Liam Neeson learned about Manitoba winters — and Gimli Icelandic pride — while shooting latest movie last year

·4 min read
This image released by Netflix shows Liam Neeson in a scene from The Ice Road, which was shot in Manitoba last year. (Netflix via AP - image credit)
This image released by Netflix shows Liam Neeson in a scene from The Ice Road, which was shot in Manitoba last year. (Netflix via AP - image credit)

Action star Liam Neeson says he was struck by two things while shooting his latest film in Manitoba last year.

"I'll state the obvious first: It was very, very cold," Neeson said of filming on a frozen Lake Winnipeg. "It was a cold I had never experienced before."

But the second thing that stood out to the Academy Award-nominated actor was more personal.

Neeson said he's descended from Vikings, so shooting The Ice Road in Gimli, Man., a small town with a large concentration of people of Icelandic heritage, felt like "coming home."

"I mean that sincerely and I mean that truthfully," he told CBC's Weekend Morning Show host Bruce Ladan.

"Even though we were working long hours, I felt very, very much at home. People were gracious and generous. And there was a part of me [that] was sorry to leave, even though I was going back to Winnipeg where we resumed the rest of our shoot."

The Ice Road is one of Neeson's many action films — a genre he's become closely linked to since the release of Taken in 2008. When that film wrapped, the star had just turned 55 and had no idea his action career was just getting started.

"I thought when I finished it, 'Well, this movie is going straight to video.' Not because I didn't think it was a good little thriller, but … because it was a simple little story," he said of the hit, which ended up pulling in more than $226 million US at the box office and led to two sequels.

Allen Fraser/Netflix via AP
Allen Fraser/Netflix via AP

That success, Neeson said, led Hollywood to see him "in a different light" — and gave him more opportunities to use his very particular set of skills.

"I had done various medieval films, you know, sword fights and stuff like that. And I used to box as a kid," he said.

"I liked doing fight scenes with stunt guys and stuff like that, so I kind of welcomed it. I did them and enjoyed them. And even [now] at the age of 69, they're still sending me several action film scripts, so I'm still doing them."

Neeson's latest movie — which follows an ice road trucker on an implausible rescue mission to a collapsed remote diamond mine in Canada's far north — also included a stunt where he and co-star Marcus Thomas were submerged under icy water for somewhere around 15 seconds.

While they wore dry suits under their costumes, Neeson said his hands were bare.

Allen Fraser/Netflix via AP
Allen Fraser/Netflix via AP

"They were just in agony…. It was like electric shocks going through your fingers," he said.

"I could not help but think of the people that died in the Titanic. I just could not get that image out of my head because it must have been very, very quick."

The Netflix-produced action movie was among the last productions to wrap before the pandemic shut everything down last year — and Neeson said it came down to the wire.

"We just managed to scrape through to the end of the shoot," he said, adding that some departments on the film crew stopped showing up for work as COVID-19 spread further throughout the world.

"We had other departments [that] stepped in and did make-up and stuff that wasn't in their portfolio, let's put it that way."

The film's writer-director, Jonathan Hensleigh, said provincial authorities were "somewhat more lenient" with the production than was happening elsewhere in North America in March 2020 as case counts in the province were very low.

The crew managed to get an extra week of shooting in as a result.

While some of the crew chose to leave the production due to COVID-19 concerns, there were no hard feelings, Hensleigh said. He and the producer gave anyone on the crew the choice to opt out if they wanted, he said.

"I loved the crew," he said. "The crew made the movie possible because the Winnipeg film and TV community knows how to shoot in the harshest, coldest parts of the winter."

Actor ponders return trip

Now, Neeson is looking ahead to starring in another action film that just wrapped its first week of shooting in Berlin, Germany.

He's also thinking about making a trip back to Gimli for Islendingadagurinn, the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba.

"I would love to go," he said. "I'm looking forward to coming back."

The Ice Road was officially released on June 25 and is now on Netflix in the U.S., while Canadian viewers can find it on YouTube.