By George Steer
February 5, 2019

Actor Liam Neeson spoke out for the first time about his controversial comments in which he expressed remorse for once wanting to kill an innocent black man in an act of revenge.

“I’m not racist, this was 40 years ago,” he said on Good Morning America Tuesday.The topic of our film is revenge, and the lady journalist was asking me how do you tap into that,” he said.

Neeson has been pilloried after he revealed in an interview with The Independent published on Monday that he regretted once setting out to kill any black man who provoked him. He had been promoting his new film Cold Pursuit, a thriller that centers on a man out for retribution after his son is murdered.

After he found out someone close to him had been raped, Neeson told The Independent his “immediate reaction was … I asked did she knew who it was? No. What color were they? She said it was a black person.”

Neeson said he “went up and down areas with a cosh [a blunt instrument used as a weapon], hoping I’d be approached by somebody”.

“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 for something so I could kill him.”

“It was horrible, horrible when I think back, that I did that. And I’ve never admitted that,” he added.

But defending himself on Good Morning America on Tuesday, Neeson said the race of the attacker was irrelevant: “If [the victim] had said an Irish, Scot, Brit, I know I would have felt the same way. I was trying to show honor and stand up for my dear friend in this medieval fashion. It shocked me when I realized the terrible things I said. Luckily, no violence occurred thanks be to God.”

The actor also said he did “seek help” at the time by speaking to a priest and “power walking.”

He said in the original interview that “something primal” kicks in when a loved one is the victim of violence. “God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions,” he said, before recounting how he himself had nearly been driven to revenge. He also told of how growing up during The Troubles in Northern Ireland helped him “understand that need for revenge”.

His insistence in the same interview that revenge “just leads to more revenge, and more killing, and more killing,” did not, however, ease the anger felt at his earlier revelation.

Others sought to downplay the issue, however. John Barnes, a former footballer who suffered racist abuse while playing for Liverpool FC in the 1980’s, even said Neeson “deserved a medal” for his admission.

“He said he was ashamed and horrified at what he felt,” said Barnes.

This is not the first interview of Neeson’s to draw controversy. In January 2018, he described how the MeToo movement, despite being “healthy” and a force for good, had become “a bit of a witch hunt“. He also said he was “on the fence” about sexual misconduct allegations leveled at Dustin Hoffman. “I’m not saying I’ve done similar things to what he did—apparently he touched some girls’ breasts—but it’s childhood stuff,” he said.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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