Liam Neeson may now be noted for starring in films that occupy our B-movie action affections, but early in his career, he was a committed character actor. And one grand example of this was, of course, his performance as Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielberg's 1993 classic Schindler's List. Neeson was a relative unknown at the time and auditioned as Schindler early on, though several more prominent actors were up for the part first. Warren Beatty actually participated in a script reading, but Spielberg was concerned that he could not disguise his accent and that he would bring, in Spielberg's own words, "movie star baggage". This desire to avoid starpower that might overpower the character was why Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson were also passed over, despite both expressing interest in portraying Schindler. In the end, for this reason, Spielberg cast Neeson in December 1992, along with seeing him perform in Anna Christie on Broadway.
Commenting on Schindler's personality, Neeson felt Schindler enjoyed outsmarting the Nazis, who regarded him as a bit of a buffoon. As Neeson quoted, "They don't quite take him seriously, and he used that to full effect." To help him prepare for the role, Spielberg showed Neeson film clips of Time Warner CEO Steve Ross, who had a charisma that Spielberg compared to Schindler's. In addition, Spielberg located a tape of Schindler speaking, which Neeson studied to learn the correct intonations and pitch. The result was Neeson giving an Oscar-nominated performance and, since then, Neeson is far from a relative unknown. Now, he's a legend. Perhaps not like that of Schindler, but not too bad, I'd say. Stay tuned!