Scorsese, earthquake: Liam Neeson talks about making ‘Silence’

Pop Goes The News — The latest film from acclaimed director Martin Scorsese comes 26 years after he signed on to make it.

Silence, based on Shūsaku Endō’s 1966 novel of the same name, was co-written by Scorsese and Jay Cocks (Gangs Of New York). It’s due in cinemas on Dec. 23.

(The book was previously adapted for the big screen in 1971 by Japanese filmmaker Masahiro Shinoda.)

It’s the story of two 17th century Jesuit priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who endure persecution as they journey through Japan to promote Christianity and find their mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who abandoned religion after being tortured.

“Being raised an Irish Catholic, the subject of faith and Catholicism struck very close to home,” Neeson told Pop Goes The News last November.

“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.”

Liam Neeson in a scene from ‘Silence.’ | Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Sipping hot tea under a gazebo at the Las Ventanas al Paraíso resort in Mexico, the 64-year-old actor reflected on the physical transformations he and his co-stars underwent at the request of Scorsese.

“He wanted us all to look a bit more gaunt,” explained Neeson, who said he dropped 20 pounds.

“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.

“Martin requires this commitment and I think it pays off.”

Neeson had nothing but praise for his young co-stars.

“Their commitment and their intensity and their concentration is quite phenomenal,” he said.

“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.”

Andrew Garfield, left, in a scene from ‘Silence.’ | Courtesy Paramount Pictures

Though set in Japan, Silence was filmed during the first four months of 2015 in Taipei, Taiwan.

On the morning of April 20, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake rocked the country — followed by a magnitude 5.0 aftershock.

Neeson described it as “probably the most terrifying moment of my life.”

The actor said he was in his 15th floor hotel room when the shaking started.

“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,” recalled Neeson.

“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.”

Liam Neeson, pictured in Los Cabos, Mexico in November 2015. | John R. Kennedy photo

Neeson didn’t have much time to calm his nerves. Three days later, while in his hotel room, an air raid siren began wailing.

“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.’”

Silence is getting a limited release just in time for Oscar consideration — and will go wide next month.

Neeson said it’s the kind of historical drama that should be seen in cinemas.

“People still want to go into a darkened room, sit there with popcorn and complete strangers. I still think people love to do that,” he said.

“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.”