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Kissing another man was toughest role I've ever had; SUPERSTAR NEESON ON CONTROVERSIAL NEW MOVIE.

Byline: IAN MARKHAM-SMITH

IRISH actor Liam Neeson told yesterday how kissing a naked man in his new film was one of the hardest things he ever had to do.

The married father of two was prepared for anything when he took on the role of controversial US sexologist Alfred Kinsey.

But he admitted the passionate clinch with co-start Peter Sarsgaard was very difficult.

He said: "It was hard - I don't want to say it wasn't hard to do. It was hard, I'm heterosexual. I wanted to do it right.

"I didn't want the audience to see me, Liam Neeson, flinching from kissing another guy.

"In the end I tackled the situation as calmly as I could. It sounds a bit boring, but it was just another day at the office.

"Of course it was delicate but we didn't start the day and say, 'Oh my God, we're doing this today'."

Neeson's unusual love scene starts when Sarsgaard, 33, who plays his open-minded assistant Clyde Martin, emerges from the shower and gives a glimpse of full-frontal nudity.

Sarsgaard labelled the torrid kiss as "halfway between being kissed and being eaten".

But the unflappable Neeson, who refused to expose his own manhood, said he didn't even flinch at the nudity.

He said: "I'd forgotten he was nude in it."

In the 1940s and 1950s Kinsey began his research into understanding sexual behaviour.

He quizzed thousands of people on their intimate sexual habits and his marriage to his wife Ciara was commonly described as unorthodox.

A short time later Kinsey and Ciara formed a bizarre love triangle with Clyde Martin.

Neeson said playing the controversial pioneering researcher really opened his eyes to human relationships and sexuality.

As well as the gay kiss the 52-year-old from Ballymena, Co Antrim, had to perform bad sex with actress Laura Linney, 40.

The movie, which opens here in March, has just been chosen to close the Berlin International Film Festival in February.

But despite the pressure Neeson, who has been married to actress Natasha Richardson for almost 11 years, seems to take it all in his stride. He said: "Kinsey is responsible for letting the genie out of the bottle. And you can't put it back in again. We're all groping our way through life and hoping we'll be accepted and tolerated.

GOD bless people like Kinsey who can kind of shine a light into a murky area of our humanity."

An American zoologist, Kinsey didn't start out studying sex but rather a tiny insect, the gall wasp. Over 20 years, he collected 4million specimens.

But it was his research into the sexual habits of Americans that turned the world on its head more than 50 years ago. At 28, he married a student, played by Linney in the film. On their wedding night, both were virgins.

One of the scenes which sets the theme of this revealing movie is when Neeson has to have inexperienced sex with his new bride.

"That was a tough day, yeah," Neeson recalled of shooting the scene.

"This is their first attempt at making love, having sex.

"And it's crude and painful and embarrassing for both of them. And I think audiences, you know, in many instances, would identify with that. You know, he didn't want people to suffer, especially young people."

Kinsey realised that not talking about sex, not understanding it, led to suffering. Neeson said: "He saw a gap in scientific knowledge that, when filled through his research, would benefit mankind, ultimately. I think he was right."

So, Kinsey moved his research from the science of bugs to the science of the bedroom.

Before they were done, Professor Kinsey and his team of researchers at Indiana University interviewed 18,000 Americans about their sex lives. In the process, Kinsey became as hot as his research.

For one of the controversial parts of Kinsey's actual life is the open marriage that he encouraged with his research associates.

Neeson explained: "I understood it from a scientific point of view. That rather than go out and get strangers and say, 'Excuse me, would you mind coming in to a laboratory situation so that we can watch you having sex?', they said, well, no, we can't do that. We have to do it among ourselves. And they took films of each other, members of his team having sex.

"Heterosexual sex. Homosexual sex. And someone going in and holding a finger to their temple with a stopwatch and taking pulse rates and palpitations of the heart.

"I mean, just very, very crude, basic science. And then, somewhere halfway through, the cameras would be switched off and Kinsey's wife would come in with tea and sandwiches for everybody."

Neeson's co-star says playing Kinsey's wife reinforced for her his historic importance. She explained: "His impact is enormous," she said. "And in ways that probably, it's, you know, impossible for us to completely grasp. But he changed the culture."

Neeson reckons it's a pity society is not as open-minded.

I THINK America and to a certain extent the industrialised West is totally schizophrenic when it comes to sex.

"A nation that bemoans the death of Sex And The City and celebrates shows such as Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, and yet they show news footage of gays who've just got married kissing, and there's outrage. And there's outrage when Janet Jackson shows her nipple. It's staggering," he said.

Neeson claimed he hoped Kinsey would highlight the dangers of keeping people in the dark about their own sexuality - a problem that still exists 60 years on. He added: "Our sexuality is integral to who we are as a species and yet it still is one of the most fundamentally misunderstood things. The issues we're still not dealing with today - sex abuse, spousal abuse, all the way up to Aids - it's all sex related.

"It's staggering, the implications of what ignorance can do, you know?"

In his life Kinsey became obsessed with understanding first-hand the sexual puzzles he was studying.

Neeson said: "He was a workaholic. And sex killed him. Basically, it did, yeah. In the pursuit of trying to bring tolerance and acceptance into the world, it killed him."

Kinsey, in fact, died in 1956, at the age of 62, of overwork, a weak heart and pneumonia, leaving the Kinsey Institute to continue his research.

In part what he did was allow people to talk about sexuality in a way that really hadn't happened. Neeson said: "We can talk about sex. We can use words like masturbation. We can say penis and vagina, and people aren't going to jump out of their chairs in embarrassment."

Kinsey gave everyday people a window into what their neighbours and friends did in the bedroom.

Neeson said: "People like to feel they are normal. They're like the guy next door, the woman next door. That they're not some pervert because they, for example, masturbate twice a week. That they're normal. And they can go, 'I'm OK'. I'm a member of the human race just like everybody else'."

The actor believes that he learned a lot by looking at Kinsey and discovered that there's a really wide range of what is normal.

He added: "We're all unique and we're all totally different - Just like the gall wasp. That's exactly right. I have yet to find a single gall wasp that's the same as another."

CAPTION(S):

CO-STAR: Peter Saarsgard; DEDICATED: Liam has never shied from difficult roles
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 31, 2005
Words:1245
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