'We were taken by surprise by film's success'
Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen
Director: Olivier Megaton
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What's it about? Former CIA hardman and the world's post protective father Bryan Mills tales on Albanian gangsters. Again.
Verdict: More of the same.
I t's hard not to find yourself taken with Liam Neeson, even when he's running an hour late. He strides into the room, chewing a cocktail stick between his teeth, with a jovial grin and a twinkle in his sparkling blue eyes and all is forgiven.
Neeson returns in his latest film Taken 2 as Bryan Mills, a protective father who just happens to be a retired CIA agent with a "very particular set of skills".
The 60-year-old actor has played, as he says himself "Michael Collins, Schindler, Zeus and a Jedi", but he was surprised to find himself playing Bryan again.
Since the success of Taken – one of the most successful French-made films ever released in the US – Neeson has found a resurgence in his career, and fans have been crying out for a sequel.
Having won legions of admirers through his roles in films such as Schindler's List and Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and capturing women's hearts as a grieving widow in Love Actually, now Neeson is an action hero.
But the Irish actor admits, despite his admiration for screenwriter Luc Besson, he never even expected the first film to be such a hit.
"We were all pleasantly surprised," he says in his husky tones, nodding thoughtfully.
After the film was released in France to an average reception, Neeson thought he'd heard the last of it. He reveals his nephews rang him up and told him they'd downloaded it on the internet.
"I remember thinking, well that's the end of that, it's finished ... It will disappear into DVD land," he explains.
But the movie was released in America and the UK in 2009 and was an instant smash hit.
Since his first big-screen role playing Jesus Christ in Pilgrim's Progress in 1977, Neeson has had a prolific acting career, making more than 70 films – six in the last year alone.
Tragically widowed when wife Natasha Richardson was killed in a skiing accident in 2009, the actor was left to bring up their two young sons in New York.
He also threw himself into work, but says it was the idea of a trip to Paris that first attracted him to Taken.
"There was something about the story that was dead simple, plus there was a chance to do all this physical stuff, which I loved doing, you know. And it was three months in Paris, which isn't too shabby," he adds, chuckling.
Taken fans have been begging for a sequel ever since, but Neeson says it took time for him to come around to the idea.
"They proposed a couple of ideas a few years ago and I thought they were silly," he admits, sighing.
Then he got the script set in Istanbul, with Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen returning more prominently as Bryan's daughter and ex-wife, and Neeson was finally convinced.
Once again, another exotic location was part of the attraction. But filming car chases, shoot-outs and explosions in the narrow, winding streets of Istanbul was quite a challenge.
"It's an extraordinary city," he says, "but a lot of the streets we shot in are thousands of years old with shops on either side and merchants selling their wares. You're doing a car chase at 70mph and people are saying, 'No, no, no, I'm not closing my shop. You do your movie and I sell my wares'.
"So there's people crossing the road all the time!" Neeson recalls.
"Nobody was hurt," he adds earnestly, "but it added an exoticism to the film."
Being cast as an action hero when you're 60 is not as easy as Neeson makes it look. With the success of other films such as The Expendables meaning ageing action stars are dominating the box office, is 60 the new 20?
"60 is the new 40, that's for sure," he says, smiling.
"I keep pretty fit in life as a rule. You have to these days, right? And for this sort of stuff, sure there's a few more push-ups and sit-ups you have to do in the morning."
But despite meticulous fight training, he didn't stroll away from the set completely unscathed.
"It starts to hurt," he admits.
"The knees creak a little bit more these days."
Taken 2 is on general release now.