How The Commuter director kept Liam Neeson stuck on a train

Vera Farmiga and Liam Neeson
Joanna (Vera Farmiga) and Michael (Liam Neeson) have a brief encounter.

Director Jaume Collte-Serra is a master at contained movies. He directed Non-Stop on a plane, The Shallows entirely on a rock in the ocean, and now he’s back with Liam Neeson in The Commuter. It’s not a coincidence that he keeps making movies confined to one location.

“Yeah, I love it,” Collet-Serra said. “I particularly enjoy the essence of the story. A movie should be as short as possible and it should have the least number of locations as possible. That’s what I look for, and the least number of scenes and everything.”

Frankly, after The Shallows, a train is easy!

“Anywhere with water, I would not recommend it to anybody,” Collet-Serra said. “Just do like Aquaman and do all CG water. Don’t use real water. It just slows everything down.”

Liam Neeson is The Commuter
Liam Neeson IS The Commuter

When he gets a script, Collet-Serra even removes outside scenes to make it even more challenging to tell the story.

“Non-Stop and Commuter, when they were originally scripted, you would cut away from the plane and you would cut away from the train,” Collet-Serra said. “You would see other things and other scenes with other characters. Because I feel these movies are best enjoyed through the point of view of Liam and not cutting away from him, because we want to know exactly what he knows, then those scenes go away and I’m very strict about that.”

Liam Neeson
I keep expecting Liam Neeson to throw someone off the train and claim, “No ticket.”

Collet-Serra embraces the challenge of conveying the entire plot from within a vehicle.

“That forces other problems with how to get that information back into the train,” he said. “We all get the scripts and we end up making those choices to give a similar experience to the audience.”

One scene that takes place before Liam Neeson boards the train is a montage of scenes in which his wife drops him off at the station. The audience sees one line from each day of his frequent commutes.

“Within one location, we would shoot a few moments knowing roughly the order,” Collet-Serra said. “Literally each moment we shot was that, one moment with one line. It was almost like an acting exercise. I think the actors had a lot of fun because they had to say the same line in a few different ways just for me to have a variety in the editing room because we didn’t shoot the scene.”

It was an acting exercise, but not improvisation.

“That speaks to the brilliance of the actors that they can put so much intention into just one line,” Collet-Serra said. “Most of the lines were written, not improvised. There were a couple improvised but most were written, so that needs to give more credit to the writer.”

The Commuter
Step aside, conductor. Liam Neeson has TAKEN over.

Up next for Collet-Serra is the movie based on the Jungle Cruise ride, starring Dwayne Johnson. That will not be set entirely on the boat, so don’t typecast this director.

“Obviously, Run All Night, or right now I’m doing Jungle Cruise with Dwayne, obviously those movies have plenty of locations,” Collet-Serra said. “Run All Night, we shot 55 locations in 45 days.”

The Commuter opens Friday, January 12. Read our review here.

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