Unknown, Neeson will appear in The Hangover 2, Wrath of the Titans, and Battleship. He says working steadily has helped him through the months following his wife Natasha Richardson’s tragic death in 2009. “Our business is feast or famine, and I’m choosing to make hay when the sun shines,” he adds, “I like working, and I relied on work a lot in the last few years to get through a rough personal time. I needed it.”

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