Liam Neeson Describes Racist Revenge Fantasy In Newspaper Interview
The actor Liam Neeson said in an interview with a British newspaper last month that he once spent a week walking the streets with a club looking for a black man to kill after a woman close to him was raped by someone she said was black.
“She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way,” Mr. Neeson said of the episode, which he said happened years ago. “But my immediate reaction was, did she know who it was? No. What color were they? She said it was a black person.”
“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody,” the Northern Ireland-born Mr. Neeson said, using a British word that describes a clublike weapon. “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 that I could kill him.”
Mr. Neeson made the comments, which were published in The Independent on Monday with an audio recording of the interview, during a press event to promote his new film, “Cold Pursuit.” The remarks were immediately met with public outrage.
“It’s unfortunate and sick that Liam Neeson would in response to a tragedy simply seek out any black person to murder,” Malik Russell, a spokesman for the N.A.A.C.P., said in an email. “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,” Mr. Russell added. “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.”
Mr. Neeson, 66, responded to the outrage over his remarks on Tuesday. In an interview on “Good Morning America,” he said he later felt awful about his “primal urge” to hurt someone after the woman told him she had been raped.
“If she would have said an Irish or a Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian, I know I would have had the same effect,” Mr. Neeson said on Tuesday. “I was trying to show honor to my — stand up for my dear friend in this terrible, medieval fashion.”
He said, “I’m not a racist.”
Mr. Neeson said he sought help, eventually talking about the episode with his priest and friends. He also said he found an outlet to shed his violent thoughts by taking brisk two-hour walks every day. His friend died five years ago, he said.
Mr. Neeson, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in “Schindler’s List,” has starred in a series of high-profile Hollywood movies, including “Les Misérables,” “Love Actually,” “Michael Collins,” “Gangs of New York” and “Star Wars: Episode I.”
In addition to “Cold Pursuit,” which tells the story of a man who commits a series of revenge killings after the death of his son, he has also appeared as a vengeful father in the “Taken” series, best known for his vow to use “a particular set of skills” on his daughter’s kidnapper.
The film company Lionsgate, which is distributing his new film, did not respond on Monday to requests for comment about his remarks to The Independent.
Representatives for Mr. Neeson’s co-stars, Laura Dern and Tom Bateman, also did not respond to requests for comment, though on the audio recording of the interview Mr. Bateman can be heard responding with a shocked expletive to Mr. Neeson’s remarks.
In the interview with The Independent, Mr. Neeson said he had never publicly talked about the episode before.
“It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that,” he said. “And I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist. God forbid.”
Mr. Neeson cast the episode as a parable on the pointlessness of seeking revenge and connected it back to the conflict in Northern Ireland, which officially ended in 1998.
“It’s awful, but I did learn a lesson from it,” he said. “I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing.”
The author of the Independent article, Clémence Michallon, said on Twitter that the interview with Mr. Neeson and Mr. Bateman happened three weeks ago at a hotel in New York City.
She said the story had gone through many rounds of editing and had been written “a thousand different ways.”
Ms. Michallon said at the start of the interview that Mr. Neeson pulled her recorder closer to him, “indicating he’s been doing this for a while and knows the perils of bad audio.”
She said that “everything changed” in the interview when she asked Mr. Neeson why his character in the film embarks on a series of revenge killings after his son dies. That is when Mr. Neeson shared the story, she said.
At the end, she said, he “politely” asked her to be “very careful” if she included the anecdote in her article. He then jokingly slipped into the voice he used in the movie “Taken,” and told her if she were not, “I will find you,” she said.