Why Liam Neeson 'Lost It' Before Shooting His First Scene For Schindler's List

05 -03-2024

Steven Spielberg's Holocaust drama, "Schindler's List", was released in 1993. It is an incredibly harrowing film to just watch. Imagine what it must have been like for Spielberg and his crew. This film was based on Oskar Schindler's true story, an industrialist from Germany who saved the lives of over a thousand Holocaust refugees. The majority of the refugees were Polish Jews, and Schindler employed them in his factories for the duration of the war. This gave the workers protection. Thomas Keneally's 1982 novel, "Schindler’s Ark", told the story of these saved Jews. The 1982 novel "Schindler's Ark", starring Liam Neeson, was based on "Schindler's Ark".
The film "Schindler's List", which won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, became an instant hit. The film is a grim reminder of how frightening it was for Jews to live in a world where they could be executed. Neeson was hit by this reality just prior to filming his very first scene.

When Neeson "lost it"

Neeson said that in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about the making of his film, he filmed the first scene at Auschwitz's gates, during which a discussion took place between him and Branko, one of The Hollywood Reporter's coproducers. Lustig, who survived Auschwitz's horrors, even showed off his tattooed identification number by rolling his sleeves up. Neeson's reaction was astonished when Neeson began to share his stories.

Before my first scene we were standing at the gate of Auschwitz. As I walked outside of the barbed-wire fence, I waited to be called onto set. As I walked around Auschwitz, I was wearing my Schindler gear, including a fur-lined jacket, I felt a bit nervous. Branko sat down beside me, and asked: 'How are you feeling?' I replied, "I'm fine." This is a very intense scene and I'm glad to have it behind me. Branko pointed casually to a hut, saying, "See that hut over there? Second from the left?" "Yeah," I replied. He replied, "That's exactly where I was." F ***, It's like I lost my mind. He went there when he was 6 years old. He spent two years there. My knees were weakening and I was thinking, "You have to get yourself together man." "This is not just acting in another film.
Neeson was not only burdened with trying to tell the right story, but also with learning the history of where he stood, because the filming of "Schindler’s List" took place on-location.

Schindler's importance: it is important to get Schindler correct

The real Oskar Schindler's story is more complex than Spielberg film. However, Schindler needed to play a heroic role in Spielberg movie in order for the audience to better understand the horrors the Jewish characters faced. It's not really Schindler that's the focus, but rather the desire to inspire empathy towards his employees and refugees who didn't have him as a protector. The movie forces audiences to confront the Holocaust's tragedy on a personal and global scale. It sounds as if Neeson had to tell the story of what he experienced in order for the filmmakers to understand the full scope of the Holocaust.
Neeson portrays Schindler as a man haunted and trying to make a dent on the evils in this world. Neeson's Schindler was probably inspired by his own experiences of feeling haunted and frightened at the horrors that occurred in the locations where he filmed. The filming of "Schindler's List" was not easy, but the movie is important and should remind us about the dangers that nationalism and racism can bring. We should thank Spielberg, Neeson and Lustig and all the other people involved in bringing it to life.

Read More