Interview with Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson on Non-Stop

We sat down with Julianne Moore and Liam Neeson to discuss flying, filming and fighting on the set of Non-Stop.

Fear of flying is nothing new. In today’s world though, that fear is driven by the unknown backgrounds of fellow passengers. “Who is that guy over there nervously shaking his leg? Does he not like to fly, or is he about to jump up with an AK-47 secretly stowed in the lining of the seat in front of him?” If that’s the situation you find yourself in, at least you now have an armed air marshall on-board to handle things with ease, right? What if that air marshall was a shady character himself? The passengers in Non-Stop are left to deal with such a scenario when they don’t know if they can trust their own air marshall in a time of distress, even if he is Liam Neeson. Neeson and his co-star Julianne Moore were in NYC recently to speak about flying, filming, and fighting aboard a non-stop flight to London.  

When you’re making a film like this, does it make you think more about that line that we tread between being vigilant and being paranoid in a post-9/11 world?

Julianne Moore: Obviously when you’re constructing entertainment, all kind of thrillers and horror movies or anything that’s supposed to give us a scare, they’re all based on what our natural worries are. You sort of take them and exaggerate them. You know, are you scared of ghosts? Is it the devil? I’m very scared of the devil. [Laughs] But in this case, you take something that’s sort of routine where obviously when you enter an airplane, you’re giving up some control, all of us, and you play on that fear. And what I liked so much about this particular script and Jaume’s handling of it, is that he takes a rather ordinary circumstance and turns it into kind of a Hitchcockian event. It’s very reminiscent of those older movies and of the disaster movies I loved as a kid like Poseidon Adventure and Towering Inferno, so it becomes kind of a classic entertainment. [To Liam] See if you can be better than that. [Laughs]

Liam Neeson: It’s just we all know the nightmares of airports nowadays. It’s playing on those fears, but it’s an entertainment, you know? A lot of the journalists in Europe, quite a few actually, were asking about September 11th and it’s like, ‘Oh, please.’ That being said, I don’t think the film could have been made a few years ago, of course. It would have been totally insensitive, but it’s a backdrop to a thriller. That’s what it is.

We saw how Jen and Bill handle the situation in the movie, but how would Julianne and Liam approach it?

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JM: We’d run screaming from the room! [Laughs]

LN: What do you do now? I mean, I don’t know. Thankfully I’ve never been in that situation. You’d like to think you would be heroic, but who knows, you know? Who knows?

You wouldn’t try to kick anyone’s ass?

JM: Just mine.

LN: I don’t think so. I’m a pacifist.

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What drew you to your roles and, Liam, have you had any martial arts training?

LN: I’ve done a mongrel version of different fight stuff for years depending on what the action is in the film, but in this one, we didn’t want to adopt martial arts. It’s so corny, you know? Whatever physical altercations happen on the airplane, we wanted to make them real. I worked quite closely with a special forces guy that trains air marshals. We came up with the fight in the bathroom based on stuff that he wastrained himself to do in very,very close combat situations, what you would do to disarm someone. So we tried to keep that real and exciting too, of course.

I was thinking that by now, with all the movies that you’ve done, you’ve probably learned some stuff.

LN: Yeah, but you learn it and then you forget about it. It’s like learning a dance; you learn that dance for the scene or something. Or studying for exams. You [study, study], exam’s over and you’ve forgotten half of it – except for light saber. I know how to [handle that]. [Laughs]

Can you take us back to the very first time you went on a flight and what you remember about that time? Do you have a lucky charm that you bring on flights with you?

LN: My first flight, I was a late developer in every department, but I went on an airplane at the age of 21, I believe, a flight to Amsterdam from. Belfast. Ciarán Hinds. Do you know Ciarán Hinds? He’s my oldest friend. We were going to a theater course in a place called Enschede, 30 miles south of Amsterdam. It was terrifying, flying. It was a hop and a skip, that’s all it was, but that was my first time. I was very, very scared. Very nervous, I should say.

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Is Ciarán your lucky charm then?

LN: I guess he is in a way, actually. We haven’t flown together since.


JM: My first flight, I don’t remember this. My mother said that we flew back from Panama. My father was stationed at the canal zone all those years ago. So, we flew back and we were pretty little and evidently I – and I don’t remember who was who – one of us was looking out of the window saying, ‘Oh, look at the beautiful clouds,’ and the other one, cause we were a year apart, said, ‘You’re making me sick.’ So I don’t know if I said that or she said that, but that’s not my memory, it’s my mother’s.

[related article: Non-Stop review]

There was a statement made in the film that security in this country is the biggest lie. Do either of you ever feel ill at ease when you’re traveling?

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LN: I have to admit, I don’t. Listen, we all know what security at airports is like. We’ve all experienced it and it’s a nightmare, but these are the times we’re living in. Once I get through that other round, I totally relax and I love flying as a result of that. I feel totally safe, and that’s my experience now.

JM: I do. I feel that people are meticulous and very careful and thoughtful about what’s happening and what I see around me is that people are agreeing to this because it’s a group effort.

How do you feel about the intimacy of the production? I spoke to the director before and he said all of the actors were on set the whole time together. How did that help your performances and also did being in an actual airport setting help increase the tension?

LN: The actual airport setting, we were at JFK for two nights quite late on in the shoot, and that was kind of strange being in a real airport.

JM: It was like chickens being let out of a pen. [Laughs] We’re all like, ‘Ahhh, it’s a regular place! Look at this place! You want to go get coffee? You want to go over there? You want to go over there?’ Yeah, our set was nice!

LN: The set was great. It was tough on the crew. I’m sure Jaume told you that, very tough because they had 50 guys and girls trying to disappear, being pushed into little spaces whereas we were sitting in first class seats.

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JM: Reading a magazine. It was pretty comfortable, and it was a great group of people. It really is wonderfully cast. To have Lupita Nyong’o and Michelle Dockery as your flight attendants? And, you know, Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy, Nate Parker and Linus Roache. It was really great and so it was fun to be with everybody. It was nice to have everyone on set.

LN: Everyday too, so it was great. We looked forward to it. It was lovely to be with these people, and the extras, too. There were over a 100 extras. We got to know them, some of them quite well. They had a lot to do, you know?

Both of your characters had an air of mystery. There are a lot of questions that are never answered. How was it developing characters like that for this movie?

JM: I liked the fact that there was mystery about all of the characters because I feel like in life, that’s the way it is. In cinema, people are always walking into something and saying, ‘This is who I am, this is what I want, this how I’m gonna get it,’ and we don’t in life, particularly not in a public situation. People don’t know your name. They might know your first name, not your last name, or vice versa. They don’t know what you do and you’re not gonna offer it up. So, if you start there, you realize this is probably a much more normal presentation in a film than what you would ordinarily have. You kind of go, okay, well, who is this, and you know that there’s a big life behind what everyone presents and that, I think, is super interesting, the fact that you can scratch someone and find out all of these things that you’d never know.

LN: I relied on Jaume a lot because he’s a very, very prepared director, and any queries we had about the script or what a character should do or not do, we always tried to judge it to the nth degree because he was always thinking of the overall arc – the symphony, I like to use that word – of the whole film, you know? That just the raise of an eyebrow sometimes might just be too much. It’s in the trailer, Jules, when I walk away and she’s lying asleep and she just opens her eyes and to me it’s like, ‘Oh my god, suspicious.’ But she’s just opening her eyes! Every little nuisance or gesturewe were aware could take on some significance. That being said, we weren’t put in a straightjacket, you know?

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JM: Except me when I really got on his nerves. [Laughs]

I started to notice that in a lot of these action thrillers you’ve done recently that no one seems to believe you. In Taken, the captors don’t believe you’ll find them, in Unknown, no one believes you are who you say you are, and in this one, everyone thinks you’re a terrorist. I was just wondering, is that idea of distrust what attracts you to a lot of these roles?

LN: Sure, I’d like to think if I play these so-called action heroes, they’re vulnerable and they’re nervous and there’s something very, very serious at stake. If it’s your daughter’s been kidnapped, those of us who are parents, you’ll do anything for your kid. I always try and portray a weakness or a vulnerability on top of knowing you can kick ass.

JM: Yeah, I think that’s why audiences respond to Liam this way, because he does present a very humane, sensitive, complicated person, a real person who then becomes the hero, so it’s not like a superhero coming in. You know that Superman is gonna be able to do it. He’s not even a real person. But to have Liam represent that, I think he brings a real sense of authenticity to all of these characters.

Liam, I was wondering if you could talk about playing a darker, more troubled character. This one seems to be a little bit less in charge than the other action roles you’ve played before.

LN: A little less in charge, I guess, yes. He’s not in charge because he’s an alcoholic, he’s an addict; that’s always in charge. So his big battle is he thinks he’s just doing a six and a half-hour flight. That’s his goal is to do that without having alcohol, of course. All shit breaks loose. I love the fact that we – and it was in the script, that Jaume covers without the audience being banged over the head – in the height of that crisis, there’s a beautiful bottle of whiskey waiting to be drunk, but he doesn’t. It’s a little human gesture that I think really resonates with people because it is human and many of us our addicts whether it’s tobacco or whatnot. So I like those little human touches, you know?

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Julianne, can you talk about your ability to have so many diverse roles over the span of your career? And what kind of traveler are you guys? Are you okay with people coming up to you while you’re flying?

LN: First off, can I just say, Julianne is one of our great screen actresses, period. [Clapping] So we were so lucky to have her in this part, which was, the first script I read of it was this passenger beside me was quite a bland part, and then when I heard they were going to go to Julianne, I thought there’s no way she’s gonna do this and she did and elevated the whole film.

JM: Well, Liam had a lot to do with that, honestly, and Joel Silver. I was talking to some people the other day about Assassins. That was a movie at the beginning of my career, my first movie with Joel Silver, and so when he called me about this and Liam was doing this, and I liked the script so much, that’s kind of how it came about, but I like to mix it up. If I’ve done something really serious, I like to do a comedy. If I’ve done a comedy and I find a thriller that’s interesting to me, I like to do that, too. I like genre, I like movies, I like to accrue experience, so that’s really been it. And I don’t really plan things. You can’t! In our business, you really can’t. We have less control than we’d like, but yeah, I do feel fortunate just to work really,

And what kind of traveler are you?

LN: Do you mean like a fear of flying and stuff?

No, more like when people walk up to you in the airport.

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LN: I just say f*ck off. [Laughs] Especially when it’s kids. Especially when they ask me to sign a Star Wars photograph, some little seven-year-old. I’m joking, of course. I don’t get hassled too much. I don’t know if you do, Jules.

JM: People are really nice, honestly. Sometimes I really do talk to people and have a nice conversation. I do talk to women with children a lot because, you know, you feel for them. If somebody sits next to me with a baby, I’m gonna talk to her because I’ve been there.

A lot of the characters were stereotypical. You had the angry young black man, you had the heroic cop, the Middle Eastern man… It’s playing on these public, preconceived notions that we have. Do you think it was smart for the writers to angle it that way and was the end goal to increase our paranoia that it could possibly be anybody?

LN: I think at first glance they’re kind of stereotypical, but I think Jaume played with that, in our own heads, too. You know, of course there’s the Muslim doctor and you go, ‘Yeah, this is interesting,’ but it’s not going to be him. It’s not going to be the other African American kid that we think it’s definitely this guy, he’s got a real attitude. He plays with all that.

JM: It upends our expectations, I think, and even with a character – well, I mean, let’s not give it away – a character like mine who won’t give anything up. You think, ‘Well, come on,’ and it turns out it’s just completely personal, so you can’t preconceive these things. You really don’t know who somebody is. You don’t know what their inner life is or what their interests are or determine how they’re gonna behave and I think Jaume does that deliberately.


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