If you met Liam Neeson, would you ever forget him? No? Neither did this horse.
While at the New York Film Festival recently, Neeson marveled at how the animal who pulls his character’s wagon in the upcoming Coen brothers western “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” remembered the actor from a previous project. The horse pawed the ground upon seeing Neeson again. He whinnied.
“You won’t believe it,” the actor said, per Page Six. “I’m saying this horse knew me. He actually remembered me from another Western we made a while back. I love animals. When we worked together before I took special care of him. I fed him treats. Gave him apples.”
But we do believe you, Mr. Neeson, for your touching tale is just one of several recently shared by famous actors who bonded with their neighing co-stars. Horses remember humans by their body language and the emotions they elicit, according to equine science journalist Christa Lesté-Lasserre. Positive encounters lead to positive memories, and negative ones lead to a grudge-holding horse.
“If you’re talking about Liam Neeson, and he says there’s a horse from a previous set that remembers him, I’m sure that’s absolutely true,” Lesté-Lasserre told The Washington Post. “If there’s food involved, they’re going to connect. [But] the food alone isn’t enough. If you have a peaceful, gentle person who just evokes a kindness through the body language he or she gives, the horse is going to read that.”
That certainly sounds like Neeson, a dulcet-toned man once described by Vanity Fair as “a mighty tree in the autumn of life.” He cared for horses on his aunt’s farm in Northern Ireland as a young man, according to Men’s Journal, so it all kind of makes sense.
Russell Crowe wants you to know that he is also chummy with horses. After writer Anne T. Donahue quote-tweeted the Page Six story about Liam Neeson — “this is the love story our generation deserves,” she wrote — Crowe then quote-tweeted that and deemed her comment “absolutely true.”
“There’s a horse George who I gave the speech in the forest in Gladiator on,” he continued. “Years later he was on the set of Robin Hood and we would have a chat everyday. Same with the white horse Rusty in Robin Hood we chatted again on Les Mis. Lifelong friends.” (Looks like Rusty, like Jean Valjean, did not forget Javert.)
Crowe admires the horses' actorliness, writing in a reply to a follower that he has “fallen in love” with most of the horses he’s worked with: “It takes a certain temperament to be a great movie horse, but believe me they know when it’s show time and that they are in show biz. The best Horse Masters value their contribution beyond money.”
Jeff Daniels, on the other hand, seems to have fared worse in this arena (though not as terribly as those who worked on the HBO series “Luck,” which was canceled after three horses tragically died during filming). Last month, while accepting an Emmy Award for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series or movie, the “Godless” actor gave young actors a tip: Don’t ever lie and say you know how to ride a horse.
“You will find on day one, you’re in the Kentucky Derby,” Daniels said.
He then thanked Apollo, the horse who put up with his inexperience — for a bit, anyway. Apollo allegedly threw Daniels off thrice, the last time resulting in a broken wrist.
“He was Jeff Bridges’s horse on ‘True Grit,’ and I felt he was making unfair comparisons,” he joked. Perhaps he should have given Apollo a carrot.
Some other horse men — the natural “horse girl” equivalent — are as follows: James Stewart called his horse Pie “one of the best co-stars I ever had.” John Wayne’s movie horse Dollor was adopted after the actor’s death by a Texas woman who said the horse was “a movie legend just as much as John Wayne was.” Robert Redford, a literal horse whisperer, reportedly rescued an abandoned animal while in New Zealand for “Pete’s Dragon.” Viggo Mortensen bought some of the horses he worked with on “Lord of the Rings” and one named TJ from “Hidalgo."
“It wasn’t a question of possessing the horse, I just wanted to keep up the relationship with [TJ],” Mortensen told Entertainment Weekly years ago. “He’s unusually intelligent, possessed, and calm for a stallion. He’d never been on a movie set, and for him to perform all those tricks and fall down and then stay down while there’s a camera crew around was incredible.”
Plus Elizabeth Taylor, a horse woman (!), was gifted her “National Velvet” co-star King Charles. (Westerns are clearly dominated by men, but here are some that aren’t.)
These folks treat the horses like the great actors they are. So maybe that means great actors should be treated like . . . horses? Clint Eastwood seems to think so. While promoting Eastwood’s 2016 film “Sully” on “The Graham Norton Show,” star Tom Hanks said the director uses a soft voice when he’s in charge — similar to how directors on his 1960s TV show “Rawhide” would have to speak to prevent the horses from bolting. No “Cut!” or “Action!”
“When you’re in a Clint Eastwood movie, you don’t even know the camera’s rolling,” Hanks said. “You just hear over your shoulder, ‘Alright, go ahead.’ And sometimes you’re doing some pretty hard stuff, and you just keep doing it until you hear him say, ‘That’s enough of that.’ It’s intimidating as hell.”
We have yet to learn whether Hanks received any apples.