Liam John Neeson OBE (born 7 June 1952) is an actor from Northern Ireland.
Once you pass the age of 60, you’d think an actor would start to slow things down a bit; maybe look to take a few gentle, romantic comedy roles? Perhaps a stint in theatre? Not Liam Neeson.
For his most recent roll as Bill Marks in the action thriller Non-Stop, the 62-year-old was required to hurl himself around the confines of a plane with all the conviction of a battle-hardened air marshal.
Mark Vanselow was the man tasked with ensuring Neeson’s action sequences – including a particularly intense bathroom scuffle – contained all the necessary energy and physicality to wow audiences. If you’ve seen a Neeson film, chances are you’ve seen Vanselow’s work – the highly sought-after stuntman has worked with the Irish actor for a staggering 12 films.
From keeping limber to looking after injured muscles, we asked Vanselow for his top fitness tips that you can apply to an active, stunt-free life. You could call them a very particular set of skills, but we’re better than that…
1. AVOID ‘ONE SIZE FITS ALL’ RULES
“Every client is different,” says Vanselow. “Whether you’re working with an actor or a stuntman, it’s always a unique process. You want to get together with each person and see what their specialities are, what works well for them and focus on that – there are never any real hard and fast rules you can apply to everyone.” If you’re looking for personal trainer, be wary of any who approach your fitness with a rigid formula of rules. Everyone is structured differently, and the best trainers will build a programme around your abilities and goals.
2. NEVER SKIP A WARM UP
One vital aspect of stuntwork is ensuring a film’s big name star doesn’t put themselves out of action – Harrison Ford’s recent leg-break could add several expensive months to the Star Wars VII schedule. Vanselow explains that it’s of vital importance to warm up before every take: “If the schedule allows it we rehearse the fight as much as possible before we get to shooting it, so you’re working out all the kinks and working those muscles groups you’ll be using before you shoot. Before any workout you need to keep the joints going, stretching every muscle group you’ll be using and keeping things flexible, because…”
3. FLEXIBILITY IS KEY TO LONGEVITY
“That’s key for working as a stuntman – ensuring you’re flexible, so that when you do fall down you don’t pull a muscle or put something out of line. You’ve got to stay warmed up.” Before you head out on a run or embark on a challenging gym session, ensure that you stretch out all of the muscle groups you’re going to be focusing on during that session. Once you’ve finished, make sure you stretch off those same muscle groups, as this will improve your muscle strength and range of motion.
4. WORKOUT ANYWHERE
When out on location or travelling for a project, it’s challenging for Vanselow to get to a gym or find familiar equipment – but that’s not an excuse to slack off. If you’re on holiday or just don’t fancy heading outside, you can still carry out vital exercises. “For me, I like to run a lot. You can always head out on a quick run. There are plenty of basic things you can do in a hotel room: pushups and sit ups and a lot of stretching. You need to be able to create something you can do on the fly. Core workouts and push ups are key, as well as lots and lots of stretching.”
5. LET YOUR DIET BE PRACTICAL
“Like my workouts, my diet has to be practical. A lot of these tips are beautiful in a vacuum, without having to show up to work – but that’s the hardest thing for us, to create something that always works. For example, I’m standing in the middle of Spain and I can’t go to my local store and get all my regular items. It’s about being practical: staying away from carbs when you can, seeking out a source of healthy proteins and always including some greens.”
6. TAKE RECOVERY SERIOUSLY
From jumping off buildings to navigating waterfalls (Vanselow doubled for both Neeson and Pierce Brosnan in Western Seraphim Falls, which saw Brosnan’s character go over a waterfall – the most dangerous stunt Vanselow has ever performed) Vanselow has had his fair share of work related injuries to recover from – picking up a torn tendon in Taken and a neck injury in Non-Stop. Recovery is an important part of his work. “I’ve always found that ice really works – something to reduce swelling, along with an ibuprofen for the pain. It’s best to find any process that lets you get the flexibility back as soon as you can so that things don’t get stiff and painful. I also try to avoid any heavy activities while recovering.”