Liam Neeson managed to get through promotional rounds for several films without discussing his late wife. Natasha Richardson died in March of 2009, and since then, Liam has promoted a half-dozen films, and only now, in the March cover story of Esquire, is Liam addressing Natasha’s death in any detail. The full Esquire piece is worth a read – Liam is an interesting interview beyond his grief, and the story is one of the better-written Esquire pieces I’ve read in a while. He’s promoting Unknown, the action/thriller/suspense with Adian Quinn, January Jones and Diane Kruger. Before I get to the Natasha stuff, here are two interesting excerpts that I liked:
On consenting to a television interview during a Knicks game: “I had to do it, Tom, because they gave me those tickets,” he says. “Because, well, you just get nothing for nothing, right?” Neeson speaks with more brogue than you’d expect, and somehow less, so that the same word — nothing — sounds both hissed and sung in the same sentence. “And before we go on the air, the woman says to me, ‘I’m going to throw you a question, something like, “Mr. Neeson, if Star Wars is on one channel and Schindler’s List is on the other, which one do you watch?”‘ And oh, but that gets me started. I mean, I start to tell her, one represents six million people, six million lives, the other is just, just …” — and here he climbs the word as he says it — “fantasy! But then my boy steps in and — he’s so smart — says, ‘Excuse me, ma’am. Why don’t you say Star Wars on one channel and Taken on the other?’ That’s what made me happy. And I looked that way, because right before I went on, my son, he can see I’m still aggravated, so he just steps up to me and says, ‘Smile, Dad, smile.’ And that’s my bonny boy. His mother just shines through him at moments like that.”
He has a dog: “It’s Natasha’s dog. A tiny, tiny little poodle. And I don’t like walking it. I don’t want my picture taken walking in the park with her poodle. Too dramatic, too sad. It’s her dog. Hers. And people know that. So …” he says, raising an eyebrow here impossibly high. “It’s a thing for me just now,” he says, ticking out a small dark laugh. “We have a farm upstate,” he says, leaning forward a bit, picking up his wineglass without the least bit of theater or pretense. “The thing nobody knows is, that dog and I are like this.” He knits his fingers. “She knows. She knows. I mean she knows. As soon as we’re out of the city, she’s up in the front seat of the car, up in my lap, and she never leaves my side. She waits, Tom. I swear it. And we’re all over that farm, this little poodle and me. Everywhere. She’s like a working dog up there. She’s given herself over completely. She’s just a damned good dog.” And this is the moment — late in the meal, late in the afternoon — when Neeson looks like what he is, what Richardson herself was: an ex-smoker. He is a man in deep need of a timely terminal exhale to punctuate this story, to separate himself from the next thing he says, now thrice repeated. “That’s why it’s a thing for me just now.”
The thought of Liam and Natasha’s dog bonding in the country is… extraordinarily moving. At some point, Liam and the interviewer discuss Liam’s near-death experience in 2000, when Liam crashed his motorcycle and Natasha had to rush to the hospital because the doctors told her Liam wouldn’t make it. He tells a bittersweet story about fighting with her at the hospital at that time, saying that if she thought he was going to die, she should have gotten him a priest. And then… he opens up about her death. Here is the Liam talking about Natasha, with minimal edits:
“I’d been to Montreal maybe twice before. And for some reason, I thought the city’s this size.” He holds his hands out in front of him then, cupped like he is drinking water.
“I thought that it was this little comfortable little city,” he says. “And for some reason, I thought the hospital that I was in a taxi racing toward was gonna be a nice little hospital, about twice the size of this restaurant. But it was this huge, glassy, black place. A Dickensian place, Tom.
“I walked into the emergency — it’s like seventy, eighty people, broken arms, black eyes, all that — and for the first time in years, nobody recognizes me. Not the nurses. The patients. No one. And I’ve come all this way, and they won’t let me see her. And I’m looking past them, starting to push — I’m like, F*, I know my wife’s back there someplace. I pull out a cell phone — and a security guard comes up, starts saying, ‘Sorry, sir, you can’t use that in here,’ and I’m about to ask him if he knew me, when he disappears to answer a phone call or something. So I went outside. It’s freezing cold, and I thought, What am I gonna do? How am I going to get past the security?
“And I see two nurses, ladies, having a cigarette. I walk up, and luckily one of them recognizes me. And I’ll tell you, I was so f’ing grateful — for the first time in I don’t know how long — to be recognized. And this one, she says, ‘Go in that back door there.’ She points me to it. ‘Make a left. She’s in a room there.’ So I get there, just in time. And all these young doctors, who look all of eighteen years of age, they tell me the worst.” He purses his lips, mouth dry. “The worst.”
This is the point where he stops again. He blinks back tears, takes a long look at the table across from us, where members of Natasha Richardson’s extended family are, coincidentally, having lunch in this same restaurant. (He and Natasha, this was their place, so it’s only a mild coincidence.) I wait. Again, I tell him how sorry I am. Neeson nods.
He went back to shooting Chloe, after the funeral. “I just think I was still in a bit of shock,” he says. “But it’s kind of a no-brainer to go back to that work. It’s a wee bit of a blur, but I know the tragedy hadn’t just really smacked me yet.”
Now the no-brainer is staying with the work, the good work, as it piles up on him. “I think I survived by running away some. Running away to work. Listen, I know how old I am and that I’m just a shoulder injury from losing roles like the one in Taken. So I stay with the training, I stay with the work. It’s easy enough to plan jobs, to plan a lot of work. That’s effective. But that’s the weird thing about grief. You can’t prepare for it. You think you’re gonna cry and get it over with. You make those plans, but they never work.
“It hits you in the middle of the night — well, it hits me in the middle of the night. I’m out walking. I’m feeling quite content. And it’s like suddenly, boom. It’s like you’ve just done that in your chest.” Here Neeson reaches out and twists both hands in opposite directions, like he’s corkscrewing two ends of a soda can, reaches toward me so it’s clear: This is in his chest. He shakes his head at the thought of this one thing, this single hideous bead on the necklace of his life. He speaks as if he were regarding its cruelty anew, though this too cannot be. He’s too smart to feel singled out by what happened to his wife. Her death, with its painfully curious timeline — the simple fall, her apparent clearheadedness, followed by the swift, merciless brain hemorrhage? Brutal and extraordinary. Neeson’s experience at the hospital — the mix-up at reception, the chaos of the ER, the arrival of the security guard? Vivid and, at the same time, banal. Just another hospital story; everyone has them. This doesn’t mean they don’t hurt. When he says, “It’s just extraordinary,” Neeson is referring to the persistent depth of pain, the ruinous visitations of grief, even now, two years later. That stuff is all his very own.
Oh, God. I just… I want to comfort him. I want to give him a big hug. That’s all I really have to say.
Photos courtesy of Esquire.
Written by Kaiser
Posted in Liam Neeson
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