Liam Neeson has said he was compelled by a “primal” and “medieval” desire for revenge when he had violent thoughts about killing a black person after someone close to him was raped, but has denied being racist.
Yesterday the Independent published an interview with Neeson in which he recounted a disturbing incident in his past. He admitted to seeking revenge for a the rape of a close friend by prowling with “a cosh” hoping to provoke “some ‘black b*****d’”, so that he could “kill” someone.
Appearing on US talk show Good Morning America today (5 February), Neeson asserted “I’m not racist”.
The actor said: “We were doing a press junket and the topic of the film [Cold Pursuit] is revenge. It’s a dark comedy too, and the lady journalist was asking me ‘How do you tap into that?’ and I remembered an incident nearly 40 years ago where 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 it.
“She handled the situation incredibly bravely and I had never felt this feeling before, which was a primal urge to lash out.”
He added: “After that there were some nights I went out deliberately into black areas in the city, looking to be set upon so that I could unleash physical violence.
“I did it four, maybe four or five times until I caught myself and it really shocked me, this primal urge. It was shocking.”
He continued: “I’m not racist, this was nearly 40 years ago. But because I was brought up in the north of Ireland, I was brought up in the Troubles in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. There was a war going on in the north of Ireland and I had acquaintances who were involved in the Troubles.
“The bigotry, one Catholic would be killed, the next day a Protestant would be killed, one Catholic pub would be bombed and a Protestant pub would be bombed.
“I grew up surrounded by that. But I was never part of it.”
Neeson said he would have had the same reaction if his friend, who has since died, had told him she was raped by a white man.
He added: “If she had said Irish or Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian, I know it would have had the same effect.
“I was trying to show honour to and stand up for my dear friend in this terrible medieval fashion.”
Asked by GMA host Robin Roberts what he is hoping people will learn, Neeson said: “To talk, to open up, to talk about these things, we all pretend we’re all politically correct, I mean, in this country and same in my own, sometimes you scratch the surface and discover this racism and bigotry, and it’s there.”
He then asked Roberts what the teachable moment is and she replied: “The point I want to make out is, this wasn’t discovered by somebody, you admitted this, it isn’t a ‘gotcha’, so I give you credit there, but also having to acknowledge the hurt, even though it happened decades ago, knowing an innocent black man could have been killed…”
Neeson replied: “Or they could have killed me too, at the time.”
Roberts said that he has to “understand the pain of a black person” from hearing his confession.
He said: “Absolutely, you’re absolutely right. And at the time, even though this was nearly 40 years ago, I didn’t think about that, all those things surprised me, but it was this primal hatred, I guess, that really shocked me, when I eventually came down to earth and saw what I was doing, looking for a fight.”
However footballer John Barnes says the Irish star “deserves a medal” for his honesty.
“He went on to say he was ashamed and horrified by the way he felt,” Barnes said. “He’s not ashamed and horrified at wanting to commit the act of revenge, he’s ashamed and horrified because that is what he thought about all black people.”
With reporting by PA