Liam Neeson has played a range of iconic characters in his long and storied acting career, but perhaps none are more beloved than Bryan Mills, the retired CIA operative with a particular set of skills in the 2008 action thriller Taken.
However, even Neeson himself admits that he was surprised by the film’s massive success and the enduring popularity of his character’s phone call speech.
“I certainly did sound scary, but I thought it was corny,” Neeson recently said in an interview with Vanity Fair. “It was a cornball. I really did feel that. It’s nice to be proven wrong.”
For those who may not remember, the speech in question occurs towards the end of the film, when Mills is on the phone with the kidnappers who have taken his daughter. In a calm and measured tone, he delivers a now-legendary monologue, threatening the kidnappers and promising to find and kill them if they do not release his daughter immediately.
Despite its status as a fan favorite, Neeson has repeatedly stated over the years that he never expected the speech to be taken seriously, let alone become a classic movie moment.
In a 2012 interview with Empire Magazine, he admitted that he thought the speech was “just plain old-fashioned cheese,” and that he had to be convinced by director Pierre Morel to deliver it with conviction.
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Corny and Success
In 2020, Neeson revealed to EW that he had no faith in Taken’s success at the box office, despite the fact that it led to two sequels in 2012 and 2014.
“I thought, ‘Well, this is going to go straight-to-video. A short little European thriller, it might play okay for a couple weeks in France and then it will go straight-to-video,'” he recounted at the time.
“But Fox took it and they very cleverly did a good trailer and put it during various sporting events around the country and they made it a real success. I remember the first weekend it came in at No. 3, and then it came up to No. 2 and then No. 1, and then it went down to No. 4, and it came up to No. 3 again. It just had this extraordinary cycle.”
But as it turns out, Neeson’s initial misgivings about the speech were unfounded. Audiences were immediately drawn to his tough yet vulnerable portrayal of Mills, and the phone call speech quickly became a cultural touchstone, inspiring countless parodies and homages in the years since the film’s release.
Although Neeson found some parts of Taken a bit cheesy, he had a great time filming the movie and appreciated the opportunities it brought to his career.
“I had no idea that it would lead onto other films and other action scripts,” Neeson said in an interview with EW in 2019. “They started sending me action scripts and you’d see ‘Leading man, age 37’ crossed out and ‘late 40s, early 50s’ written in instead. I feel very privileged, and a little bit guilty. I’m having fight scenes with guys half my age and I just can’t stop laughing.”
Inception of an Icon
Part of the speech’s appeal lies in its simplicity and straightforwardness. Mills doesn’t waste time with flowery language or grandstanding; he simply tells the kidnappers what they need to hear in order to get his daughter back.
And Neeson’s understated delivery only adds to the power of the moment, as he conveys a quiet intensity that makes it clear he is not to be trifled with.
In the years since Taken became a surprise hit, Neeson has reprised his role as Bryan Mills in two sequels and continued to play tough-as-nails characters in films like The Grey and Non-Stop. But for many fans, it is his turn as Mills in the original Taken that remains his most iconic performance, thanks in no small part to that unforgettable phone call speech.
In 2008, a little action movie called Taken hit theaters, starring veteran actor Liam Neeson as a retired CIA agent on a mission to rescue his daughter who was kidnapped by human traffickers. Little did Neeson know that the film, which he initially thought would tank at the box office, would go on to become a fan favorite and a cultural phenomenon.
With Pierre Morel as director and Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen as writers, Taken follows the story of Bryan Mills (Neeson), a former government operative who is forced to use his “particular set of skills” to save his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) from being sold into sexual slavery while on a trip to Paris.
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Despite Neeson’s reservations, the film went on to earn over $226 million at the box office, becoming a surprise hit and earning rave reviews from critics and audiences alike. Neeson’s portrayal of the determined and relentless Mills became an instant classic, as did his now-legendary phone call speech to the kidnappers:
“I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that’ll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.”
The success of Taken led to two sequels, Taken 2 and Taken 3, as well as countless imitators and parodies. The film also helped to launch Neeson’s career as an action star, with him going on to star in other hit action films.
While the film may have been dismissed as just another run-of-the-mill action movie, its enduring popularity and impact on pop culture prove that sometimes, even the most unlikely of films can strike a chord with audiences and become a cultural touchstone.
And for Liam Neeson, it just goes to show that even the most seasoned of actors can be proven wrong every once in a while.