Belfast Telegraph

Liam Neeson: 'I'm no racist .. this was 40 years ago' - star responds to 'black man' comment backlash

Liam Neeson’s comments triggered an intense debate on social media (Laura Hutton/PA)
Liam Neeson’s comments triggered an intense debate on social media (Laura Hutton/PA)

Liam Neeson has responded to the backlash he sparked after recalling a time he walked the streets armed and looking for a black man to attack in revenge for the rape of a friend.

The Ballymena man sparked outrage after he said he had walked the streets armed with a cosh, hoping he would be approached by “a black bastard” so that he could kill him.

He was speaking as part of a press tour for his new film, Cold Pursuit.

Appearing on US talk show Good Morning America, he said: "We were doing a press junket and the topic of the film 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."

All those things surprised me, but it was this primal hatred, I guess, that really shocked me.

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."

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