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How Liam Neeson’s Bryan Mills Became an Iconic Action Hero in “Taken”

In his long and illustrious acting career, Liam Neeson has played a variety of iconic characters, but perhaps none are more beloved than Bryan Mills, the retired CIA agent with particular skills in the 2008 action thriller Taken.

However, even Neeson himself admits to being surprised by the movie’s huge success and the enduring popularity of his character’s phone. 

“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 be aware, the speech in question occurs toward the end of the movie, when Mills is on the phone with the kidnappers who have taken his daughter. In a now-famous monologue, he threatens the kidnappers and vows to track them down and kill them if they do not immediately release his daughter. He does this in a cool, collected manner.

Despite his status as a fan favorite, Neeson has repeatedly stated over the years that he did not expect his speech to be taken seriously. 

In a 2012 interview with Empire Magazine, he admitted that he thought the speech was “just outdated cheese” and needed conviction from director Pierre Morel. 

Despite Corniness

Even though Taken inspired two sequels in 2012 and 2014, Neeson admitted to Entertainment Weekly in 2020 that he had no confidence in the film’s box office success.

“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.”

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Bryan Mills: A Legend

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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Blockbuster Status of Taken

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.

Photo: Cloudfront

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