People trying to pass themselves off as something else aren’t always easy to relate or believe, which can make it difficult to figure out who’s genuinely trust-worthy and who relies on manipulating others to get what they want. This is certainly the case with the main character, Bill Marks, in the new action mystery thriller, ‘Non-Stop,’ who presents himself as a U.S. Air Marshall working on a routine flight. But seasoned and enthralling action star Liam Neeson, who has gained attention for starring in such genre films as ‘Taken,’ ‘Unknown’ and ‘The Grey,’ shows that not everyone is who they seem with his devious portrayal of Bill.
‘Non-Stop’ follows Bill as he embarks on a transatlantic flight from New York City to London. After acquainting himself with the passenger sitting next to him, Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), Bill receives a series of cryptic text messages. The anonymous thief demands that Bill instruct the government to transfer $150 million into an off-shore account. Until the criminal secures the money, a passenger on the flight will be killed every 20 minutes.
However, upon the government’s inspection, officials realize the account is in Bill’s name. The Air Marshall is forced to prove that he’s not involved in the plane’s hijacking before the plane lands in England, while making sure he and his fellow passengers aren’t hurt or killed in the process.
Neeson, Moore and Collett-Serra generously took the time recently to participate in a press conference to talk about filming ‘Non-Stop’ at New York City’s Ritz Carlton Central Park. Among other things, the actors and director discussed how they liked the fact that all the characters maintain an aura of mystery, as that reflects the real life aspect of people not revealing everything about themselves to others they just met; how they were attracted to focus on people’s general fear of flying, and how passengers don’t really know what’s going on with the plane crew; and how it was difficult at times for the film crew to do their jobs in the confined space of the plane, particularly with the fight sequences.
Question (Q): What attracted you to the film’s subject matter?
Jaume Collett-Serra (JCS): I was fascinated by the concept of shooting on one set, as well as exploring the Air Marshall world. Everything was inspired by real Air Marshall situations or potential scenarios, as well as authentic fight techniques.
I’m afraid of flying, so I thought it would also be interesting to focus on this general fear. So I wanted to choose a different approach from the usual terrorist thriller.
The scene that occurs in the bathroom took two weeks of rehearsal, and it took an entire day of shooting. We used a still camera and had 72 cuts. It was entirely made in editing, since we didn’t shoot the fight in order; we had to take a wall off each time to shoot from different angles.
Q: The story creates fear with the use technology, most notably smart-phones. Was that an easy way to trigger the tension?
JCS: In old Hitchcock movies, the telephone was used to deliver information, and was the way out of trouble. Now things have switched, since we always are connected. In ‘Non-Stop,’ it’s the phone that becomes the means to complicate the character’s situation.
Q: You did feature many of the texts on screen.
JCS: I did that so the villain becomes an entity. I also wanted to avoid having too many shots of the phone.
Q: What were the major challenges of shooting at JFK airport in New York?
JCS: One of the most challenging things was the amount of time it took to walk all the equipment and people through a locked gate. We had a 16 hour day, of which three hours were dedicated to getting us in with all the security controls.
Q: Do you think people have become more vigilant or paranoid with the post 9/11?
Julianne Moore (JM): When constructing entertainment movies, there is a tendency to exaggerate natural fears, including ghosts and devils. When you go on an airplane you somehow have to give up control of things. This is what I liked about this script-it has a Hitchcockian event that becomes a classic entertainment.
Liam Neeson (LN): ‘Non-Stop’ certainly is playing on people’s nightmares, but let’s not forget it is entertainment. Undoubtedly, without 9/11, this film wouldn’t have been as effective.
Q: Did you have any kind of physical training for the fight scenes?
LN: In past films I had martial arts training, but I didn’t train for this film-it would have looked too corny. I worked closely with a man who trains in the Special Forces, so that the combat and fights would look real and exciting.
Q: Do you remember your first flight?
LN: I was a late developer in every department. My first flight was when I was 21-years-old, when I had to travel from Amsterdam to Belfast for a theatre course.
JM: I don’t remember it because I was too young. But my mother told me it was when I was 5-years-old, I flew back with her from Panama, since my dad was working there as paratrooper.
Q: The film somewhat criticizes the security at airports. How safe do you feel they actually are?
LN: I love flying, and I totally feel safe.
JM: People in airports are meticulous and thoughtful of what is happening. I think there’s a great group effort.
Q: The entire film is shot inside an aircraft. How was the intimacy with cast and crew during production?
LN: It was great for us actors, as we were in first class! The crew had a tough time since they had to hide from the camera and squeeze in tight spaces. There was a lot of work, also with 100 extras, for 92 nights of shooting.
JM: It felt a bit like chickens being lead out of a pen! But the cast and crew were a terrific group of people.
Q: All the characters maintain a certain dose of mystery. Do you feel this is the reason why the suspense works so well?
JM: That is the reason why I liked it from the very beginning. It reflects what happens in real life: people don’t know who you are or what you do. Some might know you just for your first name. We don’t reveal everything about ourselves to people we just met.
Usually in movies we are used to knowing everything about characters and their backstory, but not here. We discover things little by little and this maintains the realism.
LN: For our performance we all relied very much on the director, who was very meticulous in helping us out. Every little nuance or gesture would influence the symphony of the entire thriller and create that feeling of suspicion that falls on a variety of characters.
Q: What kind of travelers are you, when people recognize you?
LN: I send them all to hell, especially the kids…I’m joking, of course! I actually don’t get hassled much, so I’m much at ease.
JM: I talk to people quite often, especially when I see women with children; as a mother, I relate to them.