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Actor Liam Neeson says he's 'not racist' after interview remarks on revenge spark controversy

Posted: 9:15 AM, Feb 05, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-05 17:15:41Z
Liam Neeson 2018

(CNN) - Liam Neeson appeared on "Good Morning America" on Tuesday in the wake of controversy over his saying he contemplated carrying out a racist revenge attack after someone close to him was raped.

"I'm not racist," Neeson said. "This was nearly 40 years ago."

The actor reiterated a story he shared in an interview with The Independent during a press tour for his new movie, "Cold Pursuit," which he said Tuesday is a dark comedy about revenge.

Liam Neeson expresses regret for once contemplating racist revenge

In the newspaper interview Neeson began recounting his personal story after being asked about his film character turning to anger. He did not reveal who was attacked but said he found out when he returned home from a trip.

"She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way," Neeson told the newspaper, which published an audio excerpt. "But my immediate reaction was ... did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.

"I went up and down areas with a cosh [crowbar], hoping I'd be approached by somebody. I'm ashamed to say that, and I did it for maybe a week -- hoping some [Neeson gestured air quotes with his fingers, according to the Independent] 'black bastard' would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him."

On Tuesday he told "GMA's" Robin Roberts that "It really shocked me, this primal urge I had."

"It shocked me and it hurt me," Neeson said. "I did seek help. I went to a priest who heard my confession."

The "Taken" star said power walking two hours a day and talking it out with two friends also helped him.

Neeson explained that he grew up surrounded by violence during The Troubles in Northern Ireland -- a sectarian conflict which included terrorist attacks and bombings.

Roberts pushed back, pointing out that Neeson "asked about color. You didn't ask if the person was tall or short, big or small. You immediately went to race."

The actor conceded that, but said he did ask those other questions of his friend who he said has since died.

He said he would have had the same reaction had his friend said her rapist was white.

"If she had said an Irish, or a Scot, or a Brit or a Lithuanian I know I would have felt the same effect," Neeson said. "I was trying to show honor, stand up for my dear friend in this terrible, medieval fashion."

Roberts pointed out the pain some have felt over Neeson's remarks and he said he hopes his comments help people to talk more openly about racism and bigotry.

"Violence breeds violence," he said. "Bigotry breeds bigotry."