EXCLUSIVE: Clive Standen Talks Stepping Into Liam Neeson's Shoes, Doing His Own Stunts for NBC's 'Taken'
By Jennifer Drysdale
Clive Standen had to learn "a very particular set of skills" to take on Liam Neeson's iconic Taken character -- and then some!
ET hopped on the phone with the 35-year-old actor last month, where he opened up about what it took to step into Bryan Mills' shoes for the upcoming NBC series, starting with losing a bit of his trademark Viking bulk.
"With any new character, you have to wipe the canvas clean and start from the beginning," Standen shared. "Physically, I weighed 220 pounds to play Rollo [on History Channel's Vikings], but for Bryan Mills, he's a spy. So I had to lose quite a lot of weight to get in shape for Bryan Mills in an entirely different way."
"[Mills] is not an action hero, he's covert, and there's a big difference," he added. "So I tried to kind of lose a bit of weight, to still be lean and to be in peak physical condition, but someone who would look like they could break your neck with their bare hands and then disappear into obscurity. It's pointless if you look massive. And I'm a tall guy anyway, so that's been quite the transformation."
Looking the part was just one piece of the equation for Standen, whose character is the same Bryan Mills we know and love from the Taken movies, but 35 years old, and set in present day. The NBC reboot, also starring Jennifer Beals and developed by Alexander Cary of Homeland, begins with a personal tragedy for Mills, who seeks to exact revenge for his sister's death.
"It enables me to kind of start Bryan off anywhere, and really re-invent the character a little bit, because you want Bryan to grow and get better, get more refined. That's what's nice, is that you can really reinvent the character in the TV series, until he gets to [Liam Neeson's] point," Standen said.
"Liam's famous speech in the film when he talks about his particular set of skills, this Bryan hasn't got those skills yet. He's still learning. He's a rough diamond, so he's far less refined," he explained, adding that he took inspiration from Neeson's performance in the first Taken film. "I took his performance in the first film, and tried to play homage in places."
After four seasons of playing Rollo on Vikings (Standen will also make appearances in season five) this isn't the first time Standen has felt the weight of playing a familiar character -- but as the actor admits, there's something special about Bryan Mills.
"[When I signed on to Vikings], I was like, 'Well, this is going to be a massive character arc to build him up,' and it's no different with Taken," he described. "But it's been great to step into Bryan Mills' shoes, because to me, he really is a special character."
"I think that's why the film is so popular, because he has heart. He doesn't really have any super powers, he just has this forward momentum," he said. "You know, he's not as suave as James Bond. He's not as tech-savvy as Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible. I think we all loved the film because he's just a dad, trying to find his daughter, the only difference is that he has that particular set of skills."
The "particular set of skills" that Standen is referring to also involves a lot of stunts, which the British actor says he does himself -- for the most part.
"I do all of my own stunts, apart from some of the car stunts, because they're just frankly too dangerous, and I try to drive like Jason Bourne in my real life anyway," he joked. "But I do it -- not because I have an adrenaline rush -- but because I want the camera to be on my face, rather than the back of my head."
"If the stunt guy does it, then all you get is the back of someone's head in all the action scenes, and it's just… you get lots of noise, and it doesn't really show anything. It's just loud explosions," he continued. "But if you can put the camera on the actor's face, the character's face, then you're with Bryan through the action."
"I get hit by cars and awesome stuff, but hopefully, you know, Bryan's blood, sweat and tears will be on the screen for you guys to see and connect with. And I think it is one of those TV shows where you want to root for this guy. You want him to win," Standen concluded. "But my god, does he go through the ringer to get to the other end."
Taken premieres Monday, Feb. 27 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.