Viggo Mortensen 
Fabio Mazzarella/Sintesi/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
November 09, 2018 02:40 PM

Viggo Mortensen is apologizing for using the n-word after a screening of his new film Green Book.

The 60-year-old actor was at a Q&A for the potential Oscar contender — which deals with issues of racism and segregation — on Wednesday night in Los Angeles alongside his costar Mahershala Ali.

In a statement to PEOPLE, Mortensen apologized for his choice of words, saying, “Last night I participated in a Q&A session moderated by Elvis Mitchell following a screening of Green Book in Los Angeles. In making the point that many people casually used the ‘N’ word at the time in which the movie story takes place, in 1962, I used the full word.”

The former Lord of the Rings actor clarified that “although my intention was to speak strongly against racism, I have no right to even imagine the hurt that is caused by hearing that word in any context, especially from a white man.”

Mortensen also said he does not “use the word in private or in public.”

“I am very sorry that I did use the full word last night, and will not utter it again,” he said.

Green Book centers on Dr. Don Shirley, a world-class African-American pianist who goes on a concert tour, played by Ali. In need of a driver and bodyguard, Shirley hires Tony Lip, played by Mortensen, while the two confront racism and segregation in the Deep South.

Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali in Green Book
Patti Perret/Universal

Mortensen said he took on the role of Lip to bring awareness to racial issues that have divided the United States.

“One of the reasons I accepted the challenge of working on Peter Farrelly’s movie Green Book was to expose ignorance and prejudice in the hope that our movie story might help in some way to change peoples’ views and feelings regarding racial issues,” the actor explained.

“It is a beautiful, profound movie story that I am very proud to be a part of,” he added.

Ali told PEOPLE in a statement, “However well-intentioned or intellectual the conversation may have been, it wasn’t appropriate for Viggo to say the n-word.”

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“He had made it clear to me that he’s aware of this, and apologized profusely immediately following the Q&A with Elvis Mitchell,” he said. “Knowing his intention was to express that removing the n-word from your vocabulary doesn’t necessarily disqualify a person as a racist or participating in actions or thoughts that are bigoted, I can accept and embrace his apology.”

Ali continued, “An excellent and poignant thought was unfortunately overshadowed by voicing the word in its fullness. Which for me, is always hurtful.”

“The use of the word in the black community has long been debated, and its usage should continue to be examined within the black community,” he added. “The use of the word by those who aren’t black is not up for debate. The history of discrimination, slavery, pain, oppression and violence that the word has come to symbolize only causes harm to members of the black community and therefore needs to be left in the past.”

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An audience member at the screening tweeted about the incident, writing, “Was at a screening for #GreenBook—the movie is amazing, but at the Q&A after Viggo Mortensen just dropped the N Word and the oxygen immediately left the room. #movies.”

Mortensen’s comments come after a Netflix executive was fired for using the word during a company meeting, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Megyn Kelly also apologized last month for asking if wearing blackface on Halloween was racist. The comments led to the cancellation of her show and her attorney stating on Twitter that they and NBC were still negotiating her exit following the scandal.

Green Book opens Nov. 16.

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