Ballymena actor Liam Neeson, currently in the midst of a social media storm over comments from a recent interview, has spoken out on US television about the scandal.
The actor has been accused of racism following a story he told a journalist for UK newspaper The Independent about his anger at a friend’s rape by a black man many years ago. The incident prompted him to walk around carrying a weapon, hoping to carry out revenge on any black person that might "have a go" at him.
“I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody. I’m ashamed to say that, and I did it for maybe a week – hoping some [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.”
He added, "It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that,” and revealed that it was the first time he’d shared the story. He went on to explain that growing up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles meant he was familiar with the need for revenge “but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing, and Northern Ireland’s proof of that.”
His comments were met with outrage on Twitter, with many saying they were racist.
This is so odd.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) February 4, 2019
And if he is quoted accurately, racist.
Why would he say it? https://t.co/1GuZt32IHX
Shame on you Liam Neeson.— Samantha Mumba (@samanthamumba1) February 4, 2019
In an subsequent interview on US television show Good Morning America, he addressed the backlash and tried to contextualise his comments saying:
“I’m not racist, this was 40 years ago. I was brought up in the north of Ireland. The Troubles. The Sixties, Seventies and Eighties. There was a war going on in the north of Ireland. I had acquaintances who were involved in the trouble. The bigotry. One Catholic would be killed, the next day a Protestant would be killed.”
He also added that he would have had a similar response no matter who the rapist had been. "If she said [the rapist was] Irish, a Scot, a Lituanian, [it] would have had the same effect. I was trying to show honour and stand up for my dear friend in this horrible medieval fashion ... Thankfully no violence occurred ever."
When asked what he hoped might come from the scandal, Neeson said he hoped it would prompt a conversation, and that bigotry is always close to the surface and it is something society needs to address.
While some commentators are unconvinced by his efforts, Neeson does however have an unexpected ally in English footballing legend, John Barns, who passionately defended him in an interview with on Sky News.
Football legend @officialbarnesy has told Sky News he thinks actor Liam Neeson 'deserves a medal' for his honesty about once having violent thoughts about "killing" a black person.February 5, 2019