Liam Neeson says the film made him explore the idea of doubt within faith

Liam Neeson says playing a Jesuit priest in his upcoming film Silence made him reflect on his own spirituality.

“I’m questing all the time about my faith and it shifts all the time,” he tells PEOPLE.

The film’s central theme of standing up for your faith made Neeson explore the idea of where doubt fits into religion.

“The other component of faith that [director] Martin Scorsese explores in the film is doubt. They’re both [together],” he says. “And I think it is a god-given component. If we have this free will to question and if one believes in God, I think you celebrate that.”

Based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, Silence follows two priests as they travel to Japan to locate their mentor, Father Cristovao Ferriera (Neeson), who has been rumored to have committed apostasy after being tortured. The story takes places during the 17th century, when Christianity was strictly outlawed and the presence of the priests was forbidden.

SILENCE, foreground right: Liam Neeson, 2016. ph Kerry Brown / © Paramount / courtesy Everett
Credit: Kerry Brown/Paramount/Everett

He says one of the most fascinating parts of making Silence was learning the historical background of the film.

“There’s a certain amount of history to read and research for that period of time,” he says. “It’s great as an actor to get that chance to do really interesting historical research before you actually start acting in the film.”

And while the film focuses on Christianity, Neeson, 64, says one doesn’t have to be religious to appreciate the film’s message.

“We all faith in something whether it’s faith in a marriage or relationship or faith in your work,” he explains. “It can be applied to anything.”

Also starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, Silence hits theaters Dec. 23.