"Hollywood likes to pigeon-hole you," the 60-year-old actor told reporters at a recent roundtable interview in New York to promote his new thriller, "Taken 2."
"After 'Schindler's List,' I was pigeon-holed in a certain way and then with the success of 'Taken,' I was re-pigeon-holed again," he said. "I started receiving quite a number of action scripts where the hero is obviously 30 years of age, but they changed it to late 40s, early 50s. It's quite flattering."
Asked if he is surprised to find himself with a "badass" image, the star of "The Grey," "Battleship," "The A-Team," "Clash of the Titans," "Gangs of New York," "Kinsey," "Love Actually," "Rob Roy" and "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace" smiled and replied, "Am I a badass?"
Told by a journalist he is indeed, Neeson quipped: "But sensitive. I'm hardly the Terminator."
"We tried to do stuff that wasn't superhuman. I wanted to show a guy who is 60," he said, referring to Bryan Mills, his "Taken 2" character, an ex-CIA operative trying to protect his family from vengeful enemies who want to abduct them in Istanbul, Turkey. "He gets tired when he runs and all. That stuff's getting harder to do. I think they showed that in the last fight in the film. We're slipping and sliding all over the place and getting dirty and grimy."
Pressed to speculate about why the "Taken" films resonate with audiences, Neeson explained: "We all belong to families and we all know how important family is.
"The parents in the room, myself included, will do anything for your kids," the single father of two teenage sons said. "So, I think that tapped into something in people. I also think -- it's my own little theory; you can agree with it or not -- but in 2008-09, the world was turned upside-down financially and our so-called leaders, the pillars of our community, were shafting us, let's face it, and huge criminal acts [were committed] with vast amounts of our money, and I think people felt vulnerable and nervous and a little bit scared, and when people are feeling like that, they want entertainment. And the ones who went to see 'Taken' [in 2009] saw a guy who's not going to call a figure of authority to help him. He's going to do something about it himself. I think people got a real guilty pleasure out of it."
The first film followed Mills as he rescued his teenage daughter from a human-trafficking ring after she is kidnapped while on vacation with a friend in Paris. The sequel is about what happens when the survivors of one of the villains Mills killed in the original movie try to make him pay for his actions.
Co-starring Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen as Mills' daughter and ex-wife, "Taken 2" opens in U.S. theaters Friday. It is rated R.