Liam Neeson: 'Nervous' about working with Olivia Wilde
05:00 AM, Sep 11, 2013
TORONTO In Third Person, writer/director Paul Haggis returns to a familiar story structure, using the multiple-storyline format that won him Oscars for 2004’s Crash. But this time it’s love that’s on his mind, and how the heart can be twisted, won and shattered.
The director chose Toronto’s Elgin Theater, the same spot he first brought Crash, for his new film’s festival debut.
“I love the experience of bringing it here. Audiences tend to be honest here,” says Haggis, sitting down at a quiet table at the Fairmont York Hotel with Third Person star Liam Neeson, who twirls a toothpick in his hand as he speaks. “I like people telling me the truth. And this is a tough film. I wanted to do a film where people have to walk out onto the street and argue afterwards.”
Third Person is star-packed. Adrien Brody plays Sean, an American businessman enchanted by a Romanian gypsy (Moran Atias) on a mission to rescue her daughter; Mila Kunis plays Julia, an actress-turned-hotel maid desperately seeking custody from her artist ex (James Franco) after endangering her son. And Olivia Wilde appears as a Anna, a cunning young wild card, the mistress of respected, if floundering, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael (played by Neeson).
Neeson signed on first to Third Person, followed by Wilde. Her role is the most audacious in Haggis’ new world; bold and erratic, she and Michael betray and tease each other casually. In one scene, she disrobes saucily at her lover’s hotel door. Michael raises the ante, grabbing her robe and slamming the door in her face.
The grin-inducing streaking scene that follows was called “anthology worthy” by The Hollywood Reporter at the fest.
“The first thing I said to her is ‘Olivia, you’re in my movie and you’re going to have to be butt naked.’ And she went ‘OK, I can do that,’ ” says Haggis.
“She’s such a competent actress in so many ways that sometimes her beauty gets in the way, do you know what I mean?” says Neeson. “After Paul cast us she came up to visit me in my apartment in New Nork and I was so (expletive) nervous. I’m a heterosexual guy, there’s something about a beautiful woman that makes me feel like a three-legged stool. She’s talking about the character and I’m looking at her thinking, ‘You are unbelievably beautiful.’ “
He grins ruefully. “But you can’t say that because I don’t want to embarrass her. I tried to (use that) while I was playing it: This girl, what does she see in me?”
Now, there’s the business of selling the weaving tale. Haggis says he feels no pressure to leave the festival with a distribution plan in place. Thanks to full funding from a private investor, “We don’t have this bank note hanging over our head. We can take our time with this. If we decide we’ve have found the right partner this week, great,” he says. “If we don’t, that’s OK too.”