Liam Neeson has made a name for himself in recent years as the go-to tough guy for action-packed blockbusters, including “Taken,” “The Grey,” and most recently “Non-Stop.” But while Neeson’s success in that genre marks a bit of a latter-day career revitalization for the formerly more-serious star, the actor has revealed that he once had a shot at one of the biggest action franchises of all time: “James Bond.”
In an interview with the U.K.’s Hull Daily Mail, Neeson said that in the era when Pierce Brosnan ultimately landed the 007 role, Neeson himself was in demand for the part — but according to the actor, he had one very important reason for turning it down.
“I was heavily courted, let’s put it that way, and I’m sure some other actors were too,” Neeson said. “It was about 18 or 19 years ago and my wife-to-be [Natasha Richardson] said, ‘If you play James Bond we’re not getting married!’ And I had to take that on board, because I did want to marry her.”
Neeson indeed passed on the part, and went on to marry Richardson (who died in 2009 following a tragic skiing accident). And while many actors may wonder “what if” when thinking of such a big career opportunity, Neeson told the Daily Mail that he doesn’t have any regrets about his choice, and that he’s enjoying making lots of movies now, including nine in 2013 alone.
“I’m keeping busy, which is thrilling,” he said. “I love to work.”
[h/t The Playlist]
Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Gallery | Heroes of Dadcore: Ranking the Top 10 Aging Action Stars
- 10. Danny Glover
It’s been 27 years since Glover (then 40, but playing 50) first said, “I’m getting too old for this s—,” but he’s continued to be a trooper, from “Lethal Weapon” and “Predator 2” to the present day. This fall, he and Danny Trejo will star in “Bad Asses.” The trailer even features a possible new, more age-optimistic catchphrase for Glover: “Ain’t no 20-year-old got reflexes like that.”
- 9. Mel Gibson
Gibson will remain an action immortal as long as memories remain of his two game-changing franchise characters from the ’80s and ’90s: post-apocalyptic warrior Mad Max, and the “Lethal Weapon” series’ loose-cannon cop Martin Riggs. Like Kevin Costner, Gibson proved adept as an action director, too, capable of placing himself as star within sweeping epic spectacles (“Braveheart”). His long hiatus from acting and his Riggs-like penchant for bringing the crazy in his personal life have hurt his fan base; when he returned to action fare with “Edge of Darkness” in 2010, not many showed up to welcome him back. A supporting role, however, might be just the thing for the 58-year-old, so it’s a smart move for him to appear in the upcoming “Expendables 3.”
- 8. Danny Trejo
Trejo was a tough-guy character actor in movies for decades before landing his first major leading role in an action movie at age 65, in Robert Rodriguez’ “Machete.” Alas, despite his deft wielding of the title weapon, a sequel, and even an age-appropriate catchphrase (“Machete don’t text!”), Trejo has remained a cult figure at best. Maybe this fall’s “Bad Asses,” with fellow oldtimer Danny Glover, will push the 69-year-old to the next level.
- 7. Arnold Schwarzenegger
There was no bigger action star in the ’80s and early ’90s than the bodybuilder who parlayed his limited range into such emotionless bruisers as Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator. As he aged, he smartly turned to comedy and then politics, but now that his tenure as California’s Governator is over, he’s had a hard time picking up where he left off. No one here was really clamoring to see the 66-year-old in such tired action fare as “The Last Stand” or “Escape Plan” (with Sylvester Stallone), but maybe foreign audiences will be more forgiving. He’ll be back in: the narco-thriller “Sabotage,” coming March 28, to be followed by, yes, further Conan and Terminator adventures.
- 6. Kevin Costner
Costner graduated from gang warfare (1987’s “The Untouchables”) to tribal warfare (1990’s “Dances With Wolves”) and from saving Whitney Houston (1992’s “The Bodyguard”) to saving civilization ((1995’s “Waterworld,” 1997’s “The Postman”). His luster has dimmed in recent years, but he’s still a stalwart, Gary Cooper-type man of action. At 59, he continues to kick butt and take names in such spy thrillers as last month’s “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” and this week’s “3 Days to Kill.”
- 5. Harrison Ford
Ford was already well into his 30s when he landed his career-defining roles as Han Solo and Indiana Jones. He’s no longer a box office draw, yet his roles remained surprisingly acrobatic well into his 60s (notably, in the most recent “Indiana Jones” movie, made when Ford was 65). These days, he’s more likely to mentor younger action stars (in “Cowboys and Aliens” or “Ender’s Game”), but the 71-year-old hasn’t hung up his laser blaster yet, as he’s due to return as Han Solo next year in “Star Wars: Episode VII.”
- 4. Bruce Willis
It’s easy to forget that for the first phase of his career, Willis was considered a light comic actor. Then came 1988’s “Die Hard,” which made him an Everyman action hero for the ages. Most of his heroic roles since have featured that same John McClane attitude, that “Can you believe this?” slight wink at the audience. Now 58, it’s become, “Can you believe I’m still doing this?,” in movies like the later “Die Hards,” the two “RED” films, and, coming this summer, “A Dame to Kill For,” a sequel to “Sin City.”
- 3. Sylvester Stallone
Stallone wrote himself one of the greatest action roles of all time, perpetual underdog boxer Rocky Balboa, and embodied another (conscience-plagued mercenary John Rambo), managing to keep both franchises interesting long past their sell-by date. He was 64 when he managed to create yet a third franchise for himself with “The Expendables” (one that, not coincidentally, attracted audiences with its rotating ensemble cast of fellow vintage action stars). Despite such recent duds as “Bullet to the Head” and “Grudge Match” (essentially pitting an ancient Rocky against an equally ancient Robert De Niro/Jake LaMotta), it seems Stallone can keep churning out “Expendables” movies (the third one is due in August) as long as the 67-year-old’s remarkable abs and biceps hold out.
- 2. Denzel Washington
It’s hard to believe that Washington is already 59 years old. There’s little sign of advanced age in the visage or frame of the star of “Unstoppable” and several other Tony Scott-directed action spectacles (including “Crimson Tide” and “Man on Fire”). He’s often the wise or streetwise mentor when partnered with younger actors (Ethan Hawke in “Training Day,” Chris Pine in “Unstoppable,” Mark Wahlberg in “2 Guns”), but he still seems just as much at home doing action as he does reciting Shakespeare. He’s still one of the most reliable box office draws in Hollywood, whether he’s doing a film like the upcoming “The Equalizer” (an adaptation of the 1980s vigilante TV series, due in September) or playing the kind of straight dramatic role that could win him a third Oscar.
- 1. Liam Neeson
Unlike a lot of folks on this list, Neeson really can act, as he’s proved over the decades in movies from “Schindler’s List” to “Kinsey.” Curiously, it was only when the former amateur boxer was well into his 50s that he became known as a thinking-person’s action star, with movies like the “Taken” films, “Unknown” and “The Grey.” After all, he still has the imposing height and physique to be a convincing butt-kicker, the years of experience to suggest thoughtfulness and wisdom, and the acting chops to sell grief, rage, and vengefulness. He’s 61 years old, and he’s hinted that he takes these two-fisted roles just for the money, but he still seems to be just hitting his stride, His latest, airborne thriller “Non-Stop,” opens next week. Coming up: September’s kidnapping thriller “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and a third “Taken.”
- Honorable Mention: Clint Eastwood
At 83, Eastwood may not have any more action hero roles in his future, but he still kicked ass pretty impressively in “Gran Torino” when he was 78. Ian McKellen, age 74, still moves action figures off toy store shelves for two franchises, “X-Men” and “The Hobbit.” Samuel L. Jackson, whose continued ferocity belies his age (65), remains credible in Marvel movies, Quentin Tarantino movies, and wherever else he wants to bark out 12-letter words. Dolph Lundgren, at 56, seems like he’ll continue to have a career as long as Sylvester Stallone wants to put him in “Expendables” movies, though he’s also given himself opportunities by turning to directing in recent years. Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Muscles from Brussels” heyday may be a decade or more behind him, but at 53, the acrobatic “Expendables” crew member has at least three movies due this year and may still have plenty of good years left. Same goes for Wesley Snipes, who, at 51, is the baby of the “Expendables 3” posse.
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