Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Liam Neeson's flying visit home with US camera crew in tow as actor's life and times focus of documentary

Liam Neeson  at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast
Liam Neeson at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast

Hollywood superstar Liam Neeson returned to his native Ballymena this week for a US documentary about the Ulster actor's life.

Spending just a few days in Northern Ireland, the action hero also travelled to Belfast, visiting places and people that played a key role as he grew up.

It is understood the documentary involving US journalist Anderson Cooper will be part of the well-known 60 Minutes programme.

The Oscar-nominated actor, known for his roles in blockbusters such as Schindler's List and Taken, started out in Ballymena performing pantomimes with the Slemish Players.

And this week Neeson also returned to the All Saints Boxing Club in the Co Antrim town, where he learned the Noble Art as a boy.

Neeson, whose wife Natasha Richardson died in 2009 following a skiing accident, had a high profile return to his home town last year when he received the freedom of the borough.

His arrival this week sparked a Twitter frenzy, with users expressing their delight.

One woman tweeted: "Just out of work and see Liam Neeson walking down the street. Who needs to go to Hollywood when you can spot the stars in Ballymena?"

Yesterday the 6ft 4in star spent time at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast, where he trod the boards in the 1970s.

The 61-year-old former member of the Lyric Players spent time chatting to a new generation of actors who will performing in the Brian Friel play, Philadelphia, Here I Come.

Neeson met cast member Gavin Drea (23), who plays the role of Gar Private, a part the Hollywood star performed nearly 40 years ago. Dublin-born Gavin admitted to feeling slightly intimidated when he found out he would be meeting one of his acting idols.

"The day before, we had a tour of the theatre and it was intimidating enough to see the photographs of Liam Neeson on the walls.

"So, to then come face-to-face with him was even more of a frightening experience!" he said.

"You could tell he still has passion for the play, as he was able to quote back the script.

"But he was just fantastic, and I know he was probably on a tight schedule, but (he) made time for everyone."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, the actor said he had enjoyed his time back at home – albeit a brief visit.

"It has been fantastic, but it was just too short," he said. He added that among the highlights of his visit was time with his family, including his mother Kitty, in Ballymena

"Being at the Lyric and seeing my family (were highlights), but you know, it is just too quick.

"I have to fly back to the States tonight."

He also said he enjoyed meeting the actors in Philadelphia, Here I Come.

"It was terrific. They are doing Philadelphia, which is a brilliant, brilliant play.

"We did it here in 1976, I believe.

"It is great to meet the young cast... they won't ever be as good as me, of course!" he joked.

BACKGROUND

Oscar-nominated Liam Neeson is best known for Schindler's List, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (below), Batman Begins (top), Michael Collins and Taken.

The Ballymena man began boxing lessons at the All Saints Youth Club and later became Ulster amateur senior boxing champion.

His English teacher offered him the lead role in a school play when he was 11 years old.

Before becoming an actor the father of two worked as a fork-lift operator and truck driver.

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