As I settled into my chair at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, in walks #LiamNeeson to discuss his role in the drama fantasy film, A Monster Calls. I guesstimate he's about 6'3, 200 pounds, as he towers over everyone in the room. "Good afternoon everyone," he says in his soft, yet husky Irish accent. The press waste no time getting into the topic at hand. Everyone wants to know about his role as the Monster and what it was like working with director J.A. Bayona in a CGI environment.
"The computer guys have this space they call 'the Volume.' At any given time there are 70 cameras surrounding me, and 70 cameras above me. I'm standing there in a onesie with ping pong balls attached to me, and the computer nerds have it all connected to sensors giving me digital makeup. It sounds totally ridiculous, you know."
Having garnered a hands-on action career in the last decade, it's understandable why he was taken aback by all of the technology.
"This situation was a new experience for me. I was acting with either a puppet or a small doll to get the scale and perspective right. Actor Lewis Macdougal who plays Conor is always off camera, and the computer and the sound guys would add to the scenery as they saw fit."
What’s refreshing is that the use of CGI is minimal but well utilized. The Monster is jarring to look at, and a bit creepy, but also endearing and protective of the main character Conor. The idea of protection is what kept Neeson on his toes. He knew whoever J.A. Bayona cast as the lead character had to be someone of quality.
"I knew who-whoever he was gonna pick for A Monster Calls was gonna be a special boy," he said.
"Part of me was intrigued to see who this kid would be. Bayona picked Lewis --I mean, Shakespeare's Hamlet doesn't go through the gamut of emotions this kid has to-- and Lewis is f**king fantastic. He did take after take, for this motion capture thing. He and I were mostly separated, but he didn't need me. He was always there giving it his all." Terrific, really terrific acting from Lewis."
Neeson is right. Conor does go through a variety of emotions: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. He understands that the film is a rollercoaster ride of emotions and is also the hallmark of Patrick Ness's story.
"Emotions are the cornerstone for Patrick's script. Each day I read the scenes and thought, okay, today's gonna be a very emotional day. I would also think about how Lewis is gonna react to this? But, we kind of took each moment as it came."
There are a lot of unexpected moments in the film. Most important is the idea that everyone has learned something from the experience. Dealing with the death of a loved one and gaining perspective on how to deal with tragedy is another major goal of the film. When asked if he thought Conor's character learns any specific lessons, Neeson was quick to point out that children are smarter than we give them credit for. He explains:
"He [Conor] is certainly taught to recognize the complexity of the emotional life of a human being. He is going through something that you don't want to inflict on any child. The closest relationship you have is with your Mom. She's dying, you know she's dying, but no one wants to be honest with you about it. This is part of his anger. All the adults are treating him as a kid because they assume he doesn't understand. Children are smarter than that."
Bravery can be the defense mechanism that buffers the immediate response to losing someone. Conor deflects from his vulnerable core, redirecting until he’s expressing anger instead. This anger is common and can be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. This is what A Monster Calls is about, how to come to terms with death and accepting that it is a part of life. Neeson is a big fan of the film. The book and film left a lasting impression on him.
"It's a lovely film, isn't it? And it's very entertaining and emotional. I remember the book was a very, very quick read but it kept coming up and biting me in the back of the head again. I'd keep reaching for it, you know, there's a wonderful essence on it,"
He says smiling.
What did you think to A Monster Calls?