‘The Commuter’ star Liam Neeson awed by Chicago’s changing skyline

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Liam Neeson in a scene from “The Commuter.” | Jay Maidment/Lionsgate

NEW YORK — In the thriller film “The Commuter” (opening Friday),Liam Neeson plays a New Yorker and former cop placed in a seemingly impossible life-and-death situation during his regular train trip home.

The actor observed real-life commuting to helping him create his character. “I know you have a big commuter train scene in Chicago, like there is in New York, but in recent years I’ve used a lot of trains in Britain. Especially when I knew I was going to do this film with Jaume [Collet-Serra,the director with whom the actor has shot four movies], I watched other passengers carefully, trying to imagine what they were all about, who they were, and what was their back story.”

Neeson was back in Chicago last summer — “for the first time in like close to 30 years! The last time I was there was to shoot ‘Next of Kin’ [1989] with Patrick Swayze and Bill Paxton. We played brothers, and that was awesome. This last summer I was there to make a Steve McQueen film with Viola Davis. … The screenplay was written by a Chicagoan, by the way:Gillian Flynn, who wrote ‘Gone Girl.'”

While filming “Widows,” he “went for a walk along your lakefront. I couldn’t believe how the skyline had changed. I later went back and looked at photos I took in the ’80s when I was there making ‘Next of Kin.’ All the new buildings that have gone up have so changed your skyline. Still beautiful, but very different.”

• One of Neeson’s co-stars in the film is Patrick Wilson, who portrays a police officer and a former colleague of Neeson’s character. “Playing a cop comes naturally to me,” said Wilson, explaining he had police officer friends and family members “who used to be cops.”

Since Wilson lives in New Jersey, he frequently commutes via train into New York City. “Like people in Chicago, I put in my ear buds and slip into my own world. But as an actor, as somebody who loves to study people for inspiration, I occasionally do check out other passengers. Lately, one of the things I’ve been wondering, ‘What’s the story behind those tattoos?’ You see so many of these days — I know there’s a story behind them, I usually just can’t figure them out!”

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