The Other Man - Liam Neeson and Laura Linney
The Other Man - Peter (Liam Neeson) and Lisa (Laura Linney) ©2009 Image Entertainment

The Other Man is based on the short story The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, this is the story of Peter (Liam Neeson) who is missing his wife Lisa (Laura Linney) when he discovers that she has been receiving messages from a man he didn’t know existed.

Against the advice of his estranged daughter Abigail (Romola Garai), a hurt and vengeful Peter flies to Milan to seek out the mysterious Ralph (Antonio Banderas) and the truth about the other man in his wife’s life.

This is the third time Laura Linney has portrayed Liam Neeson’s wife, previously on stage in The Crucible and in the movie Kinsey which, she admits, is one of the main reason’s why she wanted to do this movie.

What attracted you to the role?

Laura Linney © Image Entertainment
Laura Linney © Image Entertainment

I wasn’t really attracted to the role to be honest, I was attracted to doing a movie, being able to work with Liam again, working with Richard Eyre [who directed The Crucible on Broadway] again, getting to know Antonio and work with him.

I didn’t even need to read the script, I just said yes, and then read the script, and was like, ‘Oh, okay, this is my challenge.’

Your character ‘disappears’ and she leaves a slip of paper with the words Lake Como on it, which is where she went with Ralph. It seems that she wanted her husband to find out about the other man, was that hard to justify?

It’s complicated. I think there’s great value in looking at it from two perspectives, and it’s that way throughout the entire film, you can take one viewpoint and one philosophy and watch the movie with that philosophy and it will be a very different experience than watching it with a different philosophy.

You can decide that Lake Como was where she wanted to take her husband to, or you can say that she was leading him right to a further intimacy of herself, that she wanted him to know her completely. So it’s complicated and I’m finding I’m having a very hard time talking about it, or being clear, I’m contradicting myself all over the place whenever I discuss this film.

Did you play it that she wanted him to know?

I wanted to play it so that both points-of-view were possible. I wanted to leave it a mystery. I have my own opinion about it, but I intentionally played it so that it would challenge an audience into trying to figure it out.

Richard Eyre directed this, who has had such an extensive theatre background. How does that change your process? Was there a larger amount of rehearsal before you got started?

Liam Neeson and Laura Linney © Image Entertainment
Liam Neeson and Laura Linney © Image Entertainment

We did have rehearsals. Liam and I actually did a production of The Crucible with Richard so it was old home week for us, it was fantastic. But, yes, with directors who come from the theatre they tend to understand actors in a deeper way than some people who are just trained in film.

Not that one is better than the other, but it’s just different.

So there’s a much better ease of communication and there’s just that deeper connection, at least I find, with directors who really have the same language. But, yes, we did have a nice chunk of rehearsal and that meant I got to spend some more time in London, which made me very happy.

So it was nice, and there’s a real collaborative feel which is essential in the theatre and I feel essential in films.

Do you have a place that you like that is your ‘Lake Como’?

Home in Connecticut. One of the great benefits and one of the joys of doing what we do is we travel to places that we never thought we’d ever get to go, so for me home is the most magical and the richest place.

How much of what we see in the film is your own choices that you made as an actor and how much is the director?

I don’t know where one ends and the other begins, and then there’s also the editor. It’s hard to know with films.

We bring what we bring to the table and then Richard would guide us one way or the other or make suggestions, or he’ll have a better understanding of the overall, what’s important for him to tell the story that he wants to tell, and he’ll guide you to shift gears, or change your behavior because of that.

This movie shows how technology has corrupted the way we communicate. How do you think technology has changed the way people relate to each other?

There’s no time to think, there’s such a hunger for instant, instant, now, now, now, that even language is being truncated and people aren’t thinking sometimes before they act.

All of a sudden it’s like people are impatient and their time is ticking away. This is where the world is going, so we’ll see how it affects things, but there is something that unnerves me about it, where thought is not appreciated

What would you like people to take away from this film?

I can’t presume what anybody’s going to take away from this movie.

That’s a question I can never answer for any film, but I do know that it will provoke conversation, whether it pisses people off or they like it, or they’re intrigued or it makes them thoughtful or wistful or melancholy, I think it’s going to affect people in different ways.

I think it’s provocative, for some people in a good way and for some in an uncomfortable way.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.