Making a movie like Netflix’s The Ice Road could easily be achieved through clever soundstaging, CGI magic and many other tricks that create many a major blockbuster. But writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh wasn’t content with that sort of model, opting for a more practical effects-driven experience. It would require some long, freezing days on set, but as Liam Neeson and Amber Midthunder can attest, those extreme circumstances were amazing motivators during their shoot.
I spoke with both Mr. Neeson and Ms. Midthunder during the recent press day for Netflix’s The Ice Road, and noting their practical experiences was a huge part of our discussions. As they got to film on an actual ice road as part of the production that took place up in Manitoba, Canada, I asked if there were any days that may have been more challenging than others in an actual icy wilderness.
In terms of Liam Neeson’s reaction to the shoot, The Ice Road sounds like it ran rather smoothly for all involved. With safety being an obvious priority, there weren’t any horror stories on his end; though this is a man who’s been doing pretty impressive stunt work and action acting for quite some time now. Even in light of his impressive resume, Neeson was very keen to credit to the attentiveness of both cast and crew, as you’ll see below:
No, but the fact that every day we did have ice wranglers, who were there to observe the ice and watch its conditioning state, just that in itself you were constantly aware of the danger. ... So the cast, when we heard all these stories, we looked at each other, and went ‘Ok. This is to be treated very very seriously.’ And these monsters, these incredible Kenworth trucks … I see the trucks as the real stars of this movie, to be honest. And Lawrence Fishburne, of course, Amber [Midthunder,] and Benjamin Walker. We just had an extraordinary cast.
It was easy for the cast of The Ice Road to get into a sort of method acting approach during their time in the frozen landscape of Manitoba. On top of actually having an ice road to work on, there were actual Kenworth trucks that Liam Neeson and his co-stars actually got to “drive.” The secret to that piece of the puzzle was the fact that these big rigs actually had stunt drivers piloting them, as they were built to accommodate both driver and actor into a seamless visual experience.
Those ice wranglers were key to the success of the filming, as Liam Neeson’s knowledge of ice road trucking only reinforced. During our interview, he shared everything he learned during the making of The Ice Road, and hearing him recall those details showed just how reverent everyone was about this experience. Very little was left to Neeson's imagination, as he boiled down the entire exercise to this clear statement:
Each day was a challenge, not least because of the temperature. There was a couple days we were in -30 degrees, so you had to layer up. There was kind of no acting required. You were just constantly trying to keep warm, and just say the lines in the order in which they were written, hold on to the steering wheel, and hope for the best.
Of course, Liam Neeson isn’t the only star of The Ice Road who vouches for that very real experience. There’s also the talented Amber Midthunder, who coincidentally enough finds herself co-starring with Mr. Neeson for the second time this year, as she was also in The Marksman. The big difference between these films is, naturally, the temperature, as The Ice Road is the polar opposite of the New Mexico shoot from their previous collaboration. This only fed into the danger of the action thriller they were making this time around, as Midthunder reflected on this chilling reality thusly:
There was a day that it got down to, I think, -50 degrees. I’ve been saying that, it sounds insane, but that is what is in my memory. That was crazy … a temperature that you can’t understand that people live in, even when you’re the person who’s living in it. It feels like it actually should not exist. So that was pretty crazy.
Action thrillers thrive on how accurately a cast like Liam Neeson and Amber Midthunder can sell the dangers presented. While it was still a more controlled sort of peril than that which actual ice truckers encounter, the filming of The Ice Road was still chilly enough to get across the message that when you’re on a ticking clock, the elements are quite possibly your most dangerous foe. It’s something that audiences will get to experience in the comfort of their own homes, as The Ice Road is currently streaming on Netflix, so you may want to have a blanket handy before pressing play.