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NON-STOP

About The Production
Non-Stop proved to be an apt title for the reunited Unknown team of director Jaume Collet-Serra, star Liam Neeson and producers Joel Silver and Andrew Rona, whose previous film together took the worldwide box office by storm. Their latest collaboration began with one of those instances in which a spec screenplay gained instant momentum. Although writers Chris Roach and John Richardson had not had a script produced, their high-adrenaline whodunit garnered attention from many executives among the industry...especially Silver and Rona.

In the story, we are introduced to the tortured Bill Marks, who, by all appearances, has given up on life. The ex-NYPD cop sits in his filthy car at the airport finishing off the last of his scotch...and then we realize this is actually his pre-work routine as he attempts to muster up any interest to do his job. Clearly, this is a man who is lost. As he prepares to board the 767 for what should be a routine flight, the alcoholic Marks is on edge. He just wants to punch his time card and fly to Europe and back as fast as possible without any aggravation.

During the check-in and boarding process, bleary-eyed-but-surprisingly-sharp Marks encounters some fellow passengers who will soon become quite familiar to us, and he exchanges knowing glances with flight attendant Nancy, whom he seems to know well. As the plane lifts off for London, nothing seems out of the ordinary, and he settles in for a six-hour trip.

Shortly into the flight, we discover that Marks is a U.S. Air Marshal. He begins receiving text messages over the plane's secure network, demanding that he force the airline to transfer $150 million into a secret account or a passenger will be killed every 20 minutes. When he realizes that the sender is not joking, and is someone on board and deadly serious, the race to solve the mystery begins. The rest of the story plays out almost in real time as Marks wrestles with who is actually trustworthy, while the terrified crew and passengers wonder whether it is Marks who is trying to take down their plane.

Silver and Rona, the president of Silver Pictures, quickly sent the script to Neeson to gauge his interest, and the star had a similar reaction as his producers. Explains Silver, who has produced such legendary actioners as Die Hard and Die Hard 2, as well as all of the films in the Lethal Weapon and The Matrix series: "When Liam read it, he said, 'Let's make this movie.' He knew that it grabs you and it doesn't let you go. It has an incredible mystery in the middle of it, and you don't know who to trust. You are left suspecting everybody."

As Silver offers, filmmakers have an incredible opportunity with Neeson: "Liam is a phenomenon. He has been thought of as this great actor for his entire career, and suddenly, later in his life, he has become an action star." The producer reflects that not only is Neeson's ferocity plausible-the former boxer has an imposing physicality that matches his intense line readings-but his vulnerability makes the audience love to see him in this kind of role. "Liam is an actor who the audience supports the second they see him. They want him to succeed and not get hurt. They want him to be okay and to get rid of the bad guys and do what he has to do."

Rona recalls that the script the team received was the definition of a page-turner: "The minute you started reading it, you couldn't stop. On every other page there was a twist you couldn't see coming. It is rare that you have a script where you sit down on the first read and say: 'This is a movie.' Non-Stop was that."

The producer appreciated how the story's puzzle elements evoked classic mysteries, and how writer Ryan Engle's contributions made the screenplay perfect for Neeson as their leading man. Rona says: "You are guided through this entire process through Bill Marks and his perspective. There are a lot of red herrings, and you don't know who the bad guy is until the end. You just know that you're in this closed environment, traveling at high speeds over the middle of the ocean, and the bad guy or woman is locked inside this plane with you. While Non-Stop is an action movie, it's also a whodunit that goes back to the Hitchcock films where everyone's a suspect."

Neeson's transition early in his career from serious dramatic actor to global action star has been well documented by the press and marveled at by his peers. Still, he takes nothing for granted. "I was thrilled when Joel called me up about this," the actor says. "I literally couldn't stop turning the pages."

The performer admits that he was drawn to the role of Bill Marks because of the character's flaws and the fact that the ex-cop has to earn the trust of the passengers and the audience at the same time. Neeson observes: "When we see Bill in the start of the film, he's a guy on the edge and someone you don't want to sit beside on a long-haul flight. The finger of suspicion points to him for quite a period. But I was drawn to him because in a very basic, cinematic, iconic-figure way, he fits that mold of someone who does what he has to do to save the day. He's an everyday guy who rises to the challenge."

Silver knew that the combination of Neeson starring and Collet-Serra directing would make for the perfect pairing to tell this type of pulse-pounding story. "Jaume's talent is his ability to create tension and delve into character," commends the producer. "You go on this ride with Liam's character and sense his despair of not knowing what to do or where to go. Then you realize how good he is when he figures it out, which is what makes it an exceptional cinema experience."

For Collet-Serra, who has worked with Silver on three previous films-House of Wax, Orphan and Unknown-the fast-paced mystery of Non-Stop was quite appealing, as was the chance to conquer his own fears. Says the director: "I'm terrified of flying, and this is one of the reasons why I did this movie. I wanted to explore my fear of flying and, as a director, my fear of doing a movie in one location."

He appreciated the psychological elements of the script that explore humans in a confined space. Says the director: "I'm a big fan of movies like Murder on the Orient Express, where there's a number of people traveling and everybody has an agenda. This is a movie like that where you meet a bunch of people and you don't know who they are. You know what they appear to be, but in this movie they reveal who they really are. When you're in the plane and things go wrong, that forces you to reveal your true personality. Who are you going to choose to be? Are you going to be the hero? Are you going to confront the problem?"

Collet-Serra was also thrilled to have another chance to work with his Unknown leading man. In fact, their third film together, Run All Night, recently wrapped production. The filmmaker shares: "When I read the script, I couldn't imagine anybody but Liam playing this part. We had such a great creative partnership on Unknown. Liam brings a lot of credibility to the characters that he plays, and he has this gift that you just believe him. You like him right away, and in the kind of movies that I like to do-fast-paced and energetic ones-we don't have a lot of time for extended character development at the film's beginning. It's important to have an actor who can speak to the audience emotionally from the start. Liam is the perfect actor for these types of movies."

Neeson appreciates all that the Spanish-born director brings to a set. He explains: "Jaume's a passionate filmmaker. His knowledge of cameras and the accoutrements of shooting a movie is phenomenal." In addition to his director's technical expertise, what Neeson appreciates is Collet-Serra's sensitivity to performances. "Jaume has an innate sense of the truth in front of the camera with his actors. He knows if something is too much or too little and can convey that information in a very concise way. It's always very comfortable working with him."

Non-Stop marks producer Alex Heineman's third project with Silver and Rona. He agrees that the intensity of Roach, Richardson and Engle's screenplay is enhanced by the ticking clock and confined space of the situation in which Marks finds himself. Indeed, the idea of being trapped on a flight-gone-wrong is a very tangible one for the audience. He shares: "Many people have fears about going on a plane and something happening during the flight. This taps right into that."

With Collet-Serra, the producer has seen the director develop a reputation as a filmmaker with a knack for the paranoid thriller. In Non-Stop, as Heineman says, "Jaume puts you in the mind of Marks. From the opening frame you feel like you're in his head and experiencing this ride with him."

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