Liam Neeson The Grey

Liam Neeson The Grey

The Grey

Cast: Liam Neeson, Frank Grillo, Dermot Mulroney
Director: Joe Carnahan
Genre: Thriller, Action, Drama
Running Time: 120 minutes

Synopsis: Schindler's List Academy Award® nominee Liam Neeson will reunite with his The A-Team director Joe Carnahan, swapping eye-popping action for more grounded drama in the suspenseful man versus nature thriller The Grey.

From the powerhouse producing team of Ridley and Tony Scott, the film tells of a group of oil-rig workers who find themselves stranded on the freezing Alaskan tundra after their plane home crashes. Their efforts to survive and find a way home to their loved ones are threatened when the men come under attack by a pack of vicious, aggressive wolves, who see the humans as intruders in their territory who must be killed.

Sighting films like Deliverance and Touching the Void as inspiration, Carnahan looks set to return to the gritty realism of his breakout hit NARC.

Release Date: February 16th, 2012

Once more into the fray
Into the last good fight I'll ever know
Live and die on this day
Live and die on this day

In The Grey, Liam Neeson leads an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks when their plane crashes into the remote Alaskan wilderness. Battling mortal injuries and merciless weather, the survivors have only a few days to escape the icy elements - and a vicious pack of rogue wolves on the hunt - before their time runs out.

From the silent Nanook of the North through the groundbreaking Jaws, one of the most enduring motion picture narratives has centered around the classic conflict between man and nature. Now comes an engaging new adventure about macho guys stranded in the wilderness and pitted against impossible conditions and even more nightmarish predators. In The Grey, set in the frozen mountains of Alaska, a pack of angry, snarling, bloodthirsty wolves are in dogged pursuit of human prey. As they pick off their helpless victims one at a time, the chances of survival for the last men standing become more and more remote.

"This is a hard-core survivalist film," says director and co-writer Joe Carnahan, whose previous hits include Narc and Smokin' Aces. The Grey involves an unruly group of oil-rig roughnecks forced to battle merciless weather and a vicious pack of giant grey wolves after the oil company's plane crashes into the remote Alaskan void near the animals' den. "If you're afraid of wild animals or plane travel, this movie will put you off for a good, long time."

"The picture crosses numerous genres," says producer Jules Daly. "It's a thriller. It's a horror film. It's a character-driven drama of men struggling to survive." Based on the short story "Ghost Walker" by Ian Mackenzie Jeffers, The Grey marks the second collaboration between Carnahan and international superstar Liam Neeson (Taken, Star Ward, Shindler's List), who previously teamed for the 2010 action-comedy The A-Team. Serving as executive producers are Ridley and Tony Scott, both of whom worked in a similar capacity on the previous film.

"The Grey triggered something very primal inside of me," says Liam Neeson, who initially heard of the project while conducting a string of press interviews with Joe Carnahan for The A-Team in Berlin. After seeing the latest draft of the script, he quickly signed on for the lead, knowing full well that Joe Carnahan would strive for realism by shooting on location near the sub-artic zone. "When I read the script, I was 57 years old, and the little boy inside me thought it would be great to take on such a demanding role," says Liam Neeson. "I wanted audiences to say 'Wow, how did you guys do that?' At the same time, I was thinking, 'Jeez, can I physically do this?'"

The Story
The Grey's storyline fired up Liam Neeson's imagination as well. The film begins in a refinery in Alaska, where crude oil is broken into various elements for commercial use. Workers endure grueling five-week shifts 24/7, and then have about two weeks off for vacation. One unlucky group of men heading back home encounter a brutal storm, causing the plane to crash in the Alaskan tundra. All on board are killed except for eight survivors who head south toward civilisation, pursued by a pack of mysterious, almost mystical wolves practically prehistoric in their size and ferocity.

Liam Neeson portrays John Ottway, a troubled sharpshooter who has been hired by the refinery to keep bears, canines and other wild beasts from attacking oil workers during their shifts. Originally written by Joe Carnahan and short story author Ian Mackenzie Jeffers about a half-decade ago, the movie at one time had Christian Bale attached, but eventually Christian Bale bailed and Bradley Cooper also came and left. Over the past year, with the more mature and erudite Liam Neeson taking over the lead, the script was rewritten to give the now-older character a stronger back-story and additional gravitas.

"Boy, I tell you what," enthuses Joe Carnahan. "In terms of what I thought the film was going to be and what it is now, it would be tough to imagine anybody other than Liam Neeson in the role. How this character evolved and later shaped by him as an actor has wildly surpassed my expectations."

"My character has a specific relationship to these wolves -- he is their hunter," explains Liam Neeson. "He's on the refinery's fence line and employs an array of weapons to make sure the animals don't approach the workers. What weighs heavily on my character's mind is that perhaps they're now coming for revenge, as payback for their comrades that I had shot to protect the refinery workers."

"Bringing the rest of the cast on board and making sure they complemented each other was like ''putting together a big puzzle," says producer Jules Daly, explaining the director deliberately selected relative unknowns including Frank Grillo, Dallas Roberts, Joe Anderson, Nonso Anozie and James Badge Dale to fill out the testosterone-heavy lineup.

If few of those names pop out, there's good reason. The key to casting was finding believable actors who could endure the physical rigors but who weren't easily identifiable. Explains Dermot Mulroney, "In most films, if you see a bunch of people getting on a plane and you already recognise six of them, then you already know who's going to survive the movie, and that kind of blows it. So Joe Carnahan cast the film with really strong, dedicated actors -- some you might have seen before, but not all of them, not yet."

Frank Grillo, who portrays the sociopathic John Diaz, recalls screening the male bonding epic Deliverance with the cast early on to help prepare for their performances. "We wanted to see a group of guys who don't really know who they are when faced with dire circumstances," he says. "They're forced to transform. Maybe the hero isn't really so brave by the end of the film, maybe the bad guy isn't so evil."

Interesting that Frank Grillo says this…. Frank Grillo, who in real life named his newborn son Liam after seeing Liam Neeson perform The Crucible on Broadway, acknowledges the actor was still grieving the loss of his wife, Natasha Richardson, when he took The Grey role. "Liam Neeson was going through some personal struggles and I think he was looking for something that would take him back to his male roots," he says. "He was looking to connect."

Shooting in Smithers, British Columbia
Connecting was made easier as the crew gathered on a remote mountain set in Smithers, a small town of 5,500 in British Columbia, Canada about a 12 hour drive north of Vancouver. "There's that great Sir Ernest Shackelton quote about what the ice wants, the ice takes," says Joe Carnahan. "We certainly experienced that on the mountain."

From the get-go, the director insisted on realism, keeping actors hip-deep in snow and facing bracing winds on the mountain slope. "There were icicles on my eyelashes, it was that insane," says Dallas Roberts, who portrays Hendricks. "It was the coldest place I'd ever been in my life," says Frank Grillo. "Eighty mile per hour winds, freezing out there for hours. I'd be trying to say a line and my mouth wouldn't move."

"Absolutely freezing -- it shocked me to my very core," concurs Nonso Anozie. Dermot Mulroney adds, "All the preparation you do on the script, the reading about airplane wrecks, the research into wolves -- it all goes out the window. Because when you're standing on a mountain and it's 20 below zero with 60 mile an hour winds snowing sideways, none of that matters. You're just being there."

"You know, it's tough to fake cold weather," says Joe Carnahan. "I could have set the script in Tahiti with wild boars, but that didn't occur to me. Instead, we were on this godforsaken mountain freezing our asses off. You can't act it, you just have to behave it because it's so damn cold." Adds producer Jules Daly, "We needed it to be tough on everybody, because we knew that the more the cold affected the actors, the more realistic it would appear on screen."

Says Dermot Mulroney, "When I say 'cold,' I mean intensely, painfully, near-frostbite cold. It was excruciating… Joe Carnahan conceived of and wrote the movie with that in mind -- man going through the most extreme conditions and harshest environment imaginable. He was determined to make a movie in which the actors truly suffered."

"We got great stuff because of the weather, man, just some beautiful scenery," says stunt coordinator turned actor Ben Bray. "There's nothing that matches that look on a studio set or a soundstage. When audiences see us out there, it's clear that it's not a mock-up, it's not fake, it's not CGI. This is real snow, blowing at 70, 80, 90 miles an hour, and it's pretty gnarly stuff." Adds Joe Anderson, who portrays young oil rigger Todd Flannery, "the snow became its own character."

In between shots on the mountain set, from 7:30 in the morning until late in the afternoon, there was no lounging in lavish trailers or ornate motor homes. Because of extreme weather conditions, the cast mostly holed up in small tractor boxes and shipping crates to keep warm. The male bonding taking place over those long hours of below-zero temperatures led to some unusual circumstances while shooting.

Perhaps the most memorable incident took place when the gang of actors was literally buried up to their thighs in ice-cold snow, a white-out obscured everyone's vision, and the cameramen faced serious problems with a planned crane shot because the oil needed to move the machinery was frozen solid.

"it was just a physically impossible time during the first few days," Liam Neeson remembers. "We had lines to memorise and our brains were freezing and all we could think about was how to stay warm." During that unbearable moment, hulking British actor Nonso Anozie suddenly launched into a Shakespearian oratory about the elements from Othello in his booming baritone. "He was just so exhilarating and it made us all feel so. . . . right," recalls Liam Neeson. "It reminded us that, yes, it may be minus forty degrees outside but we're actors, damn it, and we're going to get through this scene no matter what. It filled us all with this great warmth, and I'll never forget hearing that man's voice for as long as I live."

The Wolves
"We've always said that if we didn't get the wolves right, we don't get the movie right," says Producer Jules Daly. Though the director could have taken the conventional route and added all the creatures with computer generated images in post-production, Joe Carnahan smartly used CGI as a backup to various other systems, such as giant puppet animatronics and trained live animals.

Academy Award and Emmy-winning special effects wizard Greg Nicotero served as Creatures Supervisor for the KNB Effects with Mike Fields, Alex Diaz, David Wogh, and Bethamber Hathaway manipulating wolf puppets. James Paradis coordinated special effects, with more than a dozen assistants working in the effects shop. Gerry Thierien of Action Animals was in charge of overseeing the actual wolves.

"The combination was really the way to go," concludes Jules Daly. "One technique probably would not have worked, but together they complement each other." Says actor Dallas Roberts, "We used some amazing puppets that can realistically move and bleed and snarl. It's great because it's not all computer stuff with green screens and ping-pong balls. Instead, there's a wolf actually standing there, breathing heavily just inches from my own face."

"We've all seen CGI effects, but we wanted something as close as possible to a real wolf," said Liam Neeson. "So we used these huge puppet heads operated by three or four people, we used acrobats dressed in wolf suits, we used other effects and we just cut to them for two or three seconds. In my first direct experience with them, my character was attacked by two wolves, one grabbing my leg and the other getting me under the waist. There were two guys operating these bellows to make it seem as if the wolf was breathing and, you know, it became real for me. Oh my god, it was real."

Perhaps Bray, who portrays the character Hernandez, put it best when describing the dilemma faced by the cast. "We play the riffraff, the ex-cons, the journeymen, the guys who are just happy to keep a job and get some time off to be with their families. We all seem to be completely opposite but, eventually, we've all got to work together as a team to try and get out. There's this mystery about what is out there. We're in the middle of nowhere. We don't know what's going to happen. All we're trying to do is survive and it's a hell of a challenge, it really is. And it is really, really, really spooky."

For Academy Award-nominated Liam Neeson, it was the chance to reteam with a solid director and a story touching on extreme emotions that served as the major draws. "On The A-Team I learned about Joe Carnahan's phenomenal passion and energy, and, on The Grey, those qualities seem to have doubled," concludes the actor. "He's also a very funny guy, and I think you need a sense of humor because in certain scenes you go into some really dark places. It's all about survival, about keeping your body and soul together, because if the elements don't get you then the wolves most definitely will. When the camera is turned on and you're facing those kinds of incredibly intense situations, that's what real acting is all about."

Or, to quote the great ice explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton once more, "We had seen God in His splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man."