Liam Neeson Drew on Childhood and Gym for Crucible Part

By Robert Simonson
May 18, 2002

When offered the role of the righteous and perplexed Salem farmer John Proctor in Richard Eyre's towering new Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, the actor cast his mind back to his days growing up in Northern Ireland.

When offered the role of the righteous and perplexed Salem farmer John Proctor in Richard Eyre's towering new Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, the actor cast his mind back to his days growing up in Northern Ireland.

"I remember seeing it as a teenager in northern Ireland," said Neeson, who is nominated for a Tony Award as leading actor in a play. "It was played by farmers, real farmers. I saw two or three productions. In one respect they weren't very good at all, but there was something about the role of Proctor that I identified with—getting enmeshed in the frenzy of politics and religion, which is part and parcel of northern Ireland politics anyway."

Those who have seen Neeson in the production may marvel at the energy and intensity with which he attacks the role. The actor knew the mammoth role would be a challenge, not only technically and textually, but physically. So, soon after landing the assignment, he repaired for the gym.

"I prepared for it like an athlete. I got very fit for it. The theatre, at a very fundamental level, is an exercise in stamina, for any show. You've got to be fit. Especially with Miller and O'Neill, you can't play it on the back foot. You can't wing it. You have to go into the vortex of what the emotional stories are."