Near the end of the film, when Liam Neeson’s character is desperate and at the end of his rope, he turns his face to the sky and screams for God to listen to him. He begs and pleads, asking for a sign that He is out there.
BN: Tell me what the film is saying, or even what you were saying, when Neeson’s character is shouting at God and kind of demanding that He show Himself.
JC: We all have inside of us this anger at times, [but there’s a] contradiction that exists in all of us: are you adamantly aware of and involved in this idea of God, this creator, this larger presence within yourself, or is it only when you need him that you call on him, when the chips are down? So I wanted it to be kind of two-fold. I think that exists in us, that fury and that anger and at the same time, the idea that God helps those who help themselves… In the following scene, where Liam is kind of building this memorial, I never told him, Evan, to lay out those wallets as if they resembled a Christian cross, or hold [that one character’s] picture in your hands as if you’re in prayer. That duality, for lack of a better world, is in all of us all the time, and I wanted to explore that. Here’s a guy praying who a second ago was yelling at the heavens, ranting at God and I thought it was very important to show those very contradictory things.
BN: I know other actors were considered before Liam for the role, but having seen the film I can’t even begin to imagine anyone else even coming close to doing what he did.
JC: That’s where I really got bailed out, it was very fortuitous, because Liam read it at a time where I was really kind of between actors, and he really responded strongly to it and really bailed me out, man. Because I think with a younger actor, it would have been very different. And I think what you see in Liam, you see a life lived, you see an old man who’s experienced great tragedy and great happiness and all points in between, and I think you really needed that, to give it that sense of depth and experience for the character to really work.
At the very start of the film, before the plane crash occurs, Liam Neeson’s character seriously considers committing suicide.
BN: You know, I find it interesting that the one man who appears to have the least to live for is also the one who seems the most driven to survive.
JC: Absolutely, man.
BN: I’ve thought about it, and I don’t know if I really understand what that paradox means.
JC: You know what, and I’ll be honest with you Evan, I don’t really understand what it means either. I think the fact that you picked it up, and the fact that I intended it to be there, might be enough. Because I don’t know. I quite love the contradiction of a man who doesn’t seem to have any use for his life at the beginning of the film, but is fighting violently for that same life by the end of the film. I think in keeping with that idea of these various viewpoints and how we sometimes get to the point where we say, “I can’t do this anymore,” and other times you say, “I can’t wait to do this, I can’t wait to experience [life].” It just felt like so right to me.
BN: Switching tangents, did James Cameron’s ALIENS serve as any kind of influence on this film?
JC: No, but Ridley Scott’s ALIEN did, the first one. The nature of this band of people being pursued and hunted by this unseen threat. It was more ALIEN then ALIENS.
In the ALIENS films, the faceless corporation that shows no remorse for the deaths of its employees, is called Weyland Yutani. In THE GREY, one character wears a hat and jacket adorned with the initials WY throughout the entire film.
BN: Was the WY on the one character’s cap and jacket a shout-out to the ALIENS films?
JC: (laughing) I can say you’re only the second person, brother, that has even noticed that. God bless you man. And I will say this: I will neither confirm nor deny that. It could also stand for Wyoming, I don’t know.
BN: What do you have coming up that you’re excited about?
JC: I don’t know because I’ve spent so much time away from my wife and kids, I really want to spend some time with them. My daughter’s going to be a junior in high school and my son’s going to be a fresher in high school, and I’m kind of anxious just to be a dad for a little bit. But there is one story I’m fascinated with, about [infamous Columbian drug lord] Pablo Escobar, and I think it might be my best script. It just needs to be cast.