Liam Neeson: ‘I’m not a racist’

Irish actor speaks about controversial ‘revenge’ comments: ‘I had never felt this feeling before, which was a primal urge to lash out’

Appearing on Good Morning America, Liam Neeson addresses accusations of racism from a recent interview. Video: ABC

 

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 Irish actor provoked widespread criticism after he said in an interview with the Independent that he had walked the streets armed with a cosh, hoping he would be approached by someone – in his words, a “black b*****d” -– “so that I could kill him” after his friend told her she was raped 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.”

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 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.”

Following reports of Neeson’s comments, former England footballer John Barnes said the actor deserves a medal for his honesty.

Barnes, who suffered racist abuse during his football career, has praised Neeson for telling the truth and said his feelings were the result of a negative portrayal of black people in the media.

He told Sky News: “I believe that Liam Neeson deserves a medal and I’ll tell you why.

“I’ve listened to the whole transcript, Liam Neeson was talking about his film, revenge, and he’s talking about how revenge doesn’t do anyone any good.

“He mentions that growing up in Northern Ireland, he understands how destructive that can be.

“He went on to tell a story about a situation where a friend of his had been raped.

‘Thinking what he feels’

“Now if you listen to everything he’s talking about, he’s talking about in the moment and you can’t blame Liam Neeson for thinking what he feels, and this is a while ago, because this is what society has shown him that black people do, Muslims do.

“This is what society has wrongly shown him, this is what the media has wrongly portrayed to him.

“So in that moment, for a week he was going around looking to kill a black person or a ‘black (b*****d)’ and he did that in quotation marks.

“Now what he actually went on to say is he is ashamed and horrified by the way he felt.

“He’s not ashamed and horrified in wanting to commit the act of revenge, he’s ashamed and horrified because that is what he felt about all black people.

“After a week he realised he was wrong, that is what he said, ‘I’m ashamed and horrified of the way I felt’.

“Now depending on how you want to spin this story, it’s now about he was going to kill a black person.”

When the interviewer said he did not want to spin the story, Barnes said: “It’s been spun, it’s been spun if you want to think about what he’s actually saying, the context.

“Which is why he said to the lady in his voice, ‘I’ve got a particular set of skills if you don’t report this in the way that it’s meant’ and he threatened to kill the woman.

“What he’s actually saying is he’s horrified and ashamed of the way he felt, he went on to say that.

“That is exactly what he went on to say, which meant he was ashamed of the way he felt, but you cannot blame him for thinking that.”–PA