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'I'm not a racist,' actor Liam Neeson says after revenge fantasy remarks

After disclosing that he had wanted to kill a black man in response to the rape of a friend, the actor says he would have gone for a white man if that's how he'd been described.

'I'm not a racist,' actor Liam Neeson says after revenge fantasy remarks

(Photo: AFP / Jung Yeon-je)

Actor Liam Neeson denied on Tuesday being a racist after disclosing in an interview that he had wanted to kill a black man in response to the rape of a friend who said her attacker was black.

Responding to the backlash his comments had drawn, the 66-year-old Irish star of the new film Cold Pursuit, told the US television network ABC's Good Morning America (GMA): "I'm not a racist."

Neeson said he had learned that society needed to have a larger discussion to end racism and bigotry.

On Monday, Neeson told the British newspaper The Independent that he related to characters in his movies such as Taken who seek revenge when someone close to them is hurt. He said a female friend told him decades ago that she had been raped by a man who was black.

Neeson told the newspaper he had spent "maybe a week" walking near pubs with a heavy stick and "hoping some 'black b******' would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could... kill him."

The Independent said Neeson put air quotes around the term "black b******". The newspaper posted audio from the interview on its website.

On Tuesday, Neeson told GMA that he had felt a "primal urge to lash out" at the time.

"I went out deliberately into black areas in the city, looking to be set upon," he said. "It shocked me and it hurt me... I did seek help, I went to a priest."

Neeson said no violence occurred. He said he would have been looking for a white man if his friend had identified her attacker as white.

"I was trying to show honour, stand up for my dear friend in this terrible, medieval fashion," explained Neeson.

He added, "I'm a fairly intelligent guy – that's why it kind of shocked me when I came down to earth after having these horrible feelings. Luckily no violence occurred, thanks be to God."

As for the "teachable moment" in this situation, the star explained it was "to talk, to open up, to talk about these things... We all pretend we're all kind of politically correct.... You sometimes just scratch the surface and you discover this racism and bigotry and it's there."

"You have to also understand the pain of a black person hearing what you said," GMA host Robin Roberts pointed out.

"Of course, absolutely. You're absolutely right and at the time, even though it was nearly 40 years ago, I didn't think about that," Neeson replied.

"It was horrible, horrible when I think back, that I did that," said Neeson. "It's awful, but I did learn a lesson from it."

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Howard Goller)

Source: CNA/pw