We’re still a long way from awards season, but Irish acting legend Liam Neeson is already tipped to pick up his first ever Oscar for upcoming blockbuster "Silence."
The Martin Scorcese film is set to be released in November or December, just in time to be eligible for the 2017 Oscars, and there is speculation that this could be the Count Antrim native’s best shot yet at bringing home a golden statue.
As well as bringing his very special set of skills to the film, Neeson, 64, caused fans some concern when he was pictured in Taiwan, where the film was shot, looking extremely thin and gaunt, a look that was required for this role, it was later revealed.
One of Hollywood’s most respected actors, Neeson must hope the the sacrifices will now bring him acting’s highest accolade.
The "Taken" star came extremely close 1994, when he was nominated for Best Actor for playing the main role in critically-acclaimed "Schindler's List." Neeson played the role of World War II German industrialist Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of over 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust. On the big night, however, he lost out to Tom Hanks for his role in "Philadelphia."
Also starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, and Belfast’s Ciarán Hinds, "Silence" is a historical drama based on the novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo.
Neeson plays mentor Fr. Cristóvão Ferreira in the film, which is based on the violent persecution endured by two Portuguese Jesuit priests in 17th century Japan. F.r Sebastião Rodrigues and Fr. Francisco Garrpe, played by Garfield and Driver, travel to Japan to find their mentor (Neeson) despite the ban on Christianity and almost all foreign contact. The two witness the persecution of Japanese Christians under the feudal Japanese military government Tokugawa shogunate, which wishes to purge Japan of all western influence.
With its strong religious themes, it was believed the release might have been postponed until January so as not to compete with the wave of feel-good films that crop up in the weeks leading up to the holidays, but producer Irwin Winkler has confirmed it will be in cinemas by the end of the year.
Neeson has previously commented that the general question of the film is “Is there a God?” as the priests question his silence during the pain suffered by the Japanese Christians, while the actor was himself attracted to the project because of this his own Catholic upbringing in Northern Ireland.
Born a Catholic in Ballymena, an overwhelmingly Protestant town, the Irish actor admits that when he was 13-years-old he used to sneak into the church hall of Dr. Ian Paisley, the Protestant fundamentalist preacher and unionist leader, to hear him preach. Neeson was captivated by Paisley's style and command of the audience. It helped convince the young Neeson to go into acting.
Neeson lost 20 pounds to play the Jesuit missionary. Neeson explained to the audience at Los Cabos Film Festival last year, “Martin requires a lot of commitment.” All of the main actors are believed to have taken a pay cut in order to allow Scorsese to finally make the film he first floated back in 2002 when he had finished making "Gangs of New York," which also featured Neeson as a priest.
Looking back on Neeson’s career, it seems impossible he hasn’t picked up the accolade already. If you need a reminder of some of his best roles, you can find our top ten here.H/T: Goss.ie