Liam Neeson has spoken publicly for the first time about the death of his actress wife Natasha Richardson and the love shown to him by the people of Northern Ireland.
The Hollywood actor — who has dealt with his loss in private since the fatal skiing accident in March last year — said he had been very aware of a “wave of sympathy” from the Northern Irish public and political leaders from both sides of the border.
The Ballymena man was in Belfast last night for an “in conversation” evening at the Odeon Cinema as part of local charity Cinemagic’s 20th anniversary.
The question and answer session was followed by a special screening of the fantasy adventure film the Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which features Neeson as the voice of Aslan the lion.
The Oscar-nominated actor told the audience of 450 fans that it was “nice to be home” and talked about his early days as an aspiring actor and how his interest in a girl had prompted him to join the cast of a local production.
He also told how he had been influenced by the “acting ability” of former DUP leader Dr Ian Paisley, whom he admired as an orator and of his love for the Lyric Theatre, where his career began.
But it was during the Q&A session, hosted by UTV’s Marc Mallet, that Neeson broke his silence about his wife’s death.
Most of the questions had concentrated on the new Narnia movie and his role as the voice of Aslan until a member of the audience addressed him, apologising for the personal nature of her question.
The woman, who fought back tears as she spoke to him, asked if he had felt the “embrace” of the public at home following Richardson’s tragic death.
Neeson replied: “I did, very much so.
“I was about to interrupt you and say ‘let’s not go there’, but yes, I have to say, I felt it very much, this wave of sympathy from the public and official figures, from the President of Ireland and the leaders in the north.”
Neeson then went on to talk about his Oscar-nominated role in Schlinder’s List, telling the audience that he had caught the eye of director Steven Spielberg while co-starring opposite his future wife in the Broadway play Anna Christie in 1993.
Neeson was nominated for a Tony Award for the play and Spielberg was so impressed with his performance he offered him the lead role of Oskar Schindler in his movie.
The actor also revealed that plans are in the pipeline to film a sequel to the massive box office action movie success Taken.
In response to a question by the Belfast Telegraph, the actor said he was planning to do more “kick-ass” roles, including a new film called Unknown, shot in Berlin.
“And yes, there’ll be a Taken 2, before these limbs give up on me,” he confirmed, to loud applause from his fans.