Final curtain falls on a love affair begun on the stage

Marriage to film star Liam Neeson helped Richardson deal with family heritage
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The Independent US

When Natasha Richardson and Liam Neeson met on the set of a Broadway play, the chemistry between them was so apparent the production became the hit of the season.

Neeson had a reputation as a bit of a Lothario after relationships with Julia Roberts, Helen Mirren, Brooke Shields, Sinead O'Connor and Barbra Streisand and his encounter with Richardson in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie in New York in 1993 could have ended in just another name on his list.

But Richardson, the daughter of the director Tony Richardson and the actress Vanessa Redgrave, ensured that their relationship blossomed into one of Hollywood's most loving.

She kept ringing Neeson until he agreed to take the part in the play, even though he knew he was in the running for the lead in Schindler's List. When the play's run ended, he had to leave immediately to film in Poland.

On Richardson's birthday, he sent her a last-minute fax message from Poland that was flippantly signed "lots of love, Oskar", his character's name. Richardson responded with typical directness: "This is like a letter from a buddy. What is our relationship?"

Forced to make a decision, Neeson realised where his heart lay. And Richardson, effectively deciding to leave her then husband, the director Robert Fox, flew to Poland to join him.

The gossip columns had a field day, but Richardson said they jumped the gun. "When everyone assumed it, we actually weren't at that point. We fell in love later. Well, he certainly fell in love with me later."

The couple married in 1994 and their son Micheal was born the next year, followed by Daniel in 1996.

"What turns me on about a woman," Neeson once said, "is if she's an individual or has some talent. If she has both she's worth remembering."

Richardson, who made her film debut at age four in The Charge of the Light Brigade, a film directed by her father, clearly had talent.

She won the London Drama Critics' most promising newcomer award in 1986 for her performance as Nina in The Seagull alongside her mother, but the shadow of her famous family proved difficult to deal with.

"A lot of pressure comes from having a mother who is considered one of the greatest actresses of her generation," she said. "Perhaps that's partly why I love living in New York – being free of all that family baggage, being open to all sorts of possibilities."

In 1998, she won a Tony award for her performance as Sally Bowles in Sam Mendes' production of Cabaret.

In an interview with The Independent, she said she and Neeson had contrasting but well suited personalities: "We have a joke that I see the glass half full and he sees it half empty. He's more laid back, happy to see what happens, whereas I'm a doer and I plan ahead. The differences sometimes get in the way, but they can be the very things that feed a marriage too."

Her happy relationship seemed to help Richardson deal with being part of an acting dynasty, although she joked: "I have a famous mother and it took me years to get over that. Now I have this really famous husband. I definitely feel a loss of confidence."

In 2007, she teamed up again with her mother in the film Evening. They played a fictional mother and daughter and acted out a deathbed scene.

"I told my mum I didn't want to discuss the scene where I watch her slowly slip away because I felt the emotions already," Richardson said. "Neither of us needed to think about it because it felt so real and so heartbreaking."