February 14, 2011

Liam Neeson in The “Unknown”

What if you knew, deep down, who you really were, but couldn’t prove it? And what if someone else—someone you didn’t know—claimed to be you, and everyone believed him?

That is the dilemma at the center of Warner Bros.' new suspense-thriller “Unknown.”

Who or what determines who we are? Is it our friends…our memories…where we come from…a piece of paper…? Where is the proof? Based on the novel by Didier van Cauwelaert, “Unknown” explores exactly that as Dr. Martin Harris, played by Liam Neeson, races through the cold streets of Berlin in order to take back his life, while dodging the men who are hot on his trail and trying to kill him. Though he has no idea why.

The star of “Unknown” was pulled into the story from the start. “For me, it’s always the script, and this was a real page-turner,” Neeson asserts. “My litmus test is this: if I can get to page 50 without stopping for a tea break, then it’s a very good sign. This was such good material that I had to read it all in one sitting.”

Liam Neeson plays Dr. Martin Harris, a botanist, who arrives with his wife, Liz, at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin for a biotechnology summit. When Martin realizes that his briefcase didn’t make it into the taxi with them, he grabs another cab to rush back to the airport. But en route, they are in a terrible accident. The driver, Gina, bravely saves Martin’s life but then mysteriously disappears. After lying in a coma for four days, he awakens; with no identification, Martin struggles to remember who he is.

“Once he remembers his identity, he urgently tries to locate his wife, assuming she must be frantic with worry,” Neeson relates. But when he finds Liz back at the hotel, she doesn’t know him, and worse, another man is claiming to be him—and Liz believes this “other” Martin.

“It’s like reverse amnesia,” director Jaume Collet-Serra reveals. “It’s as if the world has amnesia about him—he absolutely knows who he is, but everyone else has forgotten him.”

The filmmakers all agreed that Neeson was the perfect actor for the role because he has such tremendous screen presence. “I’ve always admired Liam’s work,” Collet-Serra says, “and for a director, he is a generous actor that keeps on giving, on set and on screen. He can be very intense and very subtle at the same time.”

Both would be required; it was essential that the character draw the audience into his psyche, so they would be trying to decipher why all this is happening, right along with him.

The director continues, “One of my concerns was that the viewer has so little time to get to know Martin before everything goes awry. But with Liam, there’s an instant connection. You like him, you believe in him.”

“We wanted somebody people would root for,” producer Joel Silver adds. “Liam has great charisma, and is also totally accessible, and those are exactly the traits we needed for Martin Harris.”

“To the audience, Martin Harris seems to have the perfect marriage and an interesting life,” Neeson explains, “but it’s all suddenly shattered in an instant. He is alone and not just abandoned, but rejected by everyone he thinks he knows. And his every impulse makes him more determined to find out the truth and, more importantly, prove he is who he says he is.”

Neeson was attracted to the idea of exploring lost identity. “I totally locked in to what Martin was going through,” he says. “I was an amateur boxer as a kid, and I got my bell rung a few times. It’s always stayed with me, that memory of not having a memory, even for a short time. It was an interesting life experience to draw on for this role.”

Opening across the Philippines on Feb. 16, “Unknown” will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.

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