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For Liam Neeson, watching firebrand Paisley preach was both terrifying and inspiring

By Nevin Farrell

Published 11/04/2016

Liam Neeson with fans outside the IFTA awards in Dublin on Saturday
Liam Neeson with fans outside the IFTA awards in Dublin on Saturday
Late Ian Paisley

Liam Neeson has revealed how he was awestruck by watching fellow Ballymena man Rev Ian Paisley preaching in a Gospel hall - a powerful pulpit performance that both terrified and inspired the young actor.

The 63-year-old star, who grew up in the Demesne estate in the Co Antrim town, said after watching 'The Big Man' (right) in action he thought to himself: "I'd love to be able to do that."

Neeson, in Dublin at the weekend to pick up a major acting award, said watching Paisley had an effect on him and made him think of performing... on a different kind of stage.

Said Neeson: "I went into a little gospel hall a couple of times to hear Ian Paisley preach.

"I just slipped in and - my gosh - what an orator he was. He'd put the fear of God in you.

"You could see this extraordinary performance, the charisma that he had. It was very powerful. It had an effect on me.

"At the Catholic church we tend to be a lot quieter. What reverend Ian was doing in those days was your old classic Bible thumping - fire and damnation. I remember thinking, 'I'd love to be able to do that."

In Dublin's Mansion House on Saturday night, Neeson received an Outstanding Contribution to Cinema award from Irish President Michael D Higgins at the Irish Film and Television Academy awards ceremony.

Speaking beforehand Neeson said receiving the award from his peers was "very humbling".

He added: "I am honoured and humbled to be recognised by the Irish Academy with this, especially when I am following in the footsteps of an illustrious group of Irish filmmakers before me."

Dressed head to toe in a black suit with a black shirt and black shoes, Neeson was a big hit on the red carpet on the way into the awards. He happily signed autographs for fans and posed for photos, even posing as movie tough guy Bryan Mills who Neeson plays in the blockbuster Taken series.

Neeson also told the Irish Times of his unusual preparation for the Michael Collins biopic, in which he played the Irish revolutionary leader.

"Certainly with Collins there was wonderful research to be done and I got to know members of his family," said Neeson.

"I had two buttons from his uniform (which) I wore around my neck for the shooting - just little talismans. And I actually touched his blood.

"Someone, it must have been a member of his family, had a letter that was folded up in his pocket when he was shot and there were blood stains on it."

And Neeson revealed how his love of boxing meant he was able to take on the fight scenes in Taken.

He said he approached the film's writer and said: "I know you're obviously not thinking of me, but just to let you know, I'm an amateur boxer and I'd love to get the chance to do something like this.

"The next thing you know I was offered it.

"It was three months in Paris fight-training every day, so I was like a kid in a toy shop, having a field day."

He said he loves to get home and said: "I'm a very proud Irishman and I'm also a very proud Ulsterman."

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