Memory Star Liam Neeson Impersonates Robert Mitchum And Shares The One Time He Was Miscast [Interview]

Liam Neeson has a wonderful Robert Mitchum impersonation (as seen below). At one point during our interview with the actor, he flashed his hand across his face and he suddenly had that immediately recognizable Mitchum expression — droopy and unamused. It was impossible not to burst out laughing upon seeing it. Both times. During a brief interview with Neeson, he lit up talking about some of his favorite actors, like Mitchum and Denzel Washington, whose footsteps he recently followed by playing Raymond Chandler's iconic gumshoe, Philip Marlowe, in the upcoming (and appropriately titled) "Marlowe."

Presently, the actor stars in Martin Campbell's "Memory," where he's playing against type compared to his most recent action-thrillers. Here, he's the bad guy, a hitman suffering from Alzheimer's and years of bad choices. The film sees the character trying to "right a horrible wrong," as Neeson puts it.

Recently, we talked to the actor a bit about this new thriller and learned he's a big fan of the "Equalizer" films and why, surprisingly so, he believes he's miscast in Steve McQueen's "Widows."

"Don't you want to die of something?"

You've said you enjoy playing characters with both strength and sensitivity. What is it about that combination you like to play?

I remember when I was a kid seeing action heroes, for example the Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore was the actor who played him, I just loved those Western types that were always strong. But then the older you get, I just thought, "Nah, that's a bit boring. That's not what real people are like." I think it's important to show as many aspects as you can, and that's what really attracted me to this, was they had shown me the Belgian film that our films is based on, inspired by I should say, which is very good, and then I read the script and I thought, "Gosh, this is really interesting." I can do research on a character, certainly in the field of Alzheimer's and dementia. I watched various documentaries, read some books on it, and I have a friend in Ireland who's going through early stages of dementia.

I'm sorry.

Which is traumatic, and yet fascinating to see it. Do you know what I mean? Someone comes into their own living room and not recognize it, it's traumatic and yet the active part of my brain's going, "That's interesting. That's interesting, the way he did this." You know what I mean? I feel a bit guilty in saying that, and being able to use little elements of that in the character in the film, but hopefully very subtly.

What are some other actors you admire who you think have that strength and sensitivity you like?

It's interesting. Yeah, Burt Lancaster. Robert Mitchum did too. I know he did have a quality that was bordered on vulnerability, that made him a great actor, I think. Mitchum was fantastic, a big hero of mine from when I was a teenager. There was just something about him I liked. And who else now? Who else has got that? Denzel Washington. I mean, Denzel's a fantastic actor, probably our greatest movie star in this country I think. I've seen him on stage. I've seen a lot of his films. Love those "Equalizer" films. I mean, Antoine Fuqua, love those movies. Denzel could do that too. He can show a strength and a solidity and touch on the vulnerability, which is incredibly watchful.

I think Mitchum, too, was great because so many movie stars today really want you to find them likable on-screen, but Mitchum didn't care at all if you found him likable.

But the thing is he came across, even in interviews, he came across as disparaging, I guess, about the craft of acting, but he was wonderful at it. He was wonderful. And I've seen in interviews with him, and there was one he did with the lovely actress from the film, "Ten," Bo Derek. Mitchum was on a chat show with her and he's smoking a cigarette and she's talking about her daily regimen of how she keeps her shape and her beauty and what she eats, what she doesn't eat, how many hours she works out, and all this sort of stuff. And Mitchum's sitting with a cigarette and turns to her and says, "Don't you want to die of something?" [Laughs]

"I was miscast"

Congratulations on making your 100th film recently.

Yeah, it was just before Christmas and it was a film called "Marlowe." It's written by Bill Monahan, Neil Jordan directed it, and Jessica Lange is in it, wonderful, Alan Cumming. We just finished that before Christmas, so hopefully, it'll get into the Venice Film Festival.

Are you a Raymond Chandler fan?

I'm ashamed, and I'm an avid reader, I had never read Raymond Chandler until I knew I was going to do this film. I loved his stuff. Loved it. Complicated plots and you read them, page turner, and then you put it down and think, "Wow, what did I just read? What was that story about?" At least I did, you know?

For your 100th movie, it's great you're following in the footsteps of Bogart, Mitchum, Elliot Gould.

Absolutely. And it's funny because when we were shooting, there's scenes when I walkaway, quite a few walking scenes to my car and I thought, "I'd love to do Robert Mitchum's walk," just an homage to him, but I chickened out. I thought, "No, I can't do it. I can't do it." I'll just walk as me.

When you play a more archetypal role like in "Memory," do you think of some of the other greats that defined those types of roles?

I always think of what Jimmy Cagney, James Cagney said to someone who asked him how she should approach a scene, how she would do a scene, and Jimmy Cagney said to her, "Sweetheart, walk in the room, plant your feet, speak the truth." That's what I try and do. I try and make the writer's words come out of my mouth, I want the audience to believe it. That's what acting is, I think, and it's as simple as that and as complicated as that too.

You've talked before about that rush you first had on the stage when you started out acting. Do you still feel that same excitement and curiosity as when you started?

I like to think I have. I have to admit, I think the stage, going back to the theater has left me. The muse has left me, I hope it returns, but at the moment and has done for the past four or five years, it's just left me. I adore the theater, I adore seeing my friends do plays, but for me, it's gone. I hope it comes back, because there's a part of me that would love to get back on stage again.

How did that go away?

I don't know. Yeah, I honestly don't know. I really don't know. It could be age related, maybe just doing too many films. Last year, I did four films, one little guest appearance on a TV show. It was pretty much back to back and I thought, "I never want to do that again." I was kind of shattered, but I should be so lucky, seriously, doing something I absolutely adore doing and get paid for it. But I hope the muse comes back to me as regards to doing a play.

I gotta ask, because I was very surprised to hear you say on "The Tonight Show" you felt you were miscast in "Widows." Why?

It was a very good film. I loved Steve McQueen. I adored Viola Davis. I saw it quite recently before the show with Jimmy [Fallon] and I thought, "No. No. This isn't..." I thought I was miscast. I've never felt that before. I still maintain it, but I thought it was an excellent film. All the girls, especially Viola, terrific, and Steve McQueen's somebody to watch really. He's something extraordinary.

I wondered if you felt that way about other performances of yours, because nothing about your work in that movie screams miscast.

That's kind of you. I just... We launched it at the Toronto Film Festival three years ago, and I did lots of interviews, but Viola and I hadn't seen the movie, and I'm glad I hadn't seen it because I wouldn't have been able to have done those interviews. I just know I wouldn't. Hated myself in it.

"Memory" opens in theaters on April 29, 2022.