Even though Liam Neeson is never seen in The Chronicles of Narnia franchise, his presence is profoundly felt as the voice of the ‘Great Lion’ Aslan.
The new film Chronicles of Narnia 3 aka The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is based on the third of CS Lewis’ seven-book series, published in 1952, and takes place three years after the preceding novel Prince Caspian.
In 1943, in wartime England, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie (Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley), along with their cousin Eustace (Will Poulter), are visiting a relative when they are engulfed by a painting and transported back to Narnia’s Eastern Sea, where they are rescued from drowning by King Caspian and his crew aboard the ship The Dawn Treader.
They discover he is on a mission to find seven lost Lords of Telmar and their swords that will empower them to defeat the witch – if they fail Narnia will be destroyed.
Of course, their friend and protector, Aslan, is nearby to guide them and give them the faith they need to complete their mission. Liam Neeson spoke about the franchise and playing Aslan for the third time at the press day for the movie in London.
How did you create the character? You are three films in now so presumably this is a character you have a great sense of now.
I do have a sense about him. I guess it’s been reinforced by the fact that I’m a parent, I have two boys, 14 and 15 years of age, Irish twins, and my eldest boy Michael turned me onto the books when he was 9 or 10.
He had read three or four of them, when I was meeting Andrew Adamson, who directed the first two films and produces this one.
Michael said, ‘Dad, you have to read this book, The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.’ I said, ‘Okay,’ so I started reading it to him at night and got into it.
It was like, ‘Wow, this is really wonderful reading. There’s something about the magic of this that is touching me as an adult.’ It was certainly touching my sons as kids.
I’m rather shocked as an Irishman that you hadn’t read CS Lewis as a child.
I’m very embarrassed, I admit I didn’t.
What’s happening in this story and what role does Aslan play?
The kids are transported back to the world of Narnia. They are confronted with a series of challenges, they meet up with Prince Caspian again who’s trying to save his kingdom and it all depends on these children and Prince Caspian winning these battles.
And it’s life and death issues. And Aslan appears and just guides the in a certain way, and restores their faith, let’s put it that way.
So when you come back to this now, how do you recreate Aslan in your head when it’s only you and that microphone?
That’s a good question. I think just the environment of being in a sound booth, with a series of microphones actually and a little camera on my mouth, I’m aware he’s a presence.
Aslan is a guardian angel, he’s a mentor and I’ve played a few mentors in my life on camera.
Yet I don’t, nor does the director, (Michael Apted), want him to be preachy. But he does love these children and he wants them to confront themselves as to who they really are and be responsible for who they are.
How do I prepare for that? I don’t know. I did go and watch lions in the wild in Kenya a few years ago before the movies (started shooting) and I could see why they are the kings of the jungle.
CS Lewis picked a lion, he didn’t pick a giraffe or an ostrich or an elephant; it was lion. And they do have a majesty and grace and a dignity, and an incredible danger (about them), and a wisdom in their eyes that’s ancient.
As you say, you’ve played mentors before, and this really is the iconic mentor figure. As they are pinning the microphone on you are they pinning a sense of responsibility that you have to hit the right tone?
Well, yes, but I’m a professional actor. In this case with Michael Apted, we recorded my stuff in Toronto and I said, ‘Look, Michael, I know the tone of what it should be, but let’s do a few takes where I just alter my voice range and see what happens.’
And then sometimes he would pick a line from take two or a line from take seven, and splice them together. But I love giving my director a choice, I don’t just go and read and say, ‘No, this is how it is.’
He’s directing me and I respect that, especially Michael because I love him. We worked together 17 years ago. So I like to give them a range of possibilities.