Belfast Telegraph

Liam Neeson puts race row behind him as new movie Normal People in high demand

Actor Liam Neeson
Actor Liam Neeson
Actor Liam Neeson with co-star Tom Bateman in latest film Cold Pursuit

By Gillian Halliday

Huge worldwide demand for Liam Neeson's next film suggests the Hollywood actor has successfully weathered his race row storm controversy.

Distribution rights for Normal People, which was shot in Northern Ireland, have been sold to various movie distributors in every single territory across the globe - except Canada, where a deal is set to be confirmed shortly.

The development - reported yesterday by the Sunday Times - emerged as the Ballymena-born star issued a fresh apology for "hurtful and divisive" comments he made in February.

Neeson caused a global scandal after he admitted in an interview to promote his latest film, revenge thriller Cold Pursuit, that he harboured thoughts about killing a black man many years ago.

He confessed he walked around a neighbourhood with a cosh looking for a "black b******" to approach him so that he could kill them in revenge for the rape of a woman close to him, who described her attacker as a black man.

He later explained in an American television interview that he is not a racist and moved past his desire for violence after seeking help from a priest and from friends.

At the weekend he issued a further statement saying that he'd had time to reflect on his feelings of over four decades ago, insisting his thoughts and actions at that time were "unacceptable".

He said that in trying to explain his feelings, he "missed the point and hurt many people".

Neeson ended the short statement by saying: "I profoundly apologise."

His fresh apology comes just days after it was reported that Neeson was reportedly airbrushed out of Queen's University's latest student prospectus in the wake of the controversy.

In two previous editions, the actor - who attended Queen's as a undergraduate - had featured in a 'heritage and heroes' section.

The Belfast university, which awarded Neeson an honorary doctorate in 2009, has so far refused to comment on why the Taken actor will not be appearing in its 2020 prospectus.

The controversy fallout, however, has not had a dramatic impact on his box office bankability.

According to the BBC, Cold Pursuit drew $11m in its opening weekend in the States which is in line with Neeson's biggest 2018 cinematic releases - high-octane thriller The Commuter which earned $13.7m and Widows ($12.3m).

His Widows' co-star Michelle Rodriguez was just one of a host of stars to speak out in Neeson's defence during the controversy, along with Whoopi Goldberg and Oscar-winner Ralph Fiennes.

The latest star to offer support is fellow Northern Ireland actor, Stephen Rea, who insisted Neeson is "not a racist or bigot".

In a story which appeared in this week's Sunday Life, the 72-year-old said his friend had "said things without thinking". "He is a fine man and a wonderful actor and he's not a racist," explained Rea.

Meanwhile, no release date has yet been announced for Normal People.

The movie will see Neeson star alongside Oscar-nominated actress Lesley Manville.

The pair play a long-married couple whose relationship is challenged by a cancer diagnosis.

The film, which boasts the same directors as the Belfast-set film Good Vibrations, was shot at various local locations last summer.

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