When PEOPLE asked readers to submit questions for Liam Neeson, hundreds responded with queries on everything from his prolific career to his favorite hobby (fly-fishing)-along with two outright marriage proposals. But many referenced the untimely death of his wife, Natasha Richardson, at 45, after a March 2009 skiing accident, and echoed the sentiment of Meghan Pilch of Greenwood, Ind.: “I just want to know: How are you?” The answer, says Neeson, who is raising sons Micheal, 15, and Daniel, 14, solo: “My kids are good. And as long as they’re good, I’m good. It’s as simple as that.” (He adds, “I have an extraordinary family on both my side and my wife’s side.”)
While the actor, 58, says he deeply appreciated the sympathies from around the world after Richardson’s death-“I have two barrels of letters I still haven’t opened yet,” he says-Neeson prefers to talk about the here and now: life with his boys, his new thriller Unknown (in which he plays “a guy who absolutely knows who he is, but it’s as if the rest of the world has amnesia”) and his love of daffodils, classic novels and-who knew?-pedicures.
What is the hardest part of raising your two sons as a single dad?
Not being with them all the time.
What do you like to do when you have free time?
Fly-fish, walk my dog [golden retriever Ceilhde] and be with my kids. And I usually have four or five books going. I haven’t converted to Kindle yet; I like the tactileness of a real book.
Which of your films do your sons like best?
They’ve gotten over the Star Wars thing. They liked Taken very much. Schindler’s List, they absolutely were mesmerized by it. I recently watched Michael Collins with them. Micheal said, “I’d like to see that again, Dad.”
What do your boys give you a hard time about?
San Diego, Calif.
Curfew. If you say 11 p.m., it’s, “But Dad…11:45?” Then you settle for 11:15. And you say, “If it’s 11:30, it’s taken off the next time. So I want to see you at 11:15.” They need barriers. And you need them too [as a parent].
You seem like such a man’s man. Do you have a feminine side?
Palm City, Fla.
I’ve gotten into the pedicure world. I was very timid to start with. But now I think it’s really important-having someone scrape your feet.
What brings you real happiness?
New York, N.Y.
My favorite word is “contentment”-I love being content. Fly-fishing, working on my garden: I grow potatoes, carrots, sprouts, turnips. And I love putting daffodils in. They’re very simple and hardy; they last for 70, 80 years. Over 14 years I’ve put about 2,000 in. I do it every season.
You’ve been an inspiration to me. Where do you find your inner strength when life gets difficult?
Being with my kids and fishing when I can. And reading great novels. My eldest boy is reading Pride and Prejudice at school. He said, “Some of the other kids were saying, ‘Oh, it’s a chick book,’ but I really like it.” I said, “Well, don’t apologize for that; it’s one of the great works of literature.” And I thought, “I have to read it again!” I haven’t read it since I was his age.
Any plans to act on Broadway again?
New York, N.Y.
I’d love to get back onstage. My early years were in theater, so it’s a muscle I still feel I have to exercise every now and again. There are so many revivals; I’d like to read some new play and think, “My God, this deserves a voice.”
If you weren’t an actor, what do you think you would be doing today?
I’d like to think I’d be in a trade: a carpenter, maybe a bricklayer. I’ve just always liked using my hands. I worked on building sites a lot when I was a teenager. I just loved the smell of wood, the instruments.
What are three things you love about the United States?
I love the people, the spirit and the landscape-the vastness of it. And Thanksgiving is a holiday I’ve come to love because of the spirit of families getting together. There’s something very, very special about it. And I don’t have a sweet tooth, but there’s something about a really well-made American apple pie: hot, with a big dollop of vanilla Haagen-Dazs.
What lessons do you never want your children to forget?
Basic pillars: Respect yourself, respect your fellow man. Be honest. [Smiling] And always love your dad.