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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 December 2007, 09:35 GMT
Neeson reveals Paisley influence
Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson was a boy when he listened to Ian Paisley preaching
Ian Paisley influenced Liam Neeson's decision to take up acting, the Hollywood star has revealed.

The Ballymena-born star of Schindler's List and Michael Collins paid tribute to the first minister and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness as he attended a reception in New York in their honour on Tuesday.

Mr Neeson, however, denied claims he has been lined up to play the role of Ian Paisley in one of two movies currently in development about the North Antrim MP.

"It's quite remarkable being here tonight," he said.

"I never thought in my lifetime that I would ever see Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness together laughing, sharing jokes and doing the country proud, the people of Northern Ireland proud.

Mr Neeson said he told Mr Paisley that he was responsible for him becoming an actor.

"I used to creep into his church hall in Ballymena when I was about 13 or 14 just to hear him preach," he said.

I used to creep into his church hall in Ballymena when I was about 13 or 14 just to hear him preach
Liam Neeson

"He had a magnificent presence and it was incredible to watch this six foot-plus man just bible-thumping away.

"It was acting but it was also great acting and stirring too."

After he posed for photographs with the two politicians, Mr Neeson revealed that he plans to visit Belfast next month to mark the final performance at the theatre which gave him his professional acting break - the Lyric Theatre - before it is knocked down.

The Lyric, which Liam Neeson is a patron of, is planning a new 17m theatre and will receive 70% of that from public funds.

However, it still has to raise 2 million from private donors.

"People have been telling me that I am fancied to play Ian Paisley but I don't know where it's come from - I swear," he said.

"Personally I think it should be Robbie Coltrane who would be fantastic."

Other actors linked to the part have included Belfast-born Kenneth Branagh and Brian Cox.

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