Director Mark Williams chats to STACK about helming the new Liam Neeson action-thriller, Blacklight, during lockdown conditions Down Under. 

Liam Neeson was more than happy to quarantine for two weeks in Australia, ready to shoot action thriller Blacklight, one of the first films to go into production after the beginning of the pandemic.

If it’s hard to imagine the veteran tough guy actor staying in one of the infamous quarantine hotels, then Blacklight’s producer/co-writer/director Mark Williams unwittingly served as Neeson’s “guinea pig”.

“I quarantined first in a small hotel room, after which we figured out how Liam wouldn’t have to stay in a crap place,” he tells STACK. “So he had a nice apartment, where he spent a lot of time reading. I think he actually enjoyed it a little bit, on his own, doing his own thing. When he got out, he was smiling, so I’m happy it worked out that way.”

Director Mark Williams

In fact, quarantine proved a boom for Blacklight’s production. “All the actors used that time wisely and certainly they all came in knowing their lines. I think Liam was doing some of the fight-training over Zoom, so it wasn’t completed wasted, that’s for sure,” says Williams, co-creator of award-winning Netflix drama Ozark, partnering with Melbourne producer Paul Currie to make Blacklight.

Shot during the first year of Covid lockdowns in Melbourne and Canberra (doubling for Washington, D.C.), Williams and his team worked to make several exciting car chase scenes, involving a garbage truck and a Porsche, utilising the skills of legendary Aussie stuntman Guy Norris (Mad Max: Fury Road).

“The film is a great ride, rooted in the ideas of family, loyalty, truth, and the idea of betrayal,” says Neeson. “It has some wonderful action sequences that come out of what’s been happening between the characters. The action is never gratuitous and it’s driven by the story, which is very gripping.”

Having previously worked with Neeson on the thriller The Honest Thief, Williams knew that the Oscar-nominated actor would not be interested in repeating anything close to his role in the blockbuster Taken trilogy.

“I was going for a broken character who wasn’t the same guy from Taken. He has his own issues and his own guilt from the past and I wanted a way to show it,” says Williams of the creative process behind Neeson’s Travis Block, a freelance government “fixer,” working for his old Vietnam buddy who’s now director of the FBI.

Plagued with OCD issues, Block questions the morality of his work and hopes to retire and get out his dubious line of business.

“Liam loved the OCD stuff and wanted to do more. I just felt it gave a layer to the character which was a little more interesting and human,” explains Williams. “Liam often talks about Taken on set. He knows those movies very well and doesn’t want to repeat himself, so I wanted this to be different and to really push the envelope for him.

“I’m lucky to call Liam a good friend and he has a big heart. He’s not just the tough guy, and I wanted to show the poetic, alternate side of Travis Block, and that side of Liam as well. Block is trying to be a better man, the guy he wishes he would have been when he was younger,” he adds.

Neeson elaborates, “Travis is an ex-military man who now works for the head of the FBI in a job that doesn’t have a description. What he basically does is retrieve FBI agents who are undercover in the field. But in the years he’s been doing that, he lost his wife because he was never there for her, and wasn’t there for his daughter, who is now an adult and has her own five-year-old daughter.

“Block has turned a corner and wants to get out and spend more time with his grandchild, and that weighs heavily on his mind and actions. But the pursuit of the real truth can be hard to attain; we want to say to people, ‘Don’t lie to me, tell me the truth.’ And that leads to action scenes that are entertaining, but at the heart of it all is a hurt and betrayal which motivates the story and a lot of characters.”

As Block, Neeson delivers his lines in that unmistakable gruff trans-Atlantic Irish accent, and you can’t help but ask Williams whether the accent is entirely plausible for an ex-US military operative.

“He’s doing the Liam Neeson accent,” he laughs. “We actually had a conversation about it on The Honest Thief and he says audiences expect this accent from him.”

Standing at 6’ 4” with a recognisable presence from more than a hundred movies, naturally it was impossible for Neeson to get around Victoria unnoticed.

“Liam can go out but he’s always recognised, so I think it makes him feel a little uncomfortable at times when he’s just trying to have a meal. It definitely limits his time out. But he did go off and pet the koalas and do all that fun stuff,” says Williams.

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