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(SKY NEWS) — Liam Neeson has spoken for the first time after his admission about once having violent thoughts about black people, saying he is not racist.
It comes following an interview in which the star revealed that a female friend had been raped by a black man years ago, and that he reacted in a way that he was “ashamed” of.
His comments were met with outrage, with many people calling for his films to be boycotted and for the star to be stripped of his OBE.
Now, Neeson has spoken to US breakfast show Good Morning America to address the backlash, saying: “I am not racist. This was nearly 40 years ago.”
Neeson said that he quickly became shocked by his feelings after his friend was raped, and that he sought help from a priest at the time.
He said that if his friend, who has since died, had told him she had been raped by anyone else – “if she had said Irish or Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian” – he would have felt the same.
“I was trying to show honour to my… to stand up for my dear friend in this terrible, medieval fashion,” he said.
“I’m a fairly intelligent guy and that’s why it kind of shocked me when I came down to Earth after having these horrible feelings. Luckily, no violence occurred, ever.”
Neeson admitted that at the time, “I did want to lash out, yes”.
He continued: “Because my friend was brutally raped and I thought I was defending her honour, and I admit that. It’s a learning curve.”
Neeson said he hopes that if anything can come from his comments, it will be that people will talk more about racism.
“We all pretend we’re all kind of politically correct,” he said. “In this country – it’s the same in my own country too – you sometimes just scratch the surface and you discover this racism. And bigotry. And it’s there.
“I remember when we were shooting Schindler’s List in Poland… and hearing remarks from drivers taking us to the set. Thinking to myself, am I hearing this right, this guy’s making anti-Jewish comments, to me who’s playing Oskar Schindler, in the back of the car.
“It happened several times, and sometimes driving to the set we’d see swastika signs painted on walls, knowing we were being driven past this area.”
In his initial interview with the Independent, to promote his new film Cold Pursuit, Neeson told the story of his reaction to the rape of his friend, saying he armed himself with a cosh weapon on the streets, hoping someone “would have a go” at him so he could kill them.
Explaining his comments to GMA host Robin Roberts, Neeson said he told the story after being asked how he tapped into his character’s feelings of anger.
“I had never felt this feeling before, which was a primal urge to lash out,” he said. “I asked her [his friend], did you know the person? It was a man. No. His race? She said he was a black man. I thought, okay.
“And after that there were some nights I went out deliberately into black areas in this city looking to be set upon so I could unleash physical violence. And I did it for I’d say maybe four or five times, until I caught myself. And it really shocked me, this primal urge I had. It shocked me and it hurt me.
“I did seek help. I went to a priest, who heard my confession, I was reared a Catholic.”
Roberts told Neeson he has to “understand the pain of a black person” from hearing his confession.
He replied: “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.”
While many have criticised Neeson, England football legend John Barnes, who suffered racist abuse himself during his playing career, has defended the actor, telling Sky News he “deserves a medal” for his honesty.
Others have also credited him for speaking out, with one Twitter user saying: “Based on what I’ve heard so far, I think #LiamNeeson is contributing to an ongoing and necessary discussion. We can not address these issues if we ignore them. I applaud him for being brave enough to #SpeakUp.”
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