Unknown - January Jones and Liam Neeson
Elizabeth Harris (January Jones) and Dr Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) © 2011 Dark Castle

In the new thriller Unknown, Liam Neeson portrays Dr Martin Harris, who awakens after a terrible car accident in Berlin to find his whole world has changed – his wife Liz  doesn’t recognize him and his identity has been replaced by another man.

January Jones, who portrays Liz, currently stars in the critically acclaimed TV series Mad Men. She has also appeared in several movies including Pirate Radio, We Are Marshall, Anger Management, Bandits and will star as Emma Frost in the action adventure X-Men: First Class.

Diane Kruger portrays Gina in the movie, the taxi cab driver who, in order to miss a head on collision, steers her car with Dr Martin Harris in the back seat, into the river. Kruger has starred in many popular movies including Inglourious Basterds, National Treasure, Troyand Wicker Park.

Both actresses, who play such integral roles in Unknown, spoke about the movie at the press day for the film.

What interested you in this project?

Elizabeth Harris (January Jones), Martin B (Aidan Quinn), Herr Strauss (Rainer Bock) and Dr Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) © 2011 Dark Castle

January Jones: This was something I hadn’t read before. It was so interesting and intricate. It reminded me of those old spy movies, with a sense of danger and intrigue, but also a hint of glamour to it.

Nothing was set in stone with Liz; she was very smart, but also inscrutable, and I loved how unpredictable she was. You know that Martin loves her, but her side of the story isn’t quite clear, so there was a lot to play around with.

Tell us a little about your character, Gina.

Diane Kruger: Gina is from Bosnia, and is living in Germany illegally. She doesn’t want to be questioned by the police at the scene [of the accident], because she’s afraid they’ll find out that she has no papers. So she flees as soon as she sees Martin is being attended to.

Gina doesn’t want any part of Martin or his crazy story. Gina is scared of where she comes from, things she’s experienced in her life and what helping him might mean to the small amount of security she’s managed to build for herself.

Did you feel an affinity for your character?

Gina (Diane Kruger) and Dr Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) © 2011 Dark Castle

Diane: I’m from Europe and the Bosnian/Yugoslavian border is still very much something that’s on my mind for sure, especially in Europe I think it’s something that a lot of people still talk about and remember. So I was familiar with many similar stories over the years, and actually being born in German myself, we have a lot of immigrants from these countries.

What made this movie really interesting for me, apart from the fact that it’s fun and there’s action, and it’s a thriller and it’s an intriguing story, it’s very rare to get a female character that has her own back story and has her own [agenda] of why she would help the male protagonist.

Can you talk about the appeal of the role of Liz?

January: What I liked about this role was that it was something I hadn’t done before and it was interesting and indefinable in the way that you don’t know who she is until – well, if ever. I think the audience gets to decide whether she’s a good guy or a bad guy. Like Liam has said, it had a little touch of noir; an homage to the old Hitchcock films. It was fun for me.

How physically challenging was this movie for you?

Dr Martin Harris (Liam Neeson) and Gina (Diane Kruger) © 2011 Dark Castle

Diane: For me it was pretty tough, running around in the cold on ice is not that easy sometimes, but I enjoyed it. I wanted to play a character for once that was very physical. And I liked that she had her own story going on and that she actually saves Liam’s life. Those stunts in the huge tank were very challenging but very interesting.

Did you do your own driving in this?

Diane: Oh I was driving. Liam was a little scared!

Was shooting the crash scene as harrowing as it looked?

Diane: I’m not as scared of water [as Liam] but there does come a point where it’s very tiring, especially because I have to dive back down under and not only pull Liam out, but grab the actually pike to break the glass.

They had a stunt girl there for me, but there comes a point when you have do it anyway for two days, you might as well get your close-up, because it’s a pain in the ass.

There was one shot that we added that wasn’t supposed to be me, and I’m glad that I did it because it’s in the movie and you really can see that it’s me and I felt like it was an accomplishment. It was fun to do and I think that whole sequence I think came out really cool. I’m very proud of it.

You play such a horrible mother on Mad Men, an ice queen. When you do a movie do you like to play someone warm and sweet, which is what you initially appeared to be in this movie?

Elizabeth Harris (January Jones) © 2011 Dark Castle

January: What’s fun about that, being sweet? Am I typecast as being horrible? Maybe. It’s kind of great, isn’t it? I try to always do something different. I don’t think that this character has anything to do with anything I’ve ever done, and it just keeps me interested in the job to do all kinds of different things. I think that the “sweet”, as you said, can be boring, so I will try to stay away from that for everyone’s sake.

Do you feel like you’re orchestrating your career?

January: Orchestrating? I don’t think so. I don’t know how you could in this business orchestrate anything, but I feel like I’ve been able to work with a lot of great people and have been lucky in my choices. I’m very strong willed, so that’s helped a lot. But really I just feel very lucky to have been able to do the things I’ve gotten to do and haven’t made too many mistakes… yet.

Will you ever leave TV?

January: The question about leaving TV; Mad Men is my first stint in TV and it doesn’t really feel like TV to me. It depends on the project; whatever keeps me interested and challenged.

Judy Sloane

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