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NAMES

Liam Neeson and the cast of ‘Honest Thief’ on Boston accents, pandemic life, and their fondness for filming in Worcester

Neeson said it felt a bit like ‘being back home in Northern Ireland.’

Kate Walsh and Liam Neeson in a scene from "Honest Thief."
Kate Walsh and Liam Neeson in a scene from "Honest Thief."Open Road Films

It’s a strange time to be going to the movies. Studios are delaying planned blockbusters left and right, and theaters are either fully closed or limiting audience capacity because of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, some studios are pushing forward with their plans, including Open Road Films, which releases the Liam Neeson action film “Honest Thief” in 2,425 theaters this weekend.

“Honest Thief,” which is set in Boston but filmed in Worcester in late 2018, stars Neeson as Tom Carter, a retired bank robber who has managed to steal $9 million over a long career. When Tom falls in love with Annie (Kate Walsh, “Grey’s Anatomy”), he decides to come clean about his criminal past.

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Upon doing so, he is double-crossed by a pair of FBI agents who want to take his bank-robbing fortune for themselves, forcing Tom to go on the run and drawing in another FBI agent (Amesbury native Jeffrey Donovan, “Burn Notice”) who tries to make things right.

In a series of interviews conducted over Zoom and by phone, Neeson, Walsh, and Donovan discussed their experiences filming in Worcester, the intricacies of the Boston accent, and how they’ve been dealing with the pandemic.

Liam Neeson stars as Tom Carter in "Honest Thief."
Liam Neeson stars as Tom Carter in "Honest Thief."Open Road Films

How have you been holding up during the pandemic? What’s your daily life like right now?

LN: I finished up a film in Winnipeg on March 19. I got to Upstate New York, my home, March 20. I think I’ve left my house maybe five times in the last six months. It’s kind of strange.

Look, there are millions of people who don’t have a job or know where their next meal is coming from. I have a house that’s paid for. I have a few acres to walk around on. I’m so [expletive] lucky. And I count my blessings every day.

Right now, I’m excited for the film. It’s going to be back in theaters, live theaters, which is going to be great.

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Jeffrey, you’ve done a Boston accent — or at least a Kennedy accent — in movies before, playing RFK in “J. Edgar” and JFK in “LBJ.” Did you have a Boston accent growing up in Amesbury?

JD: I grew up on the border of Mass. and New Hampshire, so I had a bit of a townie accent. When I went to NYU, they really trained your dialect out of you, so that you could sound like you’re from anywhere.

When I did “J. Edgar” and played Bobby, it was like I was playing a British guy. But when I went back to Worcester to play “Honest Thief,” they wanted a local accent, which was harder than the Kennedys. I was trying to draw on my growing up in a small town in Northern Mass., but I had trained the accent out of me for years. But once I started going to the bars in Worcester, it came back.

This is obviously an unconventional time to debut a movie. How do you feel about “Honest Thief” opening in theaters instead of on-demand?

KW: There’s a little silver lining that our film’s going to be in a movie theater. At a time when everyone’s been isolating and watching everything at home on their computers, phones, and TVs — to see something in the dark with other people on the big screen, this is a perfect film to do that.

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The love story that is the center between Liam’s character and mine, between Tom and Annie, is very real, in the sense that they are people with a past. They’ve had heartbreak, they have respective baggage, and they’ve found each other, and have the redemptive power of love.

“Honest Thief” is set in Boston and was filmed in Worcester. Can you share any fond memories from your time there?

JD: I loved working in Worcester. What a different city it was from when I grew up. They made us T-shirts as a wrap gift that said ‘Be nice to Worcester,’ which was great. They treated us well. One of the things I missed most about New England was steamers. They don’t have those out in LA, so I ate steamers pretty much every other day.

LN: I felt like I was back home in Northern Ireland. There seemed to be a Presbyterian church at the corner of every street. The people were incredibly helpful — the Police Department especially, bent over backwards to accommodate us, which was lovely. There was genuine affection from the townspeople.

I remember I was staying literally across the street from this cancer hospital, and they asked me if I would come over. I was dreading going over [because] I just felt so inadequate. I finally went over, and saw these incredibly brave people who were going through therapy. They were just full of joy that I, whatever my celebrity status is, made the effort to see them and say hello. I’ll never forget that. It was humbling, fulfilling, and just gave me so much hope.

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