Liam Neeson has said he was compelled by a “primal” and “medieval” desire for revenge when he had violent thoughts about killing a black person after someone close to him was raped, but has denied being racist.
The Northern Ireland star provoked widespread criticism after he said in an interview with The London Independent that he had walked the streets armed with a cosh, hoping he would be approached by someone “so that I could kill him” after his friend told her she was attacked by a black man.
Discussing his controversial remarks on US talk show Good Morning America, he said: “I had never felt this feeling before, which was a primal urge to lash out.
He added: “After that there were some nights I went out deliberately into black areas in the city, looking to be set upon so that I could unleash physical violence.
“I did it four, maybe four or five times, until I caught myself and it really shocked me, this primal urge. It was shocking.
“It shocked me and it hurt me… I did seek help, I went to a priest.”
Neeson explained that he had grown up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, where he witnessed revenge on a regular basis.
He said: “I’m not racist, this was nearly 40 years ago, but because I was brought up in the north of Ireland, I was brought up in the Troubles in the 60s, 70s and early 80s.
“There was a war going on in the north of Ireland and I had acquaintances who were involved in the Troubles.
“The bigotry, one Catholic would be killed, the next day a Protestant would be killed, one Catholic pub would be bombed and a Protestant pub would be bombed.
“I grew up surrounded by that. But I was never part of it.”
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Neeson said he would have had the same reaction if his friend, who has since died, had told him she was raped by a white man.
He added: “If she had said Irish or Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian, I know it would have had the same effect.
“I was trying to show honour to and stand up for my dear friend in this terrible medieval fashion.”
Asked by GMA host Robin Roberts what he was hoping people would learn, Neeson said: “To talk, to open up, to talk about these things, we all pretend we’re all politically correct, I mean, in this country and same in my own, sometimes you scratch the surface and discover this racism and bigotry, and it’s there.”
He then asked Roberts what the teachable moment was and she replied: “The point I want to make out is, this wasn’t discovered by somebody, you admitted this, it isn’t a ‘gotcha’, so I give you credit there, but also having to acknowledge the hurt, even though it happened decades ago, knowing an innocent black man could have been killed.”
Neeson replied: “Or they could have killed me too, at the time.”
Roberts said that he has to “understand the pain of a black person” from hearing his confession.
He said: “Absolutely, you’re absolutely right. And at the time, even though this was nearly 40 years ago, I didn’t think about that, all those things surprised me, but it was this primal hatred, I guess, that really shocked me, when I eventually came down to earth and saw what I was doing, looking for a fight.”
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