Liam Neeson ‘Retribution’ action hero role latest in storied career marked by love and loss

Liam Neeson is starring in the new thriller “Retribution” — his latest in a long string of action hero roles.

The 71-year-old actor plays workaholic bank executive Matt Turner, who is driving his children to school when he is informed by an unknown caller that a bomb is strapped to the bottom of his car seat.

Neeson’s character is told that if he and his children attempt to exit the vehicle or call the police, the bomb will be detonated. The unidentified individual says he must comply with a series of demands to save himself and his family.

During a June appearance on the podcast “Conan O’Brien Has No Friends,” Neeson detailed his process when reading scripts to choose his next role.

“I have a cup-of-tea test. If I get to page five and I think I’ll make a cup of tea, that means it’s not great,” the actor explained, before he went on to describe “Retribution” as a “great page-turner.”


“Retribution” director Nimród Antal told MovieWeb he was thrilled to work with Neeson. “The opportunity to work with Liam Neeson was hyper appealing to me. He is a king of his craft.”

He continued, “I just thought it would be a really cool experience. I was lucky enough to have that confirmed.”

After starring in the hit 2008 action thriller “Taken,” Neeson reinvented himself as an unlikely action hero at the age of 56.

In an 2022 interview with AARP, Neeson explained that the violence he witnessed throughout his childhood may have influenced the roles he chose after becoming an actor.

“It’s kind of a post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t know if it has scarred me, but it has definitely formed something of my character,” he said.

“Maybe even when I play these violent roles, I’m trying to bring some quality of redemption or justice.”

The “Marlowe” star was raised in Northern Ireland during the era known as the Troubles, a violent conflict between Catholics and Protestants over religious and political disputes that lasted three decades.

Neeson recalled losing friends to the violence while he was competing as an amateur boxer from age of 9 to 17. “There’s guys I boxed with who died tragically during the Troubles in the north of Ireland. I remember them,” he told the outlet.

Prior to launching his acting career, Neeson worked as a forklift operator for Guinness Brewery and a lorry driver. He made his debut in theater before landing his first film role as Jesus Christ in the 1978 religious film “Pilgrim’s Progress.”

Neeson went on to appear in several films and television series including the 1981 medieval fantasy film “Excalibur,” which also starred Helen Mirren, Nigel Terry, Gabriel Byrne and Patrick Stewart.

After meeting on set, Neeson and Mirren began dating and lived together between 1980 and 1985.

“I should be so lucky and be honored to have spent three or four years with that lady,” Neeson said of Mirren in a February 2023 interview with ET Canada.

“She’s really something else,” he added. 

Mirren recalled her relationship with Neeson in a November 2022 cover interview with AARP The Magazine.

“We were not meant to be together in that way, but we loved each other very, very much,” the Oscar winner told the outlet. “I love him deeply to this day. He’s such an amazing guy.”

Neeson moved from London to Los Angeles in 1986 after landing a guest role in the mega-hit series “Miami Vice.” Though he went on to star in Woody Allen’s 1988 movie “Husbands and Wives” and 1992’s “Leap of Faith” and “Shining Through,” Neeson became discouraged after the films fizzled at the box office and was considering leaving Hollywood behind. 


However, Neeson’s star-making role came in 1994 when he was cast as Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning historical drama”Schindler’s List.” Spielberg cast Neeson after seeing him in the Broadway play “Agatha Christie,” which also starred the actor’s future wife Natasha Richardson.

Neeson earned an Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe Award nominations for his performance and cemented his status as a Hollywood A-Lister.

That same year, Neeson and Richardson fell in love on the set of “Agatha Christie,” though the actress was married at the time to producer Richard Fox. 

“It was not an easy time when I met Liam,” Richardson told the Daily News in 2009. “Working with him, what happened between us, and that becoming public knowledge in conjunction with my marriage falling apart, was kind of bad timing. So what can I say? Obviously I fell very much in love with him.”

At the time, Neeson had a well-known reputation as a “ladies man,” but Richardson said that did not bother her.

“I’m pleased that women fall in love with him, because I know why,” Richardson said.

The actor was previously in a relationship with Julia Roberts after they co-starred in 1987’s “Satisfaction,” when she was 19 and he was 35. He was also rumored to have dated Barbra Streisand, Janice Dickinson and the late Sinéad O’Connor.

In her 2014 memoir “There Was A Little Girl,” Brooke Shields revealed that Neeson proposed to her in 1992 and then left for Los Angeles to check on his house.

The “Pretty Baby” star wrote that she then “never heard from him again.”

“He was there one minute and gone the next. You know, I was shocked, I couldn’t believe it. Yeah. He was taken,” Shields told The Times, referring to his famous movie franchise.

However, Shields later told People magazine that she did see Neeson after that and he proposed again.

“He came back after the first time he left me and asked me to marry him again,” the actress said.

She continued, “This was before he started to do a play [“Anna Christie”]. And I said, ‘No, no, no, because knowing you, you’ll probably fall in love with your next leading lady and marry her, so I’m leaving myself out of this.’ And I was dead right.”

Neeson and Richardson married in 1994 and later welcomed sons Micheál Richardson, now 28, and Daniel Neeson, now 27.

After “Schindler’s List,” Neeson starred in a number of period drama including “Rob Roy,” “Les Misérables” and “Michael Collins,” the latter of which earned him a second Golden Globe nomination.


In 1999, Neeson played Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in the first film of the “Star Wars” prequel series “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and voiced cameo appearances in the 2002 sequel “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones,” the 2019 movie “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” and the tv shows “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Obi-Wan Kenobi” and “Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi.”

The actor earned a Tony Award nomination for his performance in the Broadway play “The Crucible” and starred a number of movies includingK-19: The Widowmaker” “Gangs of New York,” “Love Actually,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Batman Begins.”

Neeson earned his third Golden Globe nomination after playing sexologist Albert Kinsey in 2004’s “Kinsey.”

In 2008, Neeson’s career took an unexpected turn when he starred as retired CIA operative in the action movie “Taken.” In a 2023 interview with Indiewire, Neeson recalled attending the Shanghai Film Festival with Richardson where he approached “Taken” director Luc Besson about playing the movie’s lead.

“I was hoping to meet him and I did. I said, ‘Look, Luc, I’m sure I’m not on even your long list of people, but would you consider me?’” Neeson told the outlet.

After landing the part, Neeson spent three months filming in Paris. “I was in heaven. It was just a joy,” he said.

Though he said he believed that the movie would “go straight to video,” it became a worldwide hit and launched Neeson’s career as a bankable action star.

However, tragedy struck the following year when Richardson died unexpectedly after falling during a beginner’s ski lesson in Québec, Canada. Believing the fall was not serious, the actress refused medical attention twice. 

After her condition began to deteriorate, she was taken by ambulance to a Montreal trauma center where it was discovered that she had suffered an epidural hematoma, a condition in which bleeding occurs between the brain and the skull.

When Neeson arrived at the hospital, he was met with the devastating news that his wife was brain-dead. During a “60 Minutes” interview in 2014, Neeson recalled that he and Richardson had promised each other that they would “pull the plug” if there was ever a situation in which they could not live.

“I went in to her and told her I loved her,” he remembered. “[I] said, ‘Sweetie, you’re not coming back from this. You’ve banged your head. It’s — I don’t know if you can hear me, but that’s — this is what’s gone down. And we’re bringing ya back to New York. All your family and friends will come.’ And that was more or less it.”

Richardson died at the age of 45 two days later on May 18, 2009 at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

“There’s periods now in our New York residence when I hear the door opening, especially the first couple of years, she would always drop the keys in the — on the table. Say, ‘Hello?’” Neeson shared during the “60 Minutes” interview. 

“So anytime I hear that door opening I still think I’m gonna hear her, you know. And, then, it’s — grief’s like — it hits you. It’s like a wave. You just get this profound feeling of instability. You feel like a three-legged table. Just suddenly you just — the Earth isn’t stable anymore. And then it passes and becomes more infrequent, but I still get it sometimes.”


Following her death, Neeson plunged back into work which he later said was to distract himself from the grief of losing Richardson.

“I think I survived by running away some. Running away to work,” Neeson told Esquire in 2011. 

“That’s the weird thing about grief. You can’t prepare for it,” he added. “You think you’re gonna cry and get it over with. You make those plans, but they never work.” 

Neeson continued, “It hits you in the middle of the night — well, it hits me in the middle of the night. I’m out walking. I’m feeling quite content. And it’s like suddenly, boom. It’s like you’ve just done that in your chest.”

A year and a half after Richardson’s death, Neeson began dating British publicist Freya St Johnston, but the pair split in 2012 after two years together. Since then, Neeson has not been involved in a public relationship.

“They say the hardest thing in the world is losing someone you love,” Neeson wrote in a Facebook post in 2016. “My wife died unexpectedly. She brought me so much joy. She was my everything.”

Since Richardson’s death, Neeson has starred in over 40 films including “Taken 2 and “Taken 3” as well as 14 other action movies.

“It is fun to explore these kick-butt characters,” Neeson told Entertainment Weekly in 2011. 

“When I was in Hollywood in the ’80s, I was not that guy. I was never even considered for those types of roles. At that time, they had all these huge action stars like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Stallone. But it was always a genre I wanted to do but I never actively pursued it because I was nothing like those established guys… I started doing a few sword and sorcery movies so I could use a sword and a light saber. And it went from there really.”

In 2016, Neeson told reporters at the Toronto Film Festival that he planned to retire from the action genre. He later clarified in an interview with the New York Post that he was joking.

During an appearance on the “Today” show in 2022, Neeson marveled over continuing to receive offers for action hero roles as he ages.

“I turn 70 this year, so I’m still getting away with it,” he quipped.

In 2022 interview with the A.V. Club, Neeson reflected on the “joy” of acting in those types of films.

“I mean, it’s great to play these action heroes, fighting bad guys and all the rest of it. I think audiences vicariously live through you, through their heroes,” he said. 


In February, Neeson celebrated hitting the milestone of appearing in 100 movies. When asked during an interview with IndieWire what the milestone meant to him, the actor replied, “Two things, I guess: A, I’m certainly getting older and B, I’ve been incredibly lucky. That being said, I have created my own luck.”

After turning 71 in June, Neeson shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. He is slated to appear in seven upcoming movies, all within the thriller and action genres.

Though he has stayed busy with work, and 14 years have passed since Richardson’s death, Neeson recently shared that he feels their bond is as strong as ever.

During his June appearance on the “Conan Needs A Friend” podcast, the 60-year-old TV host apologized for mentioning a meeting that the two had shortly after Richardson passed away.

“No, it’s fine,” Neeson said. “We still talk every day, me and Natasha. Every day.”

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