Liam Neeson has broken his silence to deny he is racist after a storm over his comments about how he once roamed the streets seeking to kill a “black b*****d” after his friend was raped.
The Taken star did not apologise for the remarks on Good Morning America but said he had been trying to “honour his dead friend” after she was brutally raped 40 years ago.
“I’m not racist,” said the 66-year-old. “I was brought up in Northern Ireland. The Troubles. The 60s, 70s and 80s. There was a war going on in the north of Ireland. I had acquaintances who were involved in the Troubles, the bigotry. One Catholic would be killed, the next day a protestant would be killed. I grew up surrounded by that.”
Neeson explained that he made the initial comments to The Independent after the journalist asked how he tapped into vengeful feelings for his new movie, Cold Pursuit.
“The topic of our film is revenge, it’s a dark comedy too, but its base is revenge. The lady journalist was asking me, how do you tap into that?
“I remembered an incident nearly 40 years ago when a very dear friend of mine was brutally raped and I was out of the country and when I came back she told me about this.
“I had never felt this feeling before, which was a primal urge to lash out. I asked her did she know the person, and his race. She said he was a black man.
“I went out into ‘black areas’ in the city looking to be set upon so that I could unleash physical violence and I did it four or five times.”
He said he sought help afterwards, talking to a priest and power walking “two hours every day.”
Neeson said he also asked his friend about other physical details of her attacker, including height.
Asked by GMA host Robin Roberts whether he would have had the same reaction if the rapist was a different race, he said: “Definitely. If she’d have said an Irish, Scot, Brit, I know I would have felt the same way. I was trying to show honour and stand up for my dear friend in this medieval fashion. It shocked me when I realised the terrible things I said. Luckily, no violence occurred, thanks be to God.”
He told Robin “we all pretend we’re politically correct”, and said he shared the story as a lesson. “Violence breeds violence,” he added, before encouraging the presenter to see his movie.
The actor triggered massive controversy after his extraordinary newspaper interview was published on Monday. “I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be … approached by somebody,” he said.
“I’m ashamed to say that, and I did it for maybe a week — hoping some (Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers) ‘black b******’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.
“There’s something primal — God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions.”