Liam Neeson May Leave 'Taken 2' [UPDATED]

UPDATE: Moments after publishing this, I saw that Deadline had updated the source story completely changing it. In the original piece below I suspected that the first story published at Deadline was a way to push forward a deal between Liam Neeson and the producers of Taken 2. Whether or not that was the intent, such a thing is now happening. So everything below, ninety minutes after Deadline first reported it, is now a non-issue. The actor and producers have worked things out and a shoot for late this year or early 2012 is now being scheduled. Original article follows.

After Taken proved to be a wild, unexpected hit, it didn't take long for talk to begin of Taken 2. Liam Neeson has said that he was definitely ready to do the film, and a script has been under way. But now there is a big wrinkle: the actor is reportedly pulling away from the film, which producer and co-writer Luc Besson wants to shoot this year. The actor, meanwhile, wants to take some time off. It could be stalemate, but Luc Besson may just go ahead with the film, with a different actor in the central role.

Deadline says that Mickey Rourke, Ralph Fiennes, Ray Winstone, Sean Bean and Jason Isaacs are on the list to be the new lead of Taken 2, though "as of yesterday, things started turning towards a Neeson return." Deadline's article could be taken as a way to push the deal forward if, indeed, Mr. Neeson is thinking about capitulating and doing the film. Of that shortlist of actors on Ralph Fiennes really seems interesting; the whole point of Taken was that Liam Neeson was working slightly against type. Seeing a guy like Mickey Rourke in the role wouldn't make much sense at all.

We don't know why Liam Neeson is trying to push filming, but he just backed away from The Last Stand, the first English-language film from I Saw the Devil director Kim Ji-Woon, and there's the assumption that he's finally taking a moment to deal with the sudden loss of his wife Natasha Richardson, who died just over two years ago. Liam Neeson was shooting Chloe at the time and he took a small break to deal with the immediate details and then launched back into work. And it looks like that was therapy — based simply on the number of films he had released in 2010, the past two years have been some of the busiest of his career. We'll update more as things work out, but I don't think I'm alone in thinking that Taken 2 will get a lot less interesting with any other actor.