(CNN) - Staring down the sights of a handgun and growling about his "very particular set of skills": That's the Liam Neeson we all know.
And those characters aren't exactly saints.
But off-camera, the 65-year-old who's become known for pummeling bad guys on the big screen is far more spiritually grounded. For his latest role, he's dropping the weapons and focusing on something holier: voicing the story of the Catholic Church in a new CNN original series on the history of the pope.
It's not as big of a departure for Neeson as you might think. Before morphing into one of Hollywood's most in-demand action heroes, he grew up in Northern Ireland at a time when his Catholic faith could have put him in harm's way.
For many Irish Catholics, it did. Over the 30-year conflict known as "The Troubles," which began in 1968, more than 1,200 of the 2,000 civilians killed were Catholic.
Neeson even starred in a movie about the "The Troubles," and has said he will "never stop thinking about it."
We asked Neeson about his faith, his thoughts on Pope Francis, and what an action star (and newly minted pope scholar!) really does in his downtime.
• • • • •
You're the voice of CNN's new original series "Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History." What interested you about the project?
Liam Neeson: I was brought up Catholic in Ireland, so the church featured quite heavily in our household. I was an altar boy as a kid, and had early fantasies of being a priest for several months.
I was made aware from an early age of the pope being the head of the church and who would make pronouncements ("ex cathedra") that would be ordained in Heaven as on Earth. That's some power! He had to be someone very special.
The Vatican, of course, was part of all this with its extraordinary history -- built on the foundations of Emperor Nero's palace -- and which became an integral part of the Renaissance, and inspired some of the world's most dazzling religious works of art that are still being marveled at.
So, I jumped at the chance to lend my voice to this extraordinary series. It was in my blood, so to speak.
If you could ask Pope Francis anything, what would you want to know?
What is God for him, truly? When will Mary Magdalene be canonized and when can we have women priests? (Editor's note: Mary Magdalene is already considered a saint by the Catholic Church.)
I'm sure I would think of a few other questions as well.
If you could spend an hour with anyone that's ever lived, who would it be and why?
Abraham Lincoln. America's most loved president and justly so. A man who carried the Civil War, almost single-handedly, on his narrow, skinny shoulders and who believed in the idea of what America could be and it's democratic destiny.
Also, I'd wanna hear his funny stories and hear his laugh and watch that face crinkle up with amusement and watch a sadness descend on him again.
Who do you admire?
Angela Merkel, chancellor Of Germany. Single parents bringing up kids. People who just get on with it.
Who are you currently reading, watching and listening to?
Currently reading some great Nordic noir (Henning Mankell) and Walter Isaacson's "Leonardo da Vinci." Some fly fishing literature is always by my bedside to remind me of beautiful rivers in the world calling out for an artificial fly!
I like to occasionally watch some really good TV series like "Ozark," Norway's "Occupied" and Italy's wonderful "Gomorrah." Terrific writing and acting.
I love tuning in to the BBC's Radio 4 and the World Service. They comfort me in some way.
Editor's note: This interview has been lightly edited.
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