Liam Neeson came under fire this week after an interview with The Independent was released on Monday in which the actor told a story about his past. He said that a close friend of his was sexually assaulted by a man, who happened to be black, and he went out into the street looking to get revenge on any black man he could find. Understandably, Neeson was called out for this blatant racist reaction. In order to try and set the record straight regarding what happened, he appeared on Good Morning America on Tuesday, where he spoke with Robin Roberts about the story.
"I remembered an incident nearly 40 years ago, where a very dear friend of mine was brutally raped," he said. "I was out of the country and when I came back she told me about this. And she handled the situation, herself and the rapist, incredibly bravely, I have to say that. But I had never felt this feeling before, which was a primal urge to lash out. I asked her, 'Did you know the person?' 'No.' 'His race?' She said he was a black man. I thought, 'OK.' And after that, there were some nights I went out deliberately into black areas in the city looking to be set upon, so I could unleash physical violence. And I did it, I'd say maybe four or five times, until I caught myself on 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. I had two very, very good friends that I talked to. And, believe it or not, power walking. Two hours every day."
After doing his best to offer another explanation of the situation, Neeson reiterated to Roberts that he doesn't have any racist thoughts or feelings.
"I'm not racist. This was nearly 40 years ago," he continued. "I was brought up in the north of Ireland and brought up in 'The Troubles,' the '60s, '70s, and early '80s... There was a war going on in the north of Ireland and I had acquaintances who were involved in The Troubles, the bigotry. One Catholic would be killed, the next day a Protestant would be killed. One Catholic pub would be bombed, the next day a Protestant pub would be bombed. I grew up around that, but I was never a part of it."
Roberts brought up the fact that Neeson, when he initially spoke about the incident, immediately brought up race when asking his friend about the man who assaulted her. He insisted that, had the man been white, he would've had the same reaction.
"Oh, definitely. If she'd have said an Irish, or a Scot, or a Brit, or a Lithuanian, I know I would've had the same effect," he said. "I was trying to show honor, to stand up for my dear friend, in this terrible medieval fashion. 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, thanks be to God."
While he never committed any violence, Neeson did admit that, had he been confronted while out looking for trouble, he absolutely would've done something terrible. He makes it clear that he understands how wrong that was, and hopes there is a teachable moment to come out of this scenario.
"To talk, to open up, to talk about these things," he said. "We all pretend we're all politically correct and 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, 26 years ago almost, and hearing remarks from drivers who were taking us to the set. Thinking to myself, 'Am I hearing this right? This guy is making anti-Jewish comments to me who's playing Oscar Schindler, in the back of a car.' And it happened several times. And sometimes driving to the set we'd see swastika signs pained on walls, knowing we were driven past this area to be driven to set."
Neeson then tossed back to Roberts and asked her what she feels the teachable moment is in situations such as these.
"I think the teachable moment is that we have to own up to when we... the one point that I want to make out is that this wasn't discovered by somebody," she said. "You admitted this. This isn't a 'Gotcha!' So I give you credit there. But also having to acknowledge the hurt, even though it happened decades ago, the hurt of an innocent black man knowing that he could've been killed for something he did not do because of the color of his skin. But to get beyond it being a difficult conversation and understanding that we do need to get to the root of it, to stop just talking about it. I know that you're getting crucified in many ways for saying what you did. And you're not shying away, you're admitting that it was wrong, you've learned from that. But you have to also understand the pain of a black person hearing what you said."
Neeson simply nodded his head and agreed, "Yes, you're absolutely right."