Leading man Liam Neeson has a litany of tough-guy roles to his credit, from the rabble-rousing title character in Michael Collins to the swashbuckling Qui-Gon Jinn in the recent Star Wars movie Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
It's no wonder that the Irish-born star, interviewed Wednesday by CBS Early Show Anchor Bryant Gumbel, was a little "gun shy" when asked to play a stressed-out narcotics detective with an incontinence problem.
"When I read this, I thought, 'Why are they casting me in this?'" Neeson admits. "But the more I read this, I thought, This is so quirky and kind of out there. It's kind of Elmore Leonard meets (Quentin) Tarantino."
Eventually Neeson decided to give Gun Shy a shot. "I thought this was good writing, and it was a wonderful script, and it was kind of edgy and fresh."
In the darkly comic Gun Shy, Neeson plays Charlie, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent headed for a nervous breakdown as he approaches his final bust. Hoping to save his sanity and his life, the undercover cop enters group therapy while still chasing down bad guys.
"He still has to go through with this assignment," Neeson says. "But he's playing a double role of Mr. Cool and also losing control of his bowels."
Sandra Bullock co-stars with Neeson as Judy Tripp, a nurse with a tender spot in her heart for the down-in-the-mouth DEA man. Bullock, who'll appear on The Early Show Friday, also produced the film.
Neeson says Bullock "wasn't bossy," but plenty busy. "She was a producer, and they have decisions to make, you know, 20, 30 decisions to make every day - locations, casting, you name it."
When asked if he thought taking the role of Charlie was a risky career move, since the strapping actor does not usually play characters with physical and psychological problems, Neeson responded people should admit that everyone is weak sometimes.
"I think we all are, actually," he says. "We all put on these fronts. This film kind of explores that a little bit. It cuts through the facades. Especially living here in New York, we put on an act getting through the day."
With Gun Shy in the can, Neeson is looking ahead to a project with his wife, actress Natasha Richardson. "We're going to do a film called Asylum, set in a mental institution," says the 47-year-old actor, "a little down the ways."
But whatever lies down the road for Neeson, the experience of starring in this summer's Star Wars blockbuster is one he says he'll always cherish. "I loved it. I loved working with (director George) Lucas," says Neeson.
Neeson's current challenge is playing nurse to his children, who have come down with winter colds. "I'm trying my best," says Neeson, adding that his current role at home is that of, "Mr. Mom, at the moment."
Gun Shy, direted by Eric Blakeney, also stars Oliver Platt. It opens Feb. 4.