Liam Neeson speaks out after sparking outrage with comments about past behavior
During a routine press junket for his new film Cold Pursuit, Liam Neeson dropped a shocking confession that sparked outrage. A journalist asked about his character's quest for revenge, which prompted Neeson to reveal a personal story. After a close friend told him she had been raped by a black man, he roamed the streets with a cosh (a thick heavy stick), hoping to attack a "black bastard" for retribution.
"I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody," the 66-year-old actor told The Independent. "I’m ashamed to say that, and I did it for maybe a week – hoping some [making air quotes with fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him."
Neeson admitted that his behavior was "awful" and said that he learned a lesson from it, but the backlash was swift. On Monday, the bombshell interview was published, and Neeson's name became a trending Twitter topic. Some fans were upset about his confession, some appreciated his honesty, but most were just shocked.
On Tuesday, Neeson appeared on Good Morning America to clarify his comments. He revealed that the incident occurred "nearly 40 years ago," and claimed he felt a "primal urge" to defend his friend's "honor." He stated that he is "not racist" and would have reacted the same way if the attacker was "a Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian."
"We were doing a press junket and the topic of our film is revenge," said Neeson said of the initial interview. “I remembered an incident nearly 40 years ago where a dear friend of mine was brutally raped. I was out of the country. When she came back she told me about this and she handled the situation herself with incredible bravery, I have to say that. I had never felt this feeling before, which was a primal urge to lash out.”
He continued, "She said he was a black man. 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, and I did it for four or five times until I caught myself on. It shocked me, this primal urge I had. It shocked me. It hurt me. I did seek help. I went to a priest… I am not racist. This was nearly 40 years ago."
Neeson said he "went power-walking two hours every day" to "get rid" of his feelings and is thankful "no violence occurred." He also opened up about encounters with anti-Semitism while filming Schindler's List, and revealed that he grew up surrounded by bigoted violence during The Troubles of Northern Ireland. "We all pretend we’re all politically correct," he asserted. “In this country, and same in my own, sometimes you scratch the surface and discover this racism and bigotry, and it’s there."
Some pundits excoriated Neeson for his comments, while others took his side. Former soccer player John Barnes, who experienced a heap of racial abuse during his career, passionately defended the Taken star on Sky News. Barnes said "the story has been spun" and urged viewers to consider the context of Neeson's story. In his view, the actor should be commended, because all he did was "tell the truth" about pervasive prejudicial thoughts.
"So for this one black person who raped this woman, he then looked at it as all black people are rapists," said Barnes. "Now, what he’s actually saying is, ‘This is what I thought, this is what I saw, and I am ashamed and I am horrified, and after a week I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing?’"
He continued, "As much as people are now jumping on this bandwagon of how terrible it is, what he’s done is he’s come out and told the truth. He should be applauded for saying, ‘Yes, I was an unconscious racist and after a week I realized I was’. And people are going to be afraid of admitting it now because of what’s happened to Liam Neeson."