UPDATE: Liam Neeson and Luc Besson have come to a meeting of the minds and they have worked out the scheduling snafu that made him iffy for Taken 2. Neeson’s reps at CAA are now closing the deal for Neeson to reprise what has become a signature role. Production is now being eyed for year end or beginning of 2012. Neeson will stick to his plan to take the rest of the year off, after completing the Clash of the Titans sequel he’s shooting in London. He has been working almost nonstop, wrapping The Grey for Joe Carnahan and Battleship for Peter Berg.
EARLIER EXCLUSIVE: A fascinating drama has been playing out over the past few weeks on Taken 2, the sequel to the surprise global hit film hatched by Luc Besson that reinvigorated Liam Neeson. I’m told Besson has teamed on a script with Robert Mark Kamen, and that he’s in talks with his Transporter 3 director Olivier Megaton to direct the sequel. But he has been dealing with a huge problem: Neeson has all but withdrawn from reprising his role as Bryan Mills, the retired government operative who in the 2008 original decimated the Paris underworld to free his kidnapped daughter. The reason isn’t money, but rather scheduling: Besson wants to shoot it this year and Neeson wants to take time off. Continuing without Neeson is hard to imagine, but I’ve heard Besson has gone as far as assembling a list of actors to take his place. That list includes Mickey Rourke, Ralph Fiennes, Ray Winstone, Sean Bean and Jason Isaacs.
I’m told that as of yesterday, things started turning toward a Neeson return, but it’s by no means definite. Besson went back to Neeson, and they are working up a schedule that will allow Neeson to shoot the movie in Istanbul later this year and still give the actor the time he needs. To me, that would be good news because not a lot of sequels come along that make you say, I really want to see more of that. It would also be good news for 20th Century Fox, which is expected to return as distributor. The original grossed $146 million in the U.S., and topped out at around $227 million, and it wasn’t an expensive film to make.