In the latest action movie “Memory,” which opens April 29, Liam Neeson plays a deadly killer facing his toughest battle: the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
As his character copes with cognitive impairment as a hitman, the 69-year-old star has been on his mind Bruce Willis since his fellow flick, suffering from aphasia, recently retired from acting.
“My heart goes out to him. I think about him every day,” Neeson told The Post, noting that aphasia — which affects ability to express and understand language — is particularly harsh for an actor like Willis. “He’s particularly touching, isn’t he? I wish him all the best.”
But even as the Irish icon prepares to turn 70 in June, Neeson has no plans to slow down. In fact, he has refuted reports that he is going to retire from action movies.
“That was a joke,” he said. “It was at the Toronto Film Festival a few years ago…a foreign paper in Hollywood said, ‘Liam, what’s wrong with you and what are these movement moves?'” I said: I was stubborn… [but] I’ve had enough action movies. But I meant it as a joke.”
However, playing Alex Lewis in “Memory” – played by actors Jay Pearce and Monica Bellucci – made Neeson face the harsh realities some face as they age, including the loss of mental abilities. In fact, this well-known strongman admits to his fear of Alzheimer’s disease.
“It’s crossed my mind a few times,” he said, “especially when you can’t remember the name of an actor you worked with two or three years ago.” “It bothers me. But maybe we all suffer from it.
“While doing some research on this topic, I watched some very distressing documentaries about Alzheimer’s and dementia, and of course read some books about it. I have a friend in Ireland who is older than me, [who] He suffers from early stages of dementia, which is painful to see… It is a horrible affliction. It really is.”
And for an actor, remembering the lines is perhaps the most important tool in the trade. “I know several actors in London … who have lost the ability to learn the lines,” Neeson said. “They just cannot learn the material. These are actors who have given extraordinary performances on stage, in cinema and on television.”
One thing Neeson definitely hasn’t forgotten, though, is how he kicks his ass on screen. He’s been doing so ever since he landed the role of ex-CIA agent Brian Mills in 2009’s “Taken” thanks to a serendipitous encounter with director Luc Besson at the Shanghai Film Festival.
“I approached him and said, ‘When I was a kid, I was an amateur boxer,’ Neeson said, ‘I’d like to be in a movie where I have to hit some guys or get beaten up.'” They eventually offered me the word ‘taken,’ and I thought, ‘That’s cool. I’m going to stay in Paris for three months, and we’ll work…with these funny guys, choreographers and more. And then you’ll go straight to the video.”
But the sleepy box office success of “Taken” led to two movie sequels (in 2012 and 2015) and turned Neeson into a fun action star. Now, though, he’d like to flip the script and do a romantic comedy. He said, “I love it.” “Yes, that would be great.”
Of course, Neeson co-starred in the beloved rom-com “Love Actually” in 2003, and the movie still holds a special place in his heart. “You know, sometimes I’m scrolling through the channels at 2 a.m., and ‘Love Actually’ starts, and… you hear Hugh Grant talk about recent messages from people [in the planes that hit] The twin towers. And all the letters were love letters. I challenge anyone to switch channels when they hear that. I really.”
In 2009, Neeson’s real-life relationship with actress wife Natasha Richardson came to a tragic end when she died of a brain injury in a skiing accident. And after 13 years, the widower does not believe that he will marry again. “No, I think I’ll be alone,” he said wistfully.
There’s no doubt Neeson will celebrate Richardson’s memory with his two sons — Michel, 26, and Daniel, 25 — when he turns 70 on June 7. Hussam, it’s just a number, “This will be it!”