NON-STOP's Liam Neeson & Julianne Moore Interview

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Don’t bring up September 11 to Liam Neeson when talking about his movie, NON-STOP, and he’s admitting he doesn’t remember his movie fighting skills but he’ll never forget how to handle a lightsaber.

The Irish actor and his NON-STOP co-star Julianne Moore sit down for a Q&A about the action thriller set on a plane. The action-thriller packs a considerable cast of up-and coming actors, including Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery, and Lupita Nyong’o, the Oscar nominated best supporting actress of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave.

NON-STOP, which opens February 28th, follows the story of air marshal Bill Marks on a plane from New York to London who begins receiving a series of text messages that threaten the security of the flight. Neeson and Moore joked with press as they opened up about their experiences in making the film on a tight set with over 100 extras playing the roles of terrified passengers.

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Q: When making a film like this does it make you think more about the line we tread between being vigilant and being paranoid in a post-9/11 world?

Julianne Moore: I think that obviously whenever you are constructing entertainment, all thrillers and horror movies-anything that’s supposed to give us a scare-they’re all based on what our actual worries are. You sort of take them and exaggerate them-are you scare of ghosts? Is it the devil? I’m very scared of the devil-but in this case you take something that’s sort of routine. Obviously when you enter an airplane you’re giving up some control, all of us, and you sort of play on that fear. What I liked so much about this particular script and Jaume’s (director Jaume Collet-Serra) handling of it was he takes rather ordinary circumstance and turns it into a rather Hitchcockian event. You know it’s very reminiscent of those older movies and disaster movies I loved as a kid-POSEIDON ADVENTURE and TOWERING INFERNO so it becomes a kind of classic entertainment.

Liam Neeson: We all know the nightmares of airports nowadays, it’s playing on those fears. But it’s an entertainment, you know. A lot of the journalists in Europe, quite a few actually, were asking about September 11th and I was like, ‘Oh please.’ However, that being said, I don’t think the film could’ve been made a few years ago of course. It would have been totally insensitive. But it’s the backdrop to a thriller, that’s what it is.

Q: We saw how Jen and Bill [Moore and Neeson’s characters in the film] handled that situation, how would Julianne and Liam handle a situation like that?”

Julianne: We’d run screaming from the room!

Liam: What do you do, you know?

Julianne: I know!

Liam: What do you do? I mean I don’t know. Thankfully I’ve never been in that situation. Jules hasn’t been. You’d like to think you’d be heroic, but who knows. Who knows.

Q: You wouldn’t try to kick anyone’s ass or anything like that?

Julianne: Just mine.

Liam: Yeah-I don’t think so. I’m a pacifist.

Q: [To Neeson] What drew you to your role, and have you taken any martial arts training?

Liam: I’ve done a little mongrel version of different fight stuff for years. Depending on what the action is in the film, but in this one we didn’t want to adopt marital arts-it’s like, so corny, you know? Whatever physical altercations happened on the airplane we wanted to make them real. I worked quite closely with a special forces guy who trains air marshals and we came up with the fight in the bathroom based on stuff he himself was trained to do in very, very close combat situations; what you would do to disarm someone. So we tried to keep that real and exciting too, of course.

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Q; I’m thinking about now, with all the movies you’ve done with action, you’ve probably learned some stuff?

Liam: Yeah, but you learn it and then you forget about it you know? It’s like learning a dance and you learn that dance for the scene or something-or studying for exams-you swot swot-then the exams over and you’ve forgotten half of it. Except for a Lightsaber. I know how to handle that, still.

Q: Take us back to the very first time you went on a flight and what you remember about that time and if you have a lucky charm you bring with you on the plane?

Liam: I was a late developer in every department, but I got on an airplane at the age of 21. I believe to fly to Amsterdam from Belfast. Ciarán Hinds (“Game of Thrones”), do you know Ciarán Hinds?  He’s my oldest friend and we were going to a theatre course at a place about 30 miles south of Amsterdam. It was terrifying-the flight, I mean it was a hop and a skip that’s all it was but that was my first time, I was very, very, scared-very nervous, I should say.

Q: Is Ciarán your lucky charm then?

Liam: I guess he is in a way actually. We haven’t flown together since.

Q; There’s a statement in the film that ‘security in this country is the biggest lie.’ Do either of you ever feel ill at ease when you’re traveling?

Liam: I have to admit I don’t, and listen, we all know what security at airports is like. We’ve all experienced it and it’s a nightmare. But, these are the times we’re living in. Once I get through that other end I totally relax and I love flying as a result of that. I feel totally safe and that’s my experience, now.

Julianne: I do-I feel that people are meticulous and very careful and thoughtful about what’s happening and what I see around me is that people are agreeing to this because it’s a group effort. So no, I don’t feel that way.

Q: How do you feel the intimacy of the production? All the actors were on the set at all times, which is quite unusual. How did that help your performance and did the actual airport setting help to increase the tension?

Liam: We were at JFK for maybe two nights, quite late on in the shoot, and that was kind of strange being in a real airport.

Julianne: It was like chickens being let out of a pen! [laughs]  We’re like “What? Whaa?” It was like: “Regular space! Regular space, regular space-look at this place! I wanna go over there. You wanna go over there?” [laughs] Yeah it was nice-

Liam: Set was great. It was tough on the crew. I‘m sure Jaume (director Jaume Collet-Serra) told you that, very tough, because they had 50 guys and girls trying to disappear-being pushed into little spaces and stuff whereas we were sitting in first class seats!

Julianne: Yes, exactly-reading a magazine, it was pretty comfortable. And it was a great group of people. Terrific! Really, it was wonderfully cast, the movie, to have Lupita Nyong’o and Michelle Dockery as your flight attendants. And Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker, Linus Roache, and it was really great and so it was really fun to be with everybody and have everyone on set.

Liam: Everyday too. So it was great. it was kind of lovely to be with those people. Yeah, and the extras too. There was over 100 extras-and we got to know them, some of them quite well.They had a lot to do, you know?

Nate Parker and Julianne Moore in NON-STOP

Q: Both of your characters kind of had an air of mystery. There’s a lot of questions that are never answered. How was it developing your ?

Julianne: I liked the fact that there was mystery about all of the characters because I feel like in life, that’s the way it is. People don’t walk, you know, in cinema people are always walking into something and saying: ‘this is who I am-this is what I want-and this is how I’m going to get it’ and we don’t, in life, particularly not in a public situation. People don’t know your name. They might know your first name, not your last name, or vice-versa. They don’t know what you do, and you don’t…you’re not going to offer it up. So if you start there and you realize this is probably much more normal presentation in a film that what you would ordinarily have, you kind of go, ‘Okay, well then, who is this?’ And you know that there’s a big life behind what everyone presents and I think, it’s super interesting the fact that you can scratch someone and find out all these things and that you never know. What about you, Liam?

Liam: I relied on Jaume a lot because he’s a very, very, prepared director. And any queries we had about the script or what a character should do or not do. We always tried to judge it to the ninth degree because he was always thinking about the overall arc-‘the symphony,’ I like to use that word.. of the whole film. And, you know, just the raise of an eyebrow might just be too much. There’s a great (shot)-it’s in the trailer-of Jules. When I walk away and she’s lying asleep and she just opens her eyes and it’s just like immediately, ‘Oh my God! Suspicious!’ and she’s just opening her eyes! So every little nuance of gesture, we were aware could take on some significance. That being said, we weren’t put in a straightjacket.

Julianne: Except me, when I really got on his nerves! [laughs]

Q: This is for Mr. Neeson: I started to notice that in a lot of these action thrillers you’ve done lately no one ever seems to believe you. In TAKEN, your captors don’t believe that you’ll find them; inUNKNOWN no one believe you are who you say you are; and in this one everyone thinks you’re a terrorist even though you keep telling them you’re not the hijacker. Is that idea of distrust what attracts you to a lot of these roles?

Liam: Sure yeah! I’d like to think that if I play these so called action heroes, they’re vulnerable and they’re nervous, and there’s something very, very, serious at stake-if you’re daughters been kidnapped-those of us that are parents, you know, you’ll do anything for your kids. So I always try and portray a weakness or a vulnerability. On top of knowing you can kick ass.

Julianne: I think that’s why audiences respond to Liam this way, because he does present a very humane, sensitive, complicated person, a real person who then becomes the hero. It’s not like a superhero coming in… you know that Superman’s going to be able to do it, he’s not even a real person! [laughs] But to have Liam represent that, I think he brings a real sense of authenticity to all of these characters.

Liam: Thanks for that.

Julianne: Yeah, anytime!

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Q: This is for Liam-I was wondering if you could talk about playing a slightly more darker, troubled character? This one seems to be a little bit less in charge than other action roles that you’ve played before?

Liam: A little less in charge…yes. He’s not in charge because he’s an alcoholic. He’s an addict that’s always in charge. So his big battle is just doing a 6 ½, 7 hour flight without having a couple of short ones. And that’s his goal is to do that without having alcohol ? Of course, all shit breaks loose. I love the fact that it was in the script, without being banged in the head-without the audience being banged in the head with it that at the height of the crisis. There’s a beautiful bottle of whiskey waiting to be drunk, but he doesn’t. It’s a real human gesture that I think resonates with people. It is human, and many of us are addicts. If it’s tobacco or what not, so I like those little human touches.

Q: I do want a comment from you about having so many diverse roles over the span of your career. And what kind of travelers are you guys? Are you the kind that when people walk up to you you’re okay with it or not?

Liam: First off can I just say Julianne Moore is a great actress, she’s one of our great screen actresses. Period.
[Spontaneous applause from press]

Julianne: Oh, come on, you guys!

Liam: So we were so lucky to have her in this part.  The first script I read of it was this passenger beside me was quite a bland part and then when I heard they were going with Julianne I thought, ‘No way is she gonna do this’. And she did, and it elevated the whole film.

Julianne: Aw, thanks. Well, Liam had a lot to do with that, honestly. And Joel Silver, who I was just talking to some people the other day about ASSASSINS-and that was a movie at the beginning of my career, my first movie with Joel Silver and so when he called me about this and Liam was doing this and I liked the script so much that’s kind of how it came about. But I like to mix it up, you know? I like to do, if I’ve done something really serious then I like to do a comedy. If I’ve done a comedy and then I find a thriller that’s really interesting to me. I like to do that too. I like genre. I like movies. I like to accrue experience. I don’t really plan things. You can’t in our business. You really can’t. You have less control than we’d like. So yeah, I do feel fortunate to just to work, really.

Q: So when people walk up to you in the airport-or they see you in person....

Liam: I just say f**k off. Especially when there’s kids.
[Laughter]

Liam: Great gratification, especially if there’s a Star Wars photograph. Some little 7-year-old? You can f**k off.

Julianne: [laughing] Get out!

Liam: I am joking of course. I don’t get hassled too much.

Julianne: People are really nice honestly. Sometimes I really do talk to people, and have a nice conversation. I do talk to women with children a lot. Because you feel for them, man! If somebody sits down next to me with a baby I am going to talk to her because I’ve been there!

Q: A lot of the characters were sort of stereotypical, you had the angry young black man, you had the cop, the middle eastern person-it’s sort of playing on these public, preconceived notions that most people have. Do you think it was smart for the writers to angle it that way, and was the end goal to increase our paranoia?

Liam: I think at the first glance they’re kind of stereotypical, but I think Jaume played with that in our own heads. There’s the Muslim doctor and you kind of go, “Hmm. Uh huh-yep. This is interesting, but, it’s not going to be him. It’s not gonna be the other African-American kid. It’s definitely this guy, he’s got a real attitude. So he plays with all that.

Julianne: Yeah, upends our expectations, I think, and even with a character like mine who seems so-who won’t give anything up-you think, well come on-and it turns out it’s completely personal. So you can’t preconceive these things, you really don’t know who somebody is, what their inner life is, what their interests are or determine how they’re going to behave.

NON-STOP is in theaters on February 28.

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