‘Honest Thief,’ starring Liam Neeson and Jeffrey Donovan, shows that life and crime are not necessarily black and white

Jeffrey Donovan in “Honest Thief” (Provided)

By Molly Given

In most heist films, there are good guys and bad guys and a distinguishable line that ultimately separates them. In director Mark William’s latest action-thriller, that ideology is not so black and white—but that’s supposed to be the point.

“Honest Thief” stars Liam Neeson, Kate Walsh, Jai Courtney, Anthony Ramos and Jeffrey Donovan and follows Neeson character as a thief who decides to straighten out his criminal ways after meeting a woman who inspires him to do it (Walsh.) However, no one and nothing is quite as it seems in this different type of action film.

One of the films stars, Jeffrey Donovan sat down with Metro to discuss what went into making “Honest Thief.”

Liam Neeson in “Honest Thief” (Provided)

What was it about this particular project that intrigued you to want to sign on? 

It always starts with the script, if the story is good that’s what attracts me first. It was a nice little heist story but really underneath it was a love story and I thought it was something really different than the normal action movies. with my character, Meyers, I’ve played law enforcement type of characters before but this guy was broken—which I really liked. I hadn’t played someone before who was coming out of a divorce, broken and trying to light the ship at his job, so those were the kind of initial things. Then having spoken with Mark Williams and getting to know him, I felt like he really knew what he was after and that gave me a lot of confidence. 

All of the characters in this definitely have layers, there’s not just good guys and bad guys. But with your character specifically, what did you do to get prepared and how would you describe him? 

It’s funny, I’ve never used my northern Boston town accent—I grew up in Amesbury, Massachusetts, which is about 40 minutes from where we shot, and in all my career, I’ve never actually gotten the voice that I kind of grew up with. I got rid of that in school, they trained it out of me with that regional accent. This is all a back story you create as an actor but [for Meyers] it started with what does it mean to be a Massachusetts boy growing up? I kind of believed his father was in law enforcement and he grew up wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, succeeded it, met the love of his life and got married and then, unfortunately, put every ounce of energy into his job and not his marriage. I have a family, and knock on wood, it’s strong and I have great kids and I couldn’t imagine losing them to a divorce. So, I try to imagine that world and what it would be like to follow in this guy’s footsteps and losing the only family he had. That’s where it kind of started off and then when the story begins, the sort of thriller action of it all takes over. 

You’ve gotten to play roles all over the board with law enforcement on both ends. What is it about these action characters that you like, and is there one you prefer playing more than the other? 

It’s not that I prefer playing any one type of role—but my friends and my family know that my next job should be the opposite of what I just did, because I get a little restless playing the same thing over and over. Doing “Burn Notice” where I was a spy, luckily the cast was so great and the writing was so great that it changed weekly. I did that for seven years and the character was allowed to evolve. But I do like the action aspect, what’s so great about movies that have the thriller-action to it is that you know that the audience is following you every step of the way and is on the edge of your seat. But, then you [can] try to do something different and out of the box—I have a movie coming out called “Let Them Go” and that’s a slow-burning drama that’s a lot quieter and I enjoy trying to immerse myself into these character roles and I sort of lose my identity and you might not recognize me as much. So I have the best of both worlds and I’m very lucky, but it’s hard to get to choose those two things, but I’ve been fortunate enough so far. You talk about walking both sides of the line, look at Liam Neeson, he’s done “Schindler’s List” and then he was doing “Taken,” what an awesome career he’s been able to have. I look up to him. 

Jai Courtney and Anthony Ramos in “Honest Thief” (Provided)

There is so much that happens in this film—is there a moment in the film that you were excited to see come to fruition onscreen or were excited for audiences to see? 

I’ll give you a secret behind the scenes—there’s a fight between my character and Liam’s character and we’re scrapping around. He’s a pro and I had done seven years of action on “Burn Notice” so we knew what we were doing, but even then, I accidentally punched him in the nose full-on. He took it and didn’t even complain about it and I was like wow, what a great guy. The next take, he punches me right in the gut—so I was like it’s okay quid pro quo I get it, and who doesn’t want to get punched by Liam Neeson in real life? 

This film is definitely a different sort of action film—nothing is black and white, even the title. What is it about this story that you think audiences will also find different and fresh about it? 

That’s a great question, and I also think it’s the heart of the movie to use a paradox. Can you be an honest thief? Are you always walking that line of doing something good even though you’re a bad person or always walking the line of doing something bad when you’re a good person? I think it’s true and there’s a grey area—and I’m talking about the fictional story here— when the stakes are so high and you have so much power and can ruin someone’s life but can also protect someone’s life. A thief can steal your fortune and they can also realize the error of their ways and say they want to give it back. I think that what’s interesting about this movie is Liam’s older and the cast and the main characters are slightly older and I think it’s just a more mature way to look at life and say it’s not black and white and there’s a grey area. Good people can do bad sometimes and bad people can do good, but what’s the end game? I think the story is saying give yourself a second chance, it’s much deeper of an action movie than what you would expect. 

“Honest Thief” hits theaters Oct. 16.

This story first appeared on our sister publication metro.philly.us.

More from around NYC