Actor Liam Neeson said in an interview with a British newspaper last month that he once spent a week walking the streets with a club looking for a black man to kill after a woman close to him was raped by someone she said was black.
“She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way,” Neeson said of the episode, which he said happened years ago. “But my immediate reaction was, 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, hoping I’d be approached by somebody,” Northern Ireland-born Neeson said, using a British word that describes a club like weapon. “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.”
Neeson made the comments, which were published in The Independent on Monday with an audio recording of the interview, during a press event to promote his new film, “Cold Pursuit.” The remarks were immediately met with public outrage.
“It’s unfortunate and sick that Liam Neeson would in response to a tragedy simply seek out any black person to murder,” Malik Russell, a spokesman for the NAACP, said in an email. “Pain suffered is not an excuse for racism.”
“If black people responded this way regarding all the times our ancestors were lynched, raped, mutilated, tortured or shot down by police brutality, there would be too many bodies to count,” Russell added. “The fact that black people have been able to not blame every white person for the deeds of racist whites is a tribute to our character as a people.”
Neeson, 66, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in “Schindler’s List,” has starred in a series of high-profile Hollywood movies, including “Les Misérables,” “Love Actually,” “Michael Collins,” “Gangs of New York” and “Star Wars: Episode I.”
In addition to “Cold Pursuit,” which tells the story of a man who commits a series of revenge killings after the death of his son, he has also appeared as a vengeful father in the “Taken” series, best known for his vow to use “a particular set of skills” on his daughter’s kidnapper.
Representatives for Neeson and for the film company Lionsgate, which is distributing his new film, did not respond Monday to requests for comment about his remarks to The Independent.
Representatives for Neeson’s co-stars, Laura Dern and Tom Bateman, also did not respond to requests for comment, though on the audio recording of the interview, Bateman can be heard responding with a shocked expletive to Neeson’s remarks.
In the interview, Neeson said he had never publicly talked about the episode before.
“It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that,” he said. “And I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist. God forbid.”
Neeson cast the episode as a parable on the pointlessness of seeking revenge and connected it back to the conflict in Northern Ireland, which officially ended in 1998.
“It’s awful. But I did learn a lesson from it,” he said. “I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing.”
The author of the Independent article, Clémence Michallon, said on Twitter that the interview with Neeson and Bateman happened three weeks ago at a hotel in New York City.
Originally published in New York Times