In his new movie The Ice Road, Liam Neeson plays Mike McCann, a trucker who is one of several drivers recruited to transport three large, heavy drills to a remote northern Canada mine in order to free miners trapped in a collapse. But to get there on time, McCann and the others must drive their 18-wheelers over the title routes — roadways literally made of ice that have frozen over the surface of vast lakes, with all the dangers that one could imagine possible just under their feet.
It’s a unique scenario that is especially suited to Neeson’s talents as a latter-era action hero, with the Irish actor bringing the same vulnerability and everyman sensibility to the role that makes all his action-movie roles relatable to audiences. The actor’s approach to his work also extends to embracing the realism of the film itself, which writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh shot on actual ice roads covering the surface of the vast Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada, using full-sized Kenworth 18-wheelers.
But even Neeson admits that he felt more than a little leery during one scene in which his character is forced to jump into a hole that has emerged in the ice, plunging into the frigid waters below.
“At one point something happens and I have to dive into this icy water, where the ice has been broken, to try and save someone,” says Neeson, careful not to give away too much of the plot. “We had dry suits on underneath our costumes, but no gloves, and we had to be under the surface of the water for a good 10 to 12 seconds, so that the level of the surface of the water was still, and then we break through it.”
Neeson continues, “I was holding my fellow actor underneath (the water), but all I could think about were the victims of the Titanic, how quick their deaths must have been. Because we were told by the experts before we did our scene that even though we are dry suits on, you have to control your breath. You have maybe 45 seconds to 60 seconds, and if you don’t control your breath, death is imminent.”
Still, while Neeson says that acting in real and even dangerous conditions is much different from working in a mostly digital environment — like, say, a Star Wars movie — he also concedes that every effort is made to minimize the risk and discomfort for him and the other cast members.
“Listen, we’re actors,” he says. “100 yards away they built a hut. They had a huge hot tub. Once we completed the scene, we dashed over there and just dove into this hot water, costumes, everything on, the rest, and sat for 20 minutes.”
Even with all that, the scene in question is definitely a striking, standout moment in the film. The cumulative effect of the ice, the big trucks, and the vast, windswept, palpably cold setting in which the film takes place go a long way toward making The Ice Road feel as realistic as possible, and it helps to have an actor who’s willing to take the plunge (pun intended) himself.
We’ll have more with Liam Neeson later this week. The Ice Road premieres on Netflix this Friday (June 25).