Born: 7 June 1952
Birthplace: Ballymena, Northern Ireland
Best Known As: Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace
Standing a burly 6’4″, Liam Neeson was once described by a theatre critic as a “towering sequoia of sex.” To say that he has undeniable charisma is certainly accurate, but it is a charisma composed as much of impressive talent as of broken-nosed physical appeal. Bearing both versatility and quiet forcefulness, Neeson has been touted as one of the most compelling actors of the late 20th century.
Born June 7, 1952, in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, Neeson had an upbringing partially defined by his involvement in boxing. He became active in the sport as a teenager, earning his distinctive broken nose in the process; he stayed with boxing until he began experiencing black-outs from repeated blows to the head. Initially interested in a career as a teacher, Neeson attended Belfast’s Queens College, but he aborted his studies after developing a desire to act. In 1976, he joined Belfast’s Lyric Theatre, and two years later he began performing the classics at Dublin’s famed Abbey Theatre. While he was with the Abbey, Neeson was discovered by director John Boorman, who cast him as Gawain in 1981’s Excalibur. Following his part in that action fantasy, Neeson had supporting roles in such films as The Mission (1986), and he was featured in leads opposite Cher in Suspect (1987) and Diane Keaton in The Good Mother (1988).
He got his first starring vehicle in 1990 with Sam Raimi’s Darkman; unfortunately, the film was a relative disappointment. Neeson continued to do starring work in such films as Big Man (1991), which featured him as a boxer, Ethan Frome (1992), and Under Suspicion (1992), but ironically, it was his work on the stage that led to his true screen breakthrough. In 1992, the actor was turning in a Tony-nominated performance in Anna Christie opposite Natasha Richardson (whom he would marry in 1994) on Broadway. His work attracted the notice of Steven Spielberg, who was so impressed with what he saw that he cast Neeson as Oskar Schindler in his landmark Holocaust drama Schindler’s List (1993). Neeson received Best Actor Oscar and British Academy Award nominations for his performance, and he subsequently didn’t have to worry about finding work in Hollywood, or elsewhere, again.
More high-profile work followed for Neeson, who went on to star in such films as Nell (1994), Rob Roy (1995), and Michael Collins (1996). However acclaimed his previous work had been, none of it received the hype of one of Neeson’s 1999 projects, Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. Although the film, which starred Neeson as a Jedi master, ultimately earned a galaxy’s worth of negative reviews, it mined box office millions. Its success further enhanced Neeson’s status as one of the world’s most visible actors, and it even helped to downplay the disappointment of The Haunting, his other film that year. ~ Rebecca Flint, All Movie Guide