Liam Neeson

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Liam Neeson

Update: Liam Neeson has responded after his controversial interview comments sparked a social media backlash, as Lionsgate cancelled Tuesday’s red carpet for the premiere in New York of the actor’s revenge thriller, Cold Pursuit.

Speaking to Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts on Tuesday (5), he said: “I’m not a racist. I was trying to show honour, to stand up for my dear friend in this terrible, medieval fashion.”

“I am a fairly intelligent guy and that’s why it kind of shocked me when I came down to Earth after having these horrible feelings.”

Meanwhile as the 69th Berlinale kicks off on Thursday (7), German public broadcaster ZDF, one of the festival’s partners, declined to comment when reached by Screendaily about the presence of posters around Berlin bearing a portrait photo of Neeson.

Lionsgate cancelled the New York red carpet for the premiere of Neeson’s revenge thriller Cold Pursuit after a person familiar with the matter said it would not have been appropriate under the circumstances. The premiere itself went ahead.

Original February 4 story: A repentant Liam Neeson, whose career exploded with the role of a vengeful father in the Taken franchise, has ignited a social media storm after revealing how he roamed the streets hoping to kill a black man to avenge the rape of someone close to him.

Speaking to the UK’s The Independent on a press tour for this week’s release through Lionsgate/Summit of Cold Pursuit, in which he plays a snowplough driver who seeks to avenge his son’s death, the veteran actor appeared to take even his co-star Tom Bateman by surprise with the gritty story.

Discussing his character’s “primal need” for revenge, Neeson explained how years ago he himself experienced the same emotion after he returned from a trip and heard from an unidentified person close to him told him that she had been raped.

Neeson said his immediate reaction was to ask the woman if she knew the identity of the alleged assailant. When she said no, he asked about the person’s colour and she replied it was a black person.

“I’ve gone up and down areas with a cosh hoping I’d be approached by somebody,” Neeson can be heard saying on a recording of the interview posted on The Independent’s website. “I’m ashamed to say that and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some black bastard [the interviewer writes that when Neeson said these words he gestured air quotes with his fingers] would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know, so that I could kill him.”

Neeson said he behaved in that manner for “a week, maybe a week and a half”, adding: “It was horrible, horrible when I think that. But I did that. And I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist, god forbid. It’s awful. But I did learn a lesson from it when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’, you know?

The publication of the interview sparked divided opinion on Twitter. Many abhorred Neeson’s immediate instinct to identify the alleged assailant’s colour and apparent willingness to target an innocent black man, while others praised his ability to stop himself from an act of violence and recognise his behaviour was wrong.

The interview continued: “And I come from a society – I grew up in Northern Ireland and the Troubles and that, you know? I knew a couple of guys that died on hunger strike and I had acquaintances that were very caught up in the Troubles and I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge and more killing and more killing, you know?”

At one point during the interview, Bateman can be heard to exclaim, “Holy shit.”

Neeson’s representative declined to comment on the story. At time of writing spokespeople for Lionsgate, the distributor of Cold Pursuit, had not commented on the interview.