Liam Neeson responded to backlash after he revealed he wanted to “kill” a black man after one of his family members was raped.
In an interview with The Independent that went viral on Monday, Neeson said, “There’s something primal – God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions … My immediate reaction was I asked, ‘Did she know who it was?’ No. ‘What color were they?’ She said it was a black person.”
The 66-year-old action star was slammed on social media for the remarks, which were almost unanimously blasted for being blatantly racist.
Neeson attempted to clear the air on “Good Morning America” Tuesday in a sitdown with Robin Roberts.
“We were doing a press junket and the topic of our film was revenge,” he said. “The lady journalist was asking, ‘How do you tap in to that?’ and I remembered an incident nearly 40 years ago when a friend of mine was brutally raped i was out of the country and when i came back she told me about this … I had never felt this feeling before which was a primal urge to lash out.”
He continued, “I went out deliberately into black areas in the city looking to be set upon so I could unleash physical violence. I did it maybe four or five times until I caught myself, and it really shocked me — this primal urge I had. I shocked me and it hurt me.”
Neeson sought help from a priest and several good friends after the incident, adding that power walking two hours a day was therapeutic for him as well.
“I’m not racist,” he insisted. “This was nearly 40 years ago. I was brought up in Northern Ireland … there was a war going on, and I had acquaintances who were involved in the troubles, in the bigotry … I grew up surrounded by that. I was part of it.”
He added that he asked other questions besides just about race, including whether he was tall.
“If she said [the rapist was] Irish, a Scot, a Lituanian, [it] would have had the same effect,” he said. “I was trying to show honor and stand up for my dear friend in this horrible medieval fashion … Thankfully no violence occurred ever.”
Still, Neeson confessed that he would have committed violence if he’d had the opportunity to do so.
He said he learned that we need to “Talk, open up. Talk about these things. We all pretend we’re all politically correct. In this country, sometimes you just scratch the surface and you discover this racism, this bigotry, and it’s there.”
Neeson said that he also experienced bigotry while filming “Schindler’s List” in Poland, where he said cab drivers would make anti-Semitic remarks and he’d see swastikas painted on walls on the way to the set.
When host Roberts asked what the teachable moment was, he asked her to reveal it to him instead.
“We have to own up … This wasn’t discovered by somebody. You admitted this. This wasn’t a ‘gotcha,’ so I give you credit there,” Roberts replied, adding, “You have to acknowledge the hurt of an innocent black man who could have been killed or hurt.”
“I could have been hurt too,” Neeson said with a chuckle.
Roberts said, “You have to also understand the pain of a black person hearing what you said.”
“At the time, even though it was nearly 40 years ago, I didn’t think of it,” Neeson said. “All those things surprised me. It was this primal hatred … It shook me … Violence breeds violence. Bigotry breeds bigotry.”
Essentially, Neeson doubled down on everything he’d said previously.
The “Cold Pursuit” star admitted in the Independent interview he “went up and down areas” with a baton “hoping [he’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 that I could kill him.”
In the interview, Neeson noted he was aware of how “appalling” the confession was, saying, “It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that. And I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist. God forbid.”
He added, “It’s awful. But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the f–k are you doing,’ you know?”
Sasha Savitsky contributed to this report.