‘I’m not a racist,’ actor Liam Neeson says after revenge remarks

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – 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.

FILE PHOTO: Actor Liam Neeson arrives for the world premiere of Widows at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Toronto, Canada, September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Responding to the backlash his comments had drawn, the 66-year-old Irish star of the new film “Cold Pursuit,” told the U.S. television network ABC’s “Good Morning America” that “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 bastard’ 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 bastard.” 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.

“It was horrible, horrible when I think back, that I did that,” Neeson said on “GMA. “It’s awful, but I did learn a lesson from it.”

Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Howard Goller