Natasha Richardson, Liam Neeson

Brian Zak/Sipa Press via AP Images

Since having a box office hit with Taken in 2009, Liam Neeson has hardly come up for air in between shooting movies. But there was a method to his madness.

"I just think I was still in a bit of shock," he says in the March issue of Esquire, explaining why he returned to shooting the thriller Chloe right after wife Natasha Richardson's funeral. "But it's kind of a no-brainer to go back to that work. It's a wee bit of a blur, but I know the tragedy hadn't just really smacked me yet."

Richardson died in 2009 after suffering a brain hemorrhage triggered by what at first seemed to be a benign fall during a ski trip in Montreal. She was only 45.

"I thought that it was this little comfortable little city," Neeson says of Montreal. "And for some reason, I thought the hospital that I was in a taxi racing toward was gonna be a nice little hospital, about twice the size of this restaurant. But it was this huge, glassy, black place. A Dickensian place."

"I've come all this way, and they won't let me see her," he says, recounting the seeming cavalcade of doctors and staffers he had to talk to before he was given any information. "And I'm looking past them, starting to push—I'm like, 'F--k, I know my wife's back there someplace.'"

Worried that he wouldn't be able to get past security, he finally approached a nurse who recognized the Schindler's List star.

"And I'll tell you, I was so f--king grateful—for the first time in I don't know how long—to be recognized," Neeson recalls. "And this one, she says, 'Go in that back door there.' She points me to it."

Neeson rode along when his wife was airlifted to Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, where she died March 18, 2008, two days after her fall.

"I think I survived by running away some," Neeson says, "running away to work. Listen, I know how old I am and that I'm just a shoulder injury from losing roles like the one in Taken. So I stay with the training, I stay with the work. It's easy enough to plan jobs, to plan a lot of work. That's effective. But that's the weird thing about grief. You can't prepare for it. You think you're gonna cry and get it over with. You make those plans, but they never work.

"It hits you in the middle of the night—well, it hits me in the middle of the night. I'm out walking. I'm feeling quite content. And it's like suddenly, boom."

"It's just extraordinary," he says.

Hence the period of nonstop work for the widower, who says he's been bonding of late with Richardson's "tiny, tiny little poodle."

"It's the thing for me just now," he says of the pup.

Neeson will be in theaters again Friday in Unknown, yet another kicking-ass-and-taking-names action thriller, which, like the dog, is the thing for him just now.

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