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Liam Neeson says he's 'not racist' after receiving backlash over controversial interview

Neeson said he once walked the streets hunting for a black person to kill after his close friend was raped.

Image: Laura Hutton/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated Feb 5th 2019, 4:28 PM

ACTOR LIAM NEESON has said he’s “not racist” following comments he made in an interview yesterday that he had once walked the streets hunting for a “black bastard” to kill in retaliation for the rape of someone close to him. 

The Northern Irish star of Michael Collins and Taken was promoting his new Hollywood action thriller Cold Pursuit when he made the initial statements. 

His interview with the British Independent took the unexpected turn when he admitted to once wanting to find a black man – any black man willing to pick a fight – to murder on the spot.

He said it was “awful” and he “did learn a lesson from it”.

Neeson refused to reveal the name of the raped woman or when the incident occurred.

But he detailed a week of rage during which he walked the streets with a type of baton called a cosh in search of his innocent victim.

Speaking to Good Morning America today following a day of backlash over his comments, Neeson said the feelings he had “really shocked me and it hurt me”. 

“I did seek help, I went to a priest who heard my confession … I had two very, very good friends that I talked to,” Neeson said. 

I’m not racist, this was nearly 40 years ago. 

Explaining the reasoning behind his thoughts, Neeson added: “I was trying to show honour, stand up for my dear friend in this terrible, medieval fashion. I’m a fairly intelligent guy and that’s why it kind of shocked me when I came down to earth after having these horrible feelings.” 

‘Shame on you’

Neeson’s statements made in the first interview have generated a fair amount of controversy, with the actor being criticised for his blunt words.

Malik Russell, a spokesman for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the United States told the New York Times that “pain suffered is not an excuse for racism”. 

“If black people responded this way regarding all the times our ancestors were lynched, raped, mutilated, tortured or shot down by police brutality, there would be too many bodies to count,” Russell said.

The fact that black people have been able to not blame every white person for the deeds of racist whites is a tribute to our character as a people. 

Irish singer and actor Samantha Mumba was also critical of Neeson.

“Shame on you Liam Neeson,” she tweeted. 

“Have anger towards the person that DID it. NOT an entire race of people,” she said in a later tweet. 

Irish writer Marian Keyes said she was “mortified” by Neeson’s comments. 

The story

Neeson made the comments in an interview recorded a number of weeks ago with The Independent, but which was published yesterday. 

“I’ll tell you a story. This is true,” he said in an interview whose audio was uploaded to the online newspaper’s site.

He said his “immediate reaction” after being told of the rape was to ask:

Did she know who he was? No. What colour were they? She said, it was a black person.

Neeson said he then “went up and down the areas with a cosh hoping I’d be approached by somebody. I’m ashamed to say that.

And I did it for maybe a week hoping some… black bastard would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know, so I could… kill him.

He said the entire episode lasted for “a week, maybe a week and a half”.

It was horrible, horrible when I think back, that I did that. And I’ve never admitted that.

“Holy shit,” his co-star Tom Bateman said in a shocked voice in the tape.

“It’s awful. But I did learn a lesson from it. When I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’, you know?” Neeson said.

‘Need for revenge’

Neeson said he learned the “need for revenge” while growing up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. 

“That primal need, I understand,” he said.

The son of Neeson’s character in his new film is killed by a drug gang.

The plot revolves around the father’s subsequent pursuit of the culprits – a subject that apparently prompted Neeson to reveal his secret.

The disclosure created a furore on social media. Neeson’s name was the second-ranked item on Twitter’s London trends list.

The Independent said Neeson told his story during a 17-minute interview conducted in a New York City hotel.

The paper later reached out to the actor’s publicist to get further comment.

The Independent said the publicist declined.

Neither the director of Cold Pursuit nor its production companies – StudioCanal and Summit Entertainment – issued an immediate comment.

With reporting from AFP and Hayley Halpin

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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