‘The Ice Road’ stars Liam Neeson & Amber Midthunder on driving big rigs and working on the ice
Neeson and Midthunder talk about learning to drive 18-wheelers for the new Netflix action thriller.
Moviefone: What was it that attracted you to this?
Liam Neeson: I'll tell you what attracted me. That expanse of ice, that expanse of snow going on, it seems, to infinity. I just was attracted to that. I'm attracted to these huge Kenworth trucks that these Kenworth makers, the offices in Ohio and Winnipeg. They couldn't have done enough for us because they are the star of the movie, I think, these Kenworth trucks.
MF: And the ice roads are real?
Amber Midthunder: They are. They are very real. Actually, my oldest brother was a real life ice road trucker. He's still a trucker, but just doesn't work on the ice roads anymore. So that was a very cool experience for me to be able to do this and kind of pay homage and have him guiding me and talk to him about it.
MF: Did you get to drive them?
Neeson: I did. I've been out with an expert a couple of times. He showed me how sensitive they are to gear changes and brakes and all the rest of it, and I came away with a huge respect for the men that drive these trucks. I mean, they're 18-wheelers. They are massive. The amount of stuff these containers can hold...
Midthunder: We learned what they did. They brought us up a little bit early, and they had us take lessons and drive them around. And that was like super, super fun. The first time I was ever behind the wheel of an 18 wheeler was maybe when I was like 10 or 11, my brother drove his truck out for like a Christmas or something. And he tricked me into turning the engine on. And I think I cried because it was so loud and powerful. So it was cool to also redeem myself that way.
MF: And you were actually out on the ice? You weren't on a set. It wasn't green screen?
Midthunder: No, this is true. The crew went out, we were on Lake Winnipeg, they recreate it. They made an actual ice road, and we took real 18-wheelers out, and we shot there for most of the film.
MF: What was that like, how cold was it?
Midthunder: It was really scary. Well, because I didn't realize that that was what would be happening until I was in Winnipeg in pre-production. So to see that that's where we were and what we were doing. It was a whole new element that made it very real.
MF: Yeah. I've been to Winnipeg in the winter. It's super cold. And I wasn't standing on a sheet of ice.
Midthunder: Yeah. It emanates through your shoes. Like it's something that I can't even describe. It's like when you get out there, first of all, the air like pierces you, but also just we have like thick boots with heaters and like even just laying your feet on the ice, it somehow travels through your clothes and through your body. It's incredible now that I'm not there anymore.
MF: How hard is it to act and be in this really cold condition? And there's one point where you're actually in the water.
Neeson: Yeah, without spoiling it for your audience, we take a dip, not for pleasure, but a sequence happens in the film where the ice breaks and two of us have to go into the briny to save each other. It was cold. I didn't feel in danger at any time because we were surrounded by an amazing crew and wranglers who were ready to dive in to help us if we got in trouble. And, as regards the acting, I didn't act because we were always cold, and in the trucks we kind of knew what we had to do, and it was just getting the lines out and just try and stay warm.
MF: Amber, what was it like working with Liam Neeson and Laurence Fishburne, two biggies?
Midthunder: Yeah, it was very cool. It was in a situation that I think on paper could feel very intimidating, but they're both so kind. And so just like grounded and lovely to be around. And they're great workers and artists that it just felt like a really, really good masterclass.
MF: I think this character, Mike, was multi-faceted because we see your Liam Neeson tough guy, but he has a brother, Gurty, and we see a different side of that.
Neeson: Yeah, that's what I like, too, very much. It kind of reminded me of a play I did many years ago now called Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck's one of America's great writers. And this relationship with my brother, wonderfully played by Marcus Thomas. My brother, Gurty, has got this condition whereby he had a traumatic brain injury serving in Iraq as a soldier, and that affects, not so much his comprehension, but how the words leave his mouth. When they come out, not in proper sentences and stuff. It's called aphasia, and it's a very interesting condition. And so, I liked that. I liked being protective towards him. And of course he's been protective towards me, too, because he's a brilliant mechanic, but it was a nice little touch that Jonathan Hensleigh, the writer-director put into the film, that I care for my brother. And of course, he cares for me, and we get into these situations where we lose jobs because of his aphasia, but we're still very good at what we do.
MF: Why does Tantoo sign up for this journey?
Midthunder: Her brother is one of the trapped miners. She's also just a bit of an activist and kind of a little bit of a rebel renegade. So I think the idea that it's dangerous and maybe something that shouldn't be done is attractive, but also she has the personal investment of wanting to be the one who knows that her brother is getting saved.
MF: And she's pretty tough?
Midthunder: Yeah. She is.
MF: She just doesn't give up?
Midthunder: Yeah. That was a fun. I liked her that way to the idea that in a big group of tall, tough men, that there was this character who was like a young woman who can also kind of carry her own, but still maintain being a woman. It felt very cool to me.
'The Ice Road' is now streaming on Netflix.