Amid the growing storm over actor Liam Neeson’s admission that he once wanted to kill a black man as revenge for a friend’s rape, a red carpet event accompanying the Tuesday premiere of his upcoming film Cold Pursuit was cancelled, The Telegraph reported. The screening of the film will go ahead as planned, the publication said. Cold Pursuit is also being released in India on February 8.
Neeson’s remarks, which are being widely condemned as racist, were made during an interview to The Independent on Monday as part of a media tour for Cold Pursuit. While speaking about the revenge-themed thriller, the Irish actor said that he could understand the anger that drives revenge. “There’s something primal – God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions,” he said. “I’ll tell you a story. This is true.”
Neeson said that he had never shared details of the incident before. Several years ago, the actor learnt that his friend had been raped. “My immediate reaction was…I asked, did she know who it was? No. What colour 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 – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some ‘black bastard’ [Neeson used air quotes at this point] would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could...kill him.”
The journalist wrote that Neeson knew “what he’s saying, and how shocking it is, how appalling”. He said he continued this way for a week or more. The actor added, “She would say, ‘Where are you going?’ and I would say, ‘I’m just going out for a walk.’ You know? ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘No no, nothing’s wrong.’”
He said when he thinks back to it, it was “horrible, horrible” that he did that. “And I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist. God forbid.” “It’s awful,” Neeson continued. “But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing,’ you know?”
After the published interview prompted an instant backlash, the actor went on the ABC show Good Morning America to explain his remarks and insisted he is not racist. He once again described the series of events after he heard of his friend’s rape and said he had sought help right after, including confessing to a priest, talking to friends and power walking for two hours every day as a way to manage his anger. “I’m not racist, this was nearly 40 years ago,” he continued. “But because I was brought up...in the north of Ireland and brought up in the Troubles, the 60s, 70s and early 80s.”
Elaborating on the context, which refers to the long period of conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, Neeson explained, “I had acquaintances who were involved in the Troubles, the bigotry...one Catholic would be killed, the next day a Protestant would be killed,” he said. “One Catholic pub would be bombed, a protestant pub would be bombed. I grew up surrounded by that, but I was never part of it.”
Roberts questioned Neeson on asking his friend only about the rapist’s skin colour and not other physical characteristics, like his height or size. “I did actually,” Neeson said. “I asked all those questions too. I did, I did. But I did ask about race yeah.”
The host then asked if Neeson’s reaction would have been the same had the man been white. The actor said it “definitely” would have. “I know it would have had the same effect,” he added. “I was trying to show honour and stand up for my dear friend in this terrible medieval fashion. And I’m a fairly intelligent guy and that’s why it shocked me when I came down to earth after having these horrible feelings. Luckily, no violence occurred ever, thanks be to God.”
Roberts then asked, “Do you think you actually would have done it? If an innocent black man…,” to which Neeson replied in the affirmative. “I did want to lash out, yes, because my friend was brutally raped and I thought I was defending her honour, and I admit that. It’s a learning curve,” the actor said.
Neeson’s remarks have been fiercely criticised by fans and several celebrities.
Former England footballer John Barnes, however, came out in Neeson’s defense. He told Sky News that Neeson “deserves a medal” for admitting to his bias. “He [Neeson] should be applauded for saying, ‘Yes, I was an unconscious racist and after a week I realised I was’,” the athlete said. “And people are going to be afraid of admitting it now because of what’s happened to Liam Neeson.”