Actor Liam Neeson is insisting that he is not a racist following an explosive interview where he said he once went looking to kill any “black bastard” after his friend was raped.
“I’m not a racist,” he told Robin Roberts on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday, one day after The Independent published comments he made to a reporter about his handling of a friend’s rape nearly 40 years ago.
In the Independent interview, Neeson said he once carried around a bludgeon in hopes that someone of the same race as his friend’s attacker would “have a go at me.”
“I asked, did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person,” he told the Independent. “I went up and down 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 [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could,” another pause, “kill him.”
Neeson, who described his past penchant for violence to “GMA” as “horrible” and a life lesson, said he shared his handling of his friend’s sexual assault with the Independent after being asked how, as an actor, he taps into anger and a desire for revenge.
“I had never felt this feeling before, which was a primal urge to lash out,” he recalled of his reaction to hearing about his friend’s sexual assault.
If his friend had told him that her attacker was white, he said he would have searched for someone who fit that description. Instead, his friend said the attacker was black and so Neeson went into black areas of his city “looking to be set upon so that I could unleash physical violence.”
Neeson, who is publicizing his latest film, “Cold Pursuit,” in which he plays a revenge-seeking dad, said he grew up in Northern Ireland during the political violence of the Troubles, suggesting that the atmosphere inspired his desire to inflict physical harm.
“I had acquaintances who were involved in the Troubles, the bigotry. One Catholic would be killed, a Protestant would be killed. I grew up surrounded by that but I was never part of it,” he said.
He said he went looking for someone to release his anger upon maybe four or five times before he caught himself.
“It really shocked me this primal urge I had. It shocked me and it hurt me. I did seek help,” he said.
Neeson said he went to a priest, spoke with friends and exercised by “believe it or not, power walking,” to get rid of his anger.
“It was horrible, horrible when I think back, that I did that,” he added. “It’s awful, but I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ you know?”
Kuba Shand-Baptiste, an opinion writer for The Independent, was among those who immediately called out Neeson’s comments, accusing him of parroting white supremacists.
“What I’m talking about, is a centuries-old idea used to galvanise racists, particularly white men, in order to legitimise their violent treatment of black people,” she writes. “It was the same narrative that saw Emmett Till tortured and murdered in Mississippi in 1955. And in this country the infamous Nottingham race riots in 1958 have also long been said to have broken out after a black man was seen chatting up a white woman in a pub.”
This story has been updated with additional background on Neeson’s comments.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the Troubles as a location.