Liam Neeson was born in Ballymena, County Antrim. Despite being raised a Catholic, he cites Unionist leader Ian Paisley as an early influence on his acting career, as he would sneak into Paisley's church hall as a teenager to admire his presence and oratory skills. He spent a year at Queens University Belfast studying Physics and Computer Science, before returning to Ballymena where he worked in a variety of jobs. He subsequently spent two years training to be a teacher in Newcastle but again left his studies and this time returned to Belfast. In 1976, Neeson succesfully auditioned for the Lyric Players' Theatre in Belfast, and spent the next two years touring with them in productions such as Philadelphia, Here I Come and The Plough and the Stars.
In 1978 he moved to Dublin and joined the Abbey theatre, where, in 1980, he was spotted by John Boorman in a production of Of Mice and Men. This would lead to a part in Excalibur (1981), where he met and began a long-term relationship with Helen Mirren. He subsequently moved to London and secured a number of roles in television and film, such as the part of Charles Churchill, alongside Mel Gibson in The Bounty (1984). In 1986 he had the starring role in Lamb, as a priest who takes a young boy from a reform school in Ireland and goes on the run to London. His performance led him to be cast in The Mission (1986), following which he took the decision to move to Hollywood. Following a series of roles in TV movies and smaller productions (along with a role in Neil Jordan's High Spirits), Neeson's big break came with Schindler's List (1993), in which he played the titular Oskar Schindler. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.
Since then he has had starring roles in many big-budget Hollywood productions, such as Rob Roy (1995), Star Wars: Episode 1 (1999) and Kinsey (2004). He has also appeared in three films with Irish subject matter. He starred as Michael Collins in Neil Jordan's 1996 film of the same name and teamed up again with the director for Breakfast on Pluto (2005). He also starred opposite James Nesbitt in Five Minutes of Heaven (2009) as a former member of the UVF who faces the brother of one of his murder victims.