|Neeson: New role
London, Jan. 7: Liam Neeson is spending a lot of time thinking and talking about sex these days. Because he has the title role in Kinsey, the film about the researcher whose reports on sexual activity shocked and outraged America, the normally reticent and unassuming actor has become resigned to being asked for his opinions on such subjects as orgasms, sexuality and masturbation.
Yet he admits he was unprepared when his two sons, aged eight and nine, recently started asking him questions about sex.
'I just felt very embarrassed and said to my wife, 'Darling, you go first',' he recalls. 'I went out and swept the yard or something. I was quite shocked at my own fear of what I was going to say to them and I was surprised at my knee-jerk reaction to it.'
The Irishman's uncharacteristic head-in-the-sand response was not dissimilar to the general attitude towards sex that prevailed in the late 1940s when Alfred C. Kinsey published his Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male, causing a sensation that is credited with changing American culture and leading eventually to the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
Neeson is being widely tipped for an Oscar nomination for his understated portrayal of Kinsey in the film, written and directed by Bill Condon, which tells the story in a frank, non-judgmental way, pursuing Kinsey's life with a cool detachment.
It contains some scenes of explicit sexual activity and, as Kinsey's report did more than 50 years ago, has sparked controversy and condemnation in some quarters. Conservative groups have denounced the film for glorifying the sex researcher they consider responsible for AIDS and for bringing about a widespread acceptance of the 'perversity and immorality' that exists today.
'We're back in conservative times again,' acknowledges Neeson. 'America is schizophrenic regarding its attitude to sex and sexuality. There is the incredible popularity of shows like Sex and the City where ladies are talking about blow jobs and stuff like that, and then there's uproar when Janet Jackson shows her mammary glands. It's the same with violence in movies. Any child in America can see The Passion of the Christ, which is the most violent film since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but they cannot see Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Dreamers because there's nudity in it. That's very strange to me.'
In his drive to explore sex in a strict scientific context, Kinsey worked with his staff at Indiana University to collect more than 18,000 interviews about Americans' sexual experiences at a time when people rarely talked about sex.
As the film dispassionately documents, Kinsey continued with his increasingly eccentric research, experimenting with homosexuality and encouraging his researchers to engage in wife-swapping. He died of heart failure in 1956, aged 62.
Neeson sees Kinsey as having particular relevance in the light of America's current swing towards conservatism. 'Considering the attitudes to sex in the 1940s and '50s, what Kinsey did was pretty extraordinary. He lifted the lid off the least understood part of our existence.'