In Unknown, he had him plunging into a freezing river. In Non-Stop, it was a seat on the worst domestic flight since Die Hard 2. As Empire discovered on set in New York, Jaume Collet-Serra's next attempt to ruin Liam Neeson's day involves sending him crashing through a burning building in Mob action-thriller Run All Night.
Winter, 2013, and almost a year to the day after visiting the Non-Stop set, Empire is back at a very similar warehouse location in New York, watching the same actor put through his exhausting paces by the same director. Run All Night is the third collaboration between Jaume Collet-Serra and Liam Neeson, following the aforementioned plane-bound murder mystery and 2011’s Unknown. “I can only work with Liam Neeson now,” Collet-Serra deadpans. “It’s in my contract.”
Last time, we watched Neeson dragged backwards down the aisle of a jumbo jet. Today, he’s clambering around the outside of an apartment building, the façade and one interior of which have been built in a Long Island storage space. It’s a freezing November day, but it’s actually colder inside than out. Not for long though: having leapt from a few balconies, Neeson will this afternoon be enduring a fist-fight with the erstwhile rapper (and recent Oscars star) Common while the building burns around him. Stunt coordinator Doug Coleman is looking forward to the blaze. “The embers will be flying and the danger factor goes up!” he enthuses. “The fight starts in a smoky room and then they crash through a wall into an inferno. Usually you’d take it outside or onto a balcony or something, but doing something that you’ve seen less often is always fun.” Neeson and his cohorts have been doing most of their own stunts. But it’s okay: the insurers know.
Liam Neeson's jaded ex-hitman Jimmy Conlon takes on the might of the Mob. As the movie's title suggests, there were plenty of long (and dreaded) night shoots involved during filming.
Run All Night, from what we’re seeing and hearing, looks to be more akin to A History Of Violence than the more throwaway likes of Taken. It's an impression reinforced by Ed Harris's presence on the cast list. He plays the head of a crime syndicate and a close friend of Neeson’s ageing hitman. But when Neeson’s son, played by Joel Kinnaman, crosses the Mob and earns himself a death sentence, Neeson goes to bat for his boy in defiance of his employers, prompting the titular after-hours chase across the city. Harris, says Collet-Serra, “can be very likeable while at the same time being very intense and very mean. That’s a perfect juxtaposition to Liam.”
After Non-Stop's enclosed antics, there's a palpable sense of relief to be out and about again. “I don’t think I could do many single-set movies,” the director tells Empire. “Locations have their disadvantages, in that when you’re moving every day you have that pressure to get everything finished before you leave. But moving around is more inspiring, and it’s more fun in pre-production to travel around searching for your movie. Pre-production on Non-Stop was, like, a week: ‘Okay, that’s the plane, that’s it!’”
Above us, Neeson darts around a corner and ducks over a balcony as Common aims a laser-sighted pistol at him. In truth, this is all happening not far above the ground, but it will appear to be 15-storeys up once post-production is complete. “We shot the location parts of this scene last week,” Collet-Serra explains, "and it was very tough, very cold and tiring. We had to light five buildings and the stunt guys had to jump from balcony to balcony, and it was 4am and freezing temperatures and we had all the cranes and the wind was blowing lights away.”
Up against Neeson's ageing bull is Oscars hero Common, a mysterious threat known as Mr. Price
Even interiors have generally offered little relief over the seven weeks of night shooting. “Obviously New York is not known for big apartments,” the director chuckles, “which causes problems when you’ve got two big guys like Liam and Joel and then another 20 crew guys in there with anamorphic lenses with a three-foot focus. We’ve literally been making holes in the walls trying to stick the camera anywhere. The experience in the plane was very helpful for that! But at least I could open the plane. In the real locations it’s not so easy. There are a lot of scenes in this movie that happen in kitchens and bathrooms for some reason. That’s a mistake I will not make again...”
Run All Night is out in the UK on March 13