Liam Neeson on technology, Andrew Garfield and the new ‘Star Wars’

Pop Goes The News — Liam Neeson sat in the scorching Mexican heat Saturday morning wearing a grey suit and sipping hot tea to speak to reporters gathered at the five-star Las Ventanas al Paraíso resort.

Neeson was promoting his new movie Silence, a historical drama directed by Martin Scorsese and co-produced by Mexico’s Gastón Pavlovich, at the Los Cabos International Film Festival.

The film, still in post-production and not screened at the festival, will open next year.

Neeson plays Father Cristóvão Ferreira, a priest working in Japan who is sought by two Jesuit priests, played by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield.

The 63-year-old Irish actor answered a wide range of questions — and reacted to the previous night’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

Here are some highlights:

On wanting to make Silence

Being raised an Irish Catholic, the subject of faith and Catholicism struck very close to home. The question in the film is, ‘Is there a God?’ We’re all in some way or another asking ourselves that all the time. What is faith? Why have faith? Why do we wake up in the morning and get out of bed? It’s as basic as that and the film asks all the questions and dramatizes them in a very exceptional way.

On working with Andrew Garfield…

I’m always amazed at these young actors who seem to come out of the woodwork. Their commitment and their intensity and their concentration is quite phenomenal. Andrew is young. He looks 16. He’s not 16…I know he’s not. He’s just that rare thing. I see him on stage and he’s quite extraordinary in the theatre. On film, he takes cinema acting to another level. I really mean that. It was just an honour to work with him. We did very complicated, spiritual scenes together. He’s giving a remarkable performance.

On Martin Scorsese’s physical demands…

He wanted us all to look a bit more gaunt, which the boys did. I know Adam Driver went to an extreme. He was like something out of Auschwitz by the time he finished. Andrew lost a lot of weight. I personally dropped 20 pounds. Martin requires this commitment and I think it pays off.

On experiencing an earthquake in Taiwan while making Silence

[It] was probably the most terrifying moment of my life.  I was in my hotel on the 15th floor and the room started to shake and I thought, ‘I’ll just stand under the doorway.’ So I was under there for like, 10 seconds, and I thought ‘This is crazy. I’m 15 floors up. I don’t stand in the doorway.’ So I went into the little safe, took my passport and went out into the corridor. There’s a little lady with a clipboard knocking on doors to see [if] the rooms are clean. She turns to me and says, ‘No problem. No problem. I be here 20 years. No problem.’ I wasn’t feeling any better. I took all the stairs down to the foyer and it was like an episode of the Twilight Zone. By the time I got down, the rumbling had kind of ceased and everybody is going about their business. I went to the front desk and I asked, ‘The earthquake. Was it predicted?’ She said ‘no.’

Three days later I’m up on the same floor and this air raid siren started. I thought I was in a 1940s British war movie. I called down to reception and asked ‘Can you tell me what the air raid sirens are for?’ He said, ‘Oh we’re just practicing to make sure they work. We do this twice a month.’ I said, ‘Why?’ and the answer was, ‘in case China invades.’

MORE: Liam Neeson reacts to ‘horrifying’ Paris attacks

On the technology of movie-making…

[Making 1999’s The Phantom Menace] I was amazed at seeing cameras with huge wires coming out of them leading to these big computers with these little nerds. There’s me acting to a tennis ball with green screens and blue screens and really not knowing what’s happening. Times have changed. The cameras no longer have wires hanging out. The cameras are [smaller]. It’s a little bit frightening for someone my age.

On the changing ways people are viewing movies…

I’ve tried to watch movies or TV episodes on [mobile devices] and it’s quite impossible. People still want to go into a darkened room, sit there with popcorn and complete strangers. I still think people love to do that. People do want to get away from a computer screen and have a shared experience with strangers. I still have a lot of hope and faith in the big screen.

On how he choose projects…

I have no great plans to do King Lear or Hamlet. If I read a script and I respond to it — and it depends on who’s directing it and stuff like that — that’s what my motivation is. I have no burning ambition to play a particular part. I did with Michael Collins and that was 20 years ago. I’m a working-class Irish guy and to be a professional actor… I’ve always felt like a kid in a candy store. The luckiest guy in the world.


On being in Los Cabos…

My wife [the late Natasha Richardson] and I came here. In fact, it was our last holiday. It was about eight years ago. It’s very, very beautiful and everyone is so gracious and welcoming.

On the Mexican people…

I lived in Los Angeles [and] my interaction with the Mexican people was seeing gardeners walking up Laurel Canyon to go into some house and fix their pool or cut their hedges — kind of anonymous people. I’m ashamed to say they’re just part of the fabric of L.A. life, you know.

On the new Star Wars movie…

I’m excited to see it. It’s an event and it’s a wonderful tradition. The thing I love about the Star Wars films is they’re all based on the one mystic tale that every culture in the world shares, which is basically an innocent young man or woman is picked for some reason, goes through an ordeal, succeeds, and comes back and enriches his or her society because of what they’ve done. That’s the universal story.

Pop Goes The News is a guest of the Los Cabos International Film Festival.