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New York Cool - Interview

Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson and Director David Von Ancken of Seraphim Falls
Press Roundtables
January 23, 2007
Regency Hotel

Written by Wendy R. Williams

This month I attended one film roundtable, for David Von Ancken’s Seraphim Falls. Falls features two multi-talented stars: Pierce Brosnan and Liam Neeson. Pierce Brosnan has been one of my favorite actors from his Remington Steele days through his dashing save-the-world-get-the-girl days as James Bond to his hysterical turns in The Tailor of Panama (dancing with Geoffrey Rush in the gay nightclub) and The Matador (who can forget the scene where he walked across the hotel lobby wearing a black bathing suit, black socks and black tie-up shoes). Liam Neeson first caught my eye in the The Good Mother (with Diane Keaton), then on to his incomparable Oskar Schindler in Schindler’s List and then his save-the-galaxy turn as Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars. And the films I mentioned are simply tip-of-the iceberg for both actors.

Here is my review of Seraphim Falls (be sure to scroll down for the round table interviews).

David Von Ancken’s
Seraphim Falls
Opens Friday, January 26, 2007

Starring: Liam Neeson; Pierce Brosnan; Anjelica Huston; Angie Harmon.

Reviewed by Wendy R. Williams

David Von Ancken’s Seraphim Falls is a chase movie with three stars: Liam Neeson; Pierce Brosnan; and the gorgeous State of New Mexico. The film is set in the period after the United States Civil War, a war that pitted brother against brother and tore our nation apart. Seraphim Falls is definitely a western-without-white-hats; it is dark in the tradition of Clint Eastwood’s The Unforgiven, Nick Cave’s The Proposition and even Sidney Pollack’s Jeremiah Johnson.

In the opening sequence we see Pierce Brosnan’s character Gideon being shot by a gang/posse and escaping by going over a waterfall. Then in the movie’s first twenty minutes, there is no dialogue from Gideon; but Brosnan’s character Gideon thoroughly holds the audience’s attention as he tends to his wound and manages to avert capture by his nemesis, Carver (played by Liam Neeson) and his posse.

The film then follows Carver and Gideon as Carver chases Gideon through the freezing cold of the mountains down to the heat of the salt flats. Neeson’s Carver is a man filled with hatred, a man who has lost his humanity and is left with only a Captain-Ahab-like obsession to kill Gideon. The film is at its best during these chase scenes; the survival elements of the story are very compelling.

Both Brosnan and Neeson give incredible performances; they are two actors who would be spell-binding reading the Manhattan phone book. And yes they are both Irish and this is a Western. But in the 1860’s, both the north and the south of the United States were filled with Irish immigrants. And one of the intriguing elements of this movie is that it is easy to see that these two men were actually more alike than not, but the circumstances of the war had made them into bitter enemies and in the case of Neeson’s Carver, destroyed his soul.

In the press notes, Von Ancken states that he started writing the script (with co-writer Abby Everett Jaques) with the desire to write a chase movie and then he settled on the time, place and plot. If the film has any fault, it is the deus-ex-machina they used to move their story along. Angie Harmon (of Law and Order fame) plays a frontier woman who can’t figure out how to break through a glass window. And Gideon and Carver stumble upon just about every group of people who could possibly have been in New Mexico at that time in history: gangs of thieves; railroad crews; religious groups who are anti-Mormon. And there are some surreal characters in the story (including the amazing Ms. Angelica Huston) who seem to have wandered in from the Western next door. But plot devices aside, this film is gorgeous (kudos to cinematographer John Toll), the chase scenes are compelling and the actors are magnificent. Von Ancken has done a fine job directing his first movie.

There is a strong anti-war message in the film. Here are two men who could have been friends if they had met at a different time of life who have been turned into mortal enemies by the horrors of the civil war. They are Irish but they could just as easily been Sunni and Shiite.

The Interview with Director David Von Ancken

Question about why he chose to tell a story that is set in the wilderness:

David Von Ancken: I wanted to tell a chase story from Olympus [the mountains] down to hell [the salt flats]. And I wanted as little noise as possible. We drove over 7,000 miles looking for our locations. I grew up in upstate New York and I was in the woods all the time.

Question about how the film reminds the view of other movies:

David Von Ancken: Annie? I was inspired by quiet movies like Sidney Pollock’s Jeremiah Johnson, Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter and the films of Sergio Leone.

Question about the themes of the film:

David Von Ancken: I wanted to tell a story of revenge and redemption and push two strong will together. Pierce does not say a word for the first thirty minutes of the film.

But it was hard to get [green light], people would rather finance a horror movie than a western.

Question about the logistics of having two Irish actors in the wilderness:

David Von Ancken: Both of those actors can ride like the wind; they are both excellent horsemen. It was a hard shoot, we had one day of cover out of forty –six days. We had highs in the upper eighties and low of thirty below zero Fahrenheit. We started out to do a chase film and we did it all on camera.

[Regarding the horses] We had wonderfully trained horses who could fall down on command and they could also hobble. The ASPCA was with us all the time and the horses were very well treated. Pierce Brosnan had a scene where the horse had to stay down and the horse kept getting up every twenty seconds. He did something with his eyes and the horse stayed down.

Pierce has made his living with dialogue and in this film he was deprived of dialogue.

[About the actors having Irish accents] At that time in history, 75% of Americans were immigrants.

The Interview with Pierce Brosnan

Question about whether he is a horse whisperer:

Pierce Brosnan: I’m Irish.

Question about the scene where he seem to be hiding inside a dead horse:

Pierce Brosnan: I was slimed like Ghost Busters. It was a fake horse; we spent half the budget on it and it looked terrible [fake], but with camera angles, it looked pretty good. They dug a hole under it and I stood in it. It was Pythonesque [Monty Python].

Question about the film in general:

Pierce Brosnan: I read up a lot on the Civil War and thought a lot of about the spiritual aspects of the character.

Someone asked who my leading lady was and I said, “New Mexico.”

Question about what made him decide to do this movie:

Pierce Brosnan: I was brought up on Westerns and this one had elegance to it. You get to where you just trust your instincts.

If you want to be a good actor, you have to inhabit a character. There was the terror of being hunted and in some of the scenes like the one where I was freezing, it was NRA (no acting required) [he was freezing].

Question about how he kept from getting sick:

Pierce Brosnan: Good Irish whiskey.

Question about working with Liam Neeson:

Pierce Brosnan: Liam is a huge reason why I wanted to do this film.

Question about what he is doing next:

Pierce Brosnan: I am working on Thomas Crown II. We have to get the script but we have said yes and we have set sail

The Interview with Liam Neeson

Question about why he wanted to do this film:

Liam Neeson: Like Pierce, I grew up watching westerns.

Pierce Brosnan
Liam Neeson

Question about being an Irish actor in a Civil War movie:

Liam Neeson: Like Pierce, I grew up watching westerns.

Our ancestors came to American in the 19th century, they shot buffalo and they died in the Civil War.

Question about the revenge and forgiveness themes in the film:

Liam Neeson: My character was very much a drive Captain Ahab. I have ruminated a lot on revenge. I knew people [in Ireland] who were trying to right a wrong from four hundred years ago. I want to live for my country; I did not want to shoot another Irish man. We are living in very bad vengeful times. Evil and revenge eat at your very soul.

The act of forgiveness in this film reminded me of a documentary I saw about Vietnam vets who went back to Vietnam and met their former enemies, looked into their and shook hands – as old men, grandfathers..

Questions about the shooting conditions:

Liam Neeson: We were always fighting light At 4:15 like clock work, the light went out [the sun set]. But David kept the momentum going, we kept moving fast.

I felt a spiritual connection to the land. We were filming on private ranches and we would find pottery shards from the Indians of centuries ago. There was holiness, sacredness about it.

I loved Spider, my horse; he made me look good.

Question about the anti-war these in the film;

Liam Neeson: To be in an army, you have to be dehumanized. That is why they wear uniforms and march in parades to become this inhuman thing or machine

Question about what he is going to do next:

Liam Neeson: I have been asked to do Oleanna [DavidMamet]. Both my wife and I feel like we need to pay our theater dues. I am also working on Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln.

Many thanks to Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson and Director David Von Ancken for talking to www.newyorkcool.com

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