"I was trying to show honor, to stand up for my dear friend in this terrible medieval fashion," the Oscar winner said
Liam Neeson is insisting that he’s not racist after revealing that he once sought out any random black man to “kill.”
The Irish actor, 66, sat down with Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts on Tuesday, speaking out for the first time about the controversy surrounding the shocking comments he made in an interview with The Independent, published Monday.
In the interview with the U.K. outlet, Neeson recalled how he had sought “revenge” after a female friend of his was allegedly raped. The actor claimed he was walking the streets with a weapon wanting to murder a black man, as that was the race of her attacker. He admitted he wasn’t searching for the alleged attacker specifically, however.
“It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that,” Neeson told the Independent.
Amid a wave of controversy and condemnation over his comments, Neeson spoke to GMA on Tuesday.
“I’m not a racist,” Neeson said, explaining that the incident in question happened “nearly 40 years ago” and claiming that he “definitely” would have searched for a white man with the same anger if his friend said her attacker had fit that description.
He told Roberts, “If she’d have said an Irish, or a Scott, or a Brit, or a Lithuanian I know [it] would’ve had the same effect.”
“I was trying to show honor, to stand up for my dear friend in this terrible medieval fashion,” Neeson said. “I am a fairly intelligent guy. That’s why it kind of shocked me when I came down to earth after having these terrible feelings. Luckily no violence occurred. I did want to lash out because my friend was brutally raped and I was defending her honor. It was a learning curve.”
Neeson told GMA that he addressed his feelings back then in order to understand and change them. “I did seek help. I went to a priest,” he explained.
“Luckily no violence occurred,” Neeson said. “[But] it really shocked me, this primal urge that I had. It shocked me. It hurt me.”
Roberts, for her part, pushed Neeson on the issue — detailing why so many who read his comments were upset.
“This wasn’t discovered by somebody. You admitted this. I give you credit there. But also [you have to] acknowledge that the hurt of an innocent black man knowing that he could have been killed for something he did not do because of the color of his skin,” Roberts said. “I know that you’re getting crucified in many ways for saying what you did — and you’re not shying away, you’re admitting that it was wrong — but you have to also understand the pain of a black person hearing what you said.”
Neeson aid he agreed but insisted “I didn’t think about that.”
“All those things surprised me,” Neeson said. “But it was this primal hatred, I guess, that really, really shocked me when I eventually came down to earth and I saw what I was doing. Going out and looking for a fight? Violence breeds violence, bigotry breeds bigotry.”
The topic from Neeson’s past came up during the interview with The Independent while the actor was discussing vengeance, the subject of many of his recent films including Cold Pursuit — his newest movie in which he plays a character seeking retribution for the death of his son.
He recalled the rape of his close friend in the interview, and how it drove his feelings of rage.
“God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions,” he said. “She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way. But my immediate reaction was … I asked, did she know who it was? No. What color were they? She said it was a black person.”
“I went up and down areas with a cosh [bludgeon], hoping I’d be approached by somebody — I’m ashamed to say that … 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,” Neeson said.
The Oscar winner also shared that he behaved this way for “a week, maybe a week and a half … [My friend] would say, ‘Where are you going?’ and I would say, ‘I’m just going out for a walk.’ ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘No, no, nothing’s wrong.’ ”
Looking back, Neeson said how wrong he was. “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 said before concluding, “It’s awful. But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the f—k are you doing?’ “
The actor also explained in the interview that growing up in Northern Ireland in the ’70s — right after the founding of the Irish Republican Army — molded his perception of violence.
“I knew a couple of guys that died on hunger strike, and I had acquaintances who were very caught up in the Troubles, and I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing, and Northern Ireland’s proof of that,” he said. “All this stuff that’s happening in the world, the violence, is proof of that. But that primal need, I understand.”