by Gill Pringle at the 18th annual Zurich Film Festival

If Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum, James Garner and Elliott Gould have all memorably embodied Raymond Chandler’s legendary pulp fiction gumshoe Philip Marlowe – then Liam Neeson found it impossible to resist slipping into the time-honoured shoes of the famous detective.

Especially, when his old friend and fellow countryman Neil Jordan came knocking asking him to star as the eponymous lead in his retro thriller Marlowe.

“Look, I know I have big shoes to fill as regards actors that have played Marlowe before on screen. But it didn’t matter. I just worked very closely with Neil. This is our fourth film together and I’ve known him since 1980, so I wasn’t intimidated by the previous incarnations,” muses Neeson, 70, when we met with him at the Zurich Film Festival.

“I did watch many of the films and I really enjoyed the Elliott Gould and Robert Altman 1973 film, The Long Goodbye. That was terrific but I thought that I;m not going to smoke as much as Elliott because in that film he’s either smoking or lighting up or he’s putting a cigarette out in every scene,” Neeson smiles.

“I also immersed myself in William Monahan and Neil’s script. Then there’s the actual Raymond Chandler books, which I consumed and some other writings of Chandler. I also watched a lot of film noir movies.”

Interestingly, Jordan baulks at the “film noir” term when we chat later, given how his own film is saturated in bright colour, even while still evoking the tone and mood of the classic film noir.

Filmed on location in Spain and in a Dublin studio, Jordan was able to capture the essence of 1930s Hollywood.

Diane Kruger relished the costumes and chic platinum hair styles involved in portraying the classic Chandler-esque mysterious bombshell.

“I think it’s fun to play a mysterious woman, so sure of her own sexuality and desirability – because I don’t get to do that in real life,” says the Inglourious Basterds and In The Fade star.

“I just love those characters. When I was growing up, they made me dream about wanting to become an actor watching those movies. I always remember those great totally soft focus images of Marlene Dietrich, with the perfect hat and I thought if I could ever become an actor and be in a movie, I’d like to do the same. So, that’s what I felt like when I was making this. It felt like I was in one of those movies, which are so different to modern day films.

“And, of course, the wig and the clothes really help – even if it takes forever to get ready. The minute you put on the lipstick, you sit differently and you can’t walk in those dresses so you move differently,” she says.

“Diane has a quality of mystery, and the camera loves that. And she’s got that quality which I think is very seductive and sexy,” adds Neeson.

Playing the sultry seductress, Kruger enjoyed that her role was not purely about sex. “I like that she’s the strongest person in the movie. She ends up running the studio and she is really smart to plot all that. For me, as an actress, I want to look for roles that are a complete arc, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to seduce a man – if I get to run the company in the end…” she says cheekily.

With Rian Johnson reinvigorating the whodunnit with his Glass Onion franchise, Neeson hopes that Marlowe also serves to feed a reawakened appetite.

“We all love whodunnits, don’t we?” he argues. “Seriously. It was him; it was the butler; nah it can’t be. It’s got to be the cook. I think those stories are in every culture. We love these sorts of stories because there’s a mystery attached.”

Co-starring Jessica Lange, Danny Huston, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Alan Cumming, the production was still under certain Covid restrictions when Marlowe was shot at the end of 2021, although the cast enjoyed the freedoms allowed by shooting in Barcelona.

Naturally, the Marlowe stories are synonymous with Los Angeles, although Neeson was amazed at how they could replicate that era. “That period of housing and construction has disappeared in LA, but Barcelona still has it and they were able to find all these incredible locations,” he says.

“Having lived in Laurel Canyon myself in the ‘80s on Hollywood Hills Road, Marlowe’s house in this was almost a replica for my own Laurel Canyon house, honestly, it really was.”

After a career spanning 50 years and more than 100 films – including a huge revival as an action star thanks to the Taken franchise – Neeson remains upbeat about his work. “When I began as a young actor in the theatre in Belfast, I would never have dreamed of being around and still talking about roles – and especially on a screen. I’m talking 1976, you know?” he says.

“In all honesty, I have been so lucky and so fortunate. That being said, I created my own luck. It doesn’t come to you by staying in bed or staying at home. You have to go away and put the energy out there. But I have been very lucky to work with some great people, great actresses, great actors. And quite a few exceptional directors – Neil Jordan being one of them.”

Marlowe is in cinemas May 18, 2023