I'm attracted to LONERS ON SCREEN - ACTION STAR LIAM
HOT STUFF: Neeson can't believe he's doing high-octane roles at 62, and he's no plans to stop, writes Jeananne Craig
When you meet Liam Neeson in person - all 6ft 4 of him - it's easy to see why he's still fielding action hero offers, while others his age dream of retirement.
With that hulking frame, soft, slow drawl and piercing blue eyes, the 62-year-old former amateur boxer is the kind of person you'd want on speed dial in a crisis.
And after decades in the business, Hollywood has cottoned on, too. Since his gun-toting, villain-hunting turn in the 2008 thriller Taken, Neeson has enjoyed a run of high-octane roles.
"Time goes like that," the Antrim-born star says with a click of his fingers, his Irish accent softened slightly from years living in the US.
"Normally, for people my age, leading roles and action roles are few and far between.
"So if the script's good enough, I'll do it and make the necessary arrangements.
"Sometimes in Hollywood, you're flavour of the month then you disappear; you might come back, or you may not. I love doing these, they're still offering them to me, and as long as there's an audience, I'll keep doing them. Until my knees give up..."
Most recently, the Schindler's List star has played a federal air marshal in thriller Non-Stop and a gun-toting private eye in the upcoming A Walk Among The Tombstones.
Today, he's looking toned and tanned, having just reprised his role as CIA man Bryan Mills for Luc Besson's Taken 3 (expected to be released early next year).
No one could be more proud of the star - who earned a flurry of new fans with Mills' gravelly "I will find you and I will kill you" phone call in Taken - than his teenage sons, Daniel and Micheal.
"When the first Taken film came out, my kids were always asking me to leave messages for their friends and stuff like that," the actor says with a smile.
"[They're] the best support you can possibly get, you know? Hopefully I'm the same for them, too."
Since his wife, the actress Natasha Richardson, died following a skiing accident in 2009, Neeson has thrown himself into his work.
Last year alone, he made nine films, but recently admitted: "There [are] periods now in our New York residence when I hear the door opening, especially the first couple of years... Any time I hear that door opening, I still think I'm going to hear her."
He's also admitted that life as a single parent is "always a balance", with Richardson's mother, legendary actress Vanessa Redgrave, moving in when he is filming away from home.
In his latest film, A Walk Among The Tombstones, based on author Lawrence Block's bestselling mystery novels, Neeson plays Matt Scudder, an ex-NYPD officer who reluctantly agrees to help a drug trafficker (Downton Abbey's Dan Stevens) track down the men who murdered his wife.
Scudder does his fair share of chasing and gun-pointing in the film, but there's more to him than that. He's also a recovering alcoholic who has cut himself off from the outside world, after a boozy error of judgement ended his days as a policeman.
"I am attracted to characters who are loners, who operate by themselves. There's something mysterious, manly and stoic about them," says Neeson, who started his acting career on stage and made his film debut in 1978's Pilgrim's Progress.
He compares Scudder to the "slightly broken" characters played by the likes of Robert Mitchum, Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood - "a foot in either camp between justice and right, always treading or dabbling in moral grey areas".
The light to Scudder's shade is TJ, a young homeless teen who helps him try and track down the killers. The aspiring young detective is played by 18-year-old rapper and actor Brian 'Astro' Bradley, a former finalist on Simon Cowell's US version of The X Factor.
"He's such a loveable kid and he's easy to look out for," Neeson says of his young co-star.
"I'm a dad of two boys, and I'd just find myself... you know, I'd fix his shirt or something, just little things, include him and make sure he's okay."
Neeson says the pair "didn't hang out that much", however, because a lot of the filming was done in the early hours.
"Night shoots play havoc with your system. And between set-ups of the camera, Astro was always trying to catch up on his sleep, the poor kid. I felt so bad for him. At that age, all you want to do is sleep."
Having more energy than a teenager did give Neeson an ego boost. "Yeah. I did get off on that a little bit," he admits, laughing.
Among his upcoming projects are Run All Night, in which he plays a hitman, and the hotly-anticipated Taken 3 ("there are a few more thrills and spills but nobody gets taken, I'm pleased to say").
Did Neeson, as a child in Ballymena, the son of a cook and a caretaker, ever imagine that this would be his life now?
"Never in a million years would I have thought that," he says. "Never, never. Be careful what you dream."
A Walk Among The Tombstones is out this Friday