By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Maggie Grace refers to Liam Neeson, who plays her onscreen vigilante father in the “Taken” franchise, as “a goofball.”
“A lot of people think of him as such a serious person, but he’s really goofy,” the blond actress reveals about the Academy Award-winning actor, with whom she’s co-starred in two successful films.
The 30-year-old actress just wrapped her work on “Taken 3,” which she insists will be the final installment in the action-packed globe-hopping franchise. The action thriller, directed by Olivier Megaton and written by Luc Besson, is due out next year.
In the meantime, the soft-spoken blond beauty has a more intimate, character-driven drama she stars in rolling out in theaters called “About Alex.” Directed by first time writer/director Jesse Zwick (son of filmmaker Ed Zwick, an executive producer on the film), the explosions in this indie involve emotions, not the C-4 variety. Grace plays Siri, one of six friends who arrive at the New York’s Catskills home of a former college classmate to provide emotional support after he suffers a mental breakdown.
Despite their best efforts to keep the weekend gathering upbeat and joyful for their friend’s sake, a mix of old jealousies, unrequited love and widening political differences leads to confrontation and heartbreak.
Siri is dating Ben (Nate Parker), a journalist with writer’s block, who is contemplating leaving the Big Apple for Los Angeles, which she doesn’t want to do. Aubrey Plaza plays her friend Sarah, who is dating Josh (Max Greenfield), but she pines for Isaac (Max Minghella), who has brought along his much younger girlfriend (Jane Levy). Jason Ritter (son of the late actor John Ritter) plays Alex.
In an interview, Grace spoke about this “Big Chill”-like drama, penned for a whole new generation and its woes, and finishing up “Taken.”
Q: How did you get involved in “About Alex?” What was your attraction to the role of Siri?
Grace: I met with Jesse and I just really loved the way he communicated his ideas for the film. He seemed so lovely, assured, sensitive and so prepared that I had no qualms about the first-time director thing. He communicated such a sense of grace and preparedness at the same time. A few actors were attached that I’d seen their work and responded to it. Plus, it was just nice to do a small, character-driven film. That’s always a big draw for actors. There was something about the youth of it, the millennial feel, and the way that people communicate—that was really relatable.
Q: Have you been to any reunions or do you have a core group of friends that you’ve hung out with for years and years?
Grace: I do have a really close group of friends, and it’s kind of funny, it’s come full circle where some people that I used to compartmentalize, we’ve realized we’re all close friends. The circle has kind of tightened in that way. There’s really something to be said if people allow space for you to grow. They can bear witness to how far you’ve come, so I definitely try to have room with my friendships, that they do change. People do change. It’s one of the things that I’m most proud of in my life is my group of friends, whom I’d do anything for.
Q: You shot this in the Catskills, right?
Grace: Yeah. We were all plunked down together in this farmhouse in upstate New York. It was really quite a boon for the film to have this sense of intimacy and camaraderie among this group. There was no cell service, no trailers and no dressing rooms. We were all just in it together and we wanted to be there. We were all there for the right reasons. Jesse really curated this really sweet group of people and, luckily, quite a few comedians in the bunch. So morale was high at 3 a.m. when we were shooting.
Q: Who was the clown in this group?
Grace: It was kind of a two-hander with Jason Ritter and Max Greenfield. They play really well together. They sort of tossed and assisted—like basketball.
Q: Did you throw in a few of your own zingers?
Grace: Yes. Aubrey and I were in the dry sarcasm corner. We stayed well away from the pun corner, which is all Jason, all the time. He was out of control. I feel you can divide the world into two kinds of people: those who appreciate puns and those who don’t. He gets to be a little bit much. (She laughs.)
Q: Did you ad-lib or stick to the script?
Grace: The script worked really well and Jesse had a lot of trust in the actors. He sensed certain qualities that they would bring to the table, and he trusted them to do that. The characters all speak in a relatable way to the way we speak. There was a little ad-libbing here and there, comedic punchlines and whatnot.
Q: Your character seemed more mature than the others. Did you find that also?
Grace: She’s more of the introvert and very sensitive to group dynamics and what was happening there. I don’t want to say she’s more mature, but I think she’s in a place in her life where she knows who she is and what she wants.
Q: You divide your time between the east coast and west coast. Did you have to decide whether to stay in New York or live in Los Angeles at some point?
Grace: You follow the work. I have a really close group of friends who are like family and I have family to consider as well. I’m single and I still have a fair amount of freedom to choose theater or indies or things that keep me here.
Q: Where did you shoot “Taken 3?”
Grace: All over. We shot a bit in L.A., thank goodness. Runaway production is really out of control. So we shot a little bit in L.A. We shot in Atlanta, Alicante in Spain and in Paris, because it was a French company (financing it). So were all over the place.
Q: Is it a true trilogy? Or does it leave the door open for “Taken 4?”
Grace: I think this is the last one. I do.
Q: Was it sentimental the last few days on set?
Grace: Oh my gosh, it’s been so sentimental. It’s been eight years. Obviously, so much as happened. It’s been really crazy. It’s nice when you work with people you can really love and respect.
Q: Would you like to work with Liam Neeson again?
Grace: I hope so.
Q: Maybe a comedy next time?
Grace: Yeah, he needs to do a comedy. He’s such a goofball.
Q: “About Alex” suggests this current generation has it all and yet feels like it’s missing something. Do you agree with that?
Grace: There is a sense that Millennials are deeply driven by a sense of needing, which is an elusive thing, especially at that age. They’re grappling with a lot. They’re the first generation to integrate technology into their daily lives in this way. They’re the first generation in a long time that is definitely going to make less than their parents. It’s an interesting time to be coming of age and there are particular problems inherent in that. I think also, it’s this compulsively comparative culture. It’s a generation that was raised being told that they were special and then there’s this kind of achievement anxiety and so it’s a very particular time to come of age.
Q: You’ve achieved some success in your chosen field at a fairly young age, which puts you ahead of a lot of people in your age group.
Grace: I’m incredibly grateful for it. When I was a kid in Worthington, Ohio, never in my wildest dreams could you get paid to pretend for a living. It was something where if you worked really hard, you could do it in your spare time as a hobby. I didn’t know anybody until I went to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. That was the first time I met somebody who got paid to act. I was 13 and I went with my school. It was a drama club field trip.
Q: That was a turning point for you?
Grace: At the time, it was like my wildest dream was that I would end up there. (She laughs.) It’s funny. It definitely was that side of things I fell in love with, not the celebrity part. So that’s what I’ve had to get used to and embrace and still try to be authentic with.
Q: On social media, what do your fans most want to know about you?
Grace: I don’t know. I’ve always been pretty private about who I’m in love with.
Q: Do they ask you about when you were on “Lost?”
Grace: Certain projects, for sure.