8 Surprising Facts About Liam Neeson

James Mooney, TIFF/Getty Images
James Mooney, TIFF/Getty Images / James Mooney, TIFF/Getty Images

Liam Neeson's career trajectory has been fascinating to watch. The star of prestige dramas like 1993’s Schindler’s List and 1995’s Rob Roy took a sharp left turn with 2008’s Taken, in which he portrayed Bryan Mills, an intelligence operative who uses his “particular set of skills” to find his missing daughter. That led to a renaissance of sorts for the actor, who lent his formidable presence to a series of action dramas.

His latest film, Honest Thief, maintains Neeson’s recent revival as an action hero, one the 68-year-old has no immediate plans to stop. For more on Liam Neeson's movies, his boxing past, and his nervous run-in with Queen Elizabeth II, keep reading.

1. Liam Neeson was an amateur boxer.

Liam Neeson in Honest Thief (2020).
Liam Neeson in Honest Thief (2020). / Briarcliff Entertainment

Born on June 7, 1952 in Ballymena, Northern Ireland, William Neeson originally had his eyes set on pugilism, not acting. In 2014, Neeson recalled being 9 years old and attending Sunday Mass when his parish priest, Father Darragh, announced he was starting up a youth boxing club. “He had two ropy pairs of ratty, old, ancient boxing gloves and a book on how to box,” Neeson told HuffPost. “He started at page 1 and we learned how to throw a left jab and did all that and then six years later—I say this very, very proudly—he guided our club to become one of the best clubs in Ireland. I made some very dear friends, and still have some very dear friends from the boxing years.” Neeson described his skill level as “competent” but eased out of serious training at age 17 to pursue his acting ambitions.

2. Liam Neeson drove a forklift for the Guinness beer company.

In 1971, Liam Neeson began attending Queen’s University Belfast as an undergraduate in physics and computer science while appearing in college plays. Neeson then left school to work a variety of odd jobs, including one as a forklift truck driver for the Guinness beer company. There, a senior driver told him he could be the next Roy Rogers, referring to the famous star of Westerns. Neeson didn’t think the comparison was apt but continued to act. In 2009, he received an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University.

3. Liam Neeson appeared on Miami Vice.

After appearing on stage in Ireland in the 1970s, Neeson was able to score some notable roles in Hollywood, including in films like 1981’s Excalibur and 1984’s The Bounty, which co-starred Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson. He also appeared in 1986’s The Mission with Robert De Niro. That friendship with De Niro landed him a role in a 1986 episode of Miami Vice. De Niro introduced Neeson to a casting agent named Bonnie Zimmerman, who got him a part as IRA terrorist Sean Carroon in the series. He’s shot by cops Sonny Crockett (Don Johnson) and Gina Calabrese (Saundra Santiago).

4. Liam Neeson lost a role in The Princess Bride to André the Giant.

With his Hollywood career just getting off the ground, Neeson campaigned for the part of gentle giant Fezzik in 1987’s The Princess Bride, based on the William Goldman novel of the same name. Despite Neeson’s towering 6-foot, 4-inch frame, he was deemed too short for the part by director Rob Reiner. The role went to professional wrestler André the Giant.

5. Liam Neeson got upset with his nephews for downloading Taken.

Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills in Taken (2008).
Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills in Taken (2008). / 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Neeson’s reinvention as an action hero began with 2008’s Taken, a riveting chase thriller written by Robert Mark Kamen (1984’s The Karate Kid) and directed by Luc Besson (1994’s Léon: The Professional). Neeson sold Besson on his acting chops by telling the director that he had “done quite a few sorcery movies with swords and sh-t.” Besson hired him, but Neeson considered it more of a fun job than anything that might be a hit. He even felt it might go directly to video.

That concern was amplified when his nephews told him they had downloaded the movie on the internet. “So I thought, ‘My nephews are breaking the law,’ which really pissed me off, and also I thought, ‘Well, that’s it,’” he told Entertainment Weekly in 2020. “’If you can download it, it’s gone into the ether.’” Of course, Taken was a major theatrical hit that led to two sequels.

6. Liam Neeson believes a horse remembered him from a previous film.

While shooting the 2018 Coen Brothers film The Ballad of Buster Scruggs in New Mexico, Neeson said he encountered a horse on the set who he recognized from a previous film—and apparently, the horse also recognized him. “You won’t believe it,” he told The New York Post. “I’m saying this horse knew me. He actually remembered me from another Western we made a while back. I love animals. When we worked together before I took special care of him. I fed him treats. Gave him apples.” Neeson said the horse whinnied and pawed the ground at the sight of the actor.

7. Liam Neeson enjoys fly-fishing.

Liam Neeson stars alongside his son Michaél Richardson in Made In Italy (2020).
Liam Neeson stars alongside his son Michaél Richardson in Made In Italy (2020). / Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films Release.

The actor is a fly-fishing enthusiast and often travels to Wyoming and other locations to catch fish. He even appeared on the television series Fly Fishing the World with host Conway Bowman.

8. Liam Neeson once trembled with fear while meeting the Queen.

In 1999, Neeson was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his dramatic work on stage and film. He didn’t collect it for over two years, however, and said he was “weak-kneed” upon meeting the Queen for the recognition in 2002. After telling her he believed the honor was for his work both in the theater and movies, he awaited her response. “That’s nice,” she said.