Leah Simpson and Martin Robinson, Daily Mail, February 5, 2019
The red carpet at the premiere of Liam Neeson’s newest film was abruptly cancelled amid fallout from the actor’s comments about decades-old thoughts he had about killing a black person.
Organizers of the New York premiere of Cold Pursuit informed journalists that interviews and photo opportunities had been nixed on Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the event was supposed to start.
The Lionsgate film’s screening continued as planned despite the star revealing he had an urge to murder a black person after his friend told him she’d been raped by a man of the same race. But there was none of the usual glitz and glamor associated with a big premiere.
Liam Neeson earlier denied he was a racist but failed to apologize as he faced the world for the first time since admitting he wanted to kill a random black man after a friend was raped.
He made the astonishing admission as he discussed his latest film, Cold Pursuit – about a father’s quest for revenge against a drug baron after his son is killed.
The movie is out in the US on Friday and will be released into UK cinemas on February 22, but it is not yet known if he will attend the UK premiere.
The actor, 66, appeared on Good Morning America in New York Tuesday and revealed he had sought help from a Catholic priest after spending a week prowling the streets with a cosh to murder a ‘black b*****d’.
Neeson said he ‘understood’ the hurt his words had caused but insisted: ‘I’m not racist, this was 40 years ago. I had a primal urge. I was trying to show honor for a friend I dearly loved, in a medieval fashion’.
The star, who was later hugged and kissed by black audience members on the Live with Kelly and Ryan show, said he had gone to church when he became ‘scared’ and realised he had wanted to ‘unleash’ murder on a stranger for his friend, who he said died five years ago.
He said: ‘I did seek help. I went to a priest, who heard my confession’ and also later confided in two friends and would go out powerwalking for ‘two hours a day to get this [anger] out of me’.
GMA host Robins Roberts asked him if he ‘understood the pain of a black person’ hearing his words.
He replied: ‘Absolutely, you’re absolutely right. And at the time, even though this was nearly 40 years ago, I didn’t think about that. It was this primal hatred, I guess, that really shocked me, when I eventually came down to earth and saw what I was doing, looking for a fight’.
When asked how he would feel if his unnamed friend’s attacker was white he said: ‘If he was Irish, a Scot or Brit or a Lithuanian. I know I would have had the same reaction’.
Neeson, whose critics have said he should be banned from the Oscars and making movies, said his anger came during the Troubles in Northern Ireland where murder was all around him.
More than 1,000 people died in 30 years of conflict between mostly Protestants, who fought for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK against mostly Catholics who wanted it to be part of the Republic of Ireland.
He explained that this is why he chose to speak out about prowling the streets with a weapon and said: ‘Violence breeds violence. Bigotry breeds bigotry’.
Describing what motivated him to try to attack a black man he told GMA: ‘Nearly 40 years ago when a very dear friend of mine was brutally raped and I was out of the country and when I came back she told me about it.
‘I had never felt this feeling before, which was a primal urge to lash out. I asked her did she know the person, and 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 that I could unleash physical violence.
‘I did it for say, maybe four or five times until I caught myself and it really shocked me, this primal urge. It shocked me and it hurt me. Luckily no violence occurred’.
When asked about his friend he said: ‘She passed away by the way five years ago’.
Today he said he spoke out now to encourage others ‘to talk, to open up, to talk about these things – we all pretend we’re all politically correct.
‘I mean, in this country it’s 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 25 years ago 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 is playing Oskar Schindler in the back of the car and it happened on several times and sometimes driving to the set we’d see swastika signs painted on walls knowing we were being driven past this area to go to set’.
GMA host Ms Roberts asked Neeson whether he hoped people would learn lessons from his controversial words.
She said: ‘The point I want to make out is, this wasn’t discovered by somebody, you admitted this, it isn’t a “gotcha”, so I give you credit there, but also having to acknowledge the hurt, even though it happened decades ago, knowing an innocent black man could have been killed’.
Neeson replied: ‘Or they could have killed me too, at the time’.
After his GMA appearance he went on to Live with Kelly and Ryan in a neighboring studio and was mobbed by the audience.
When asked about the incident again he said: ‘I already talked about it this morning and I’m not backtracking, I promise you.
‘We do what you take away from it, what you learn from it? The need for dialogue, and human dialogue between here and here and between here and here and here and here and here
‘I just feel we need to be honest. I grew up in a society where there was a lot of bigotry in the north of Ireland, protestants and Catholics. I was so sick of it, so when I encountered it myself, I just needed it to be honest.
‘We are living in a nation that we know is horribly divided. We have to come together. This is the United States of America’.
His shocking story has provoked a huge backlash on social media, with many accusing Neeson – who has previously spoken passionately in support of women’s pay equality and gay marriage in Northern Ireland – of racism.
Neeson’s incendiary intervention has split opinion. Some have called for him to be banned from the Oscars or even put out of work for good.
Others called the furor a ‘witchhunt’ and he ‘deserves a medal’ for his admission about how society viewed black people in the 1970s and 1980s.
In his native UK Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan compared him to the ‘KKK’ and slammed him for the ‘purest personification of racism’.
But former England footballer John Barnes, who faced outrageous racism on the pitch, said Neeson is being unfairly vilified for ‘telling the truth’ about society at the time.
Mr Barnes, who had bananas thrown at him by fans doing monkey chants at him, said: ‘He [Liam Neeson] went on to say was that he was ashamed and horrified by the way he felt. He’s not ashamed and horrified of wanting to commit the act of revenge. He’s ashamed and horrified because that’s what he thought all black people’.
He added: ‘You can’t judge Liam Neeson on 30 years ago, he said after a week he was horrified and ashamed of what he felt’.
Detective Sergeant Janet Hills, chairman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, said: ‘I think it’s disappointing that he has said what he’s said and elaborated on that.’
Neeson was describing the destructive nature of seeking revenge.
‘She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way,’ he said in an interview with The Independent.
‘But my immediate reaction was… I asked, did she know who it was? No. What color were they? She said it was a black person.
‘I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody – I’m ashamed to say that – and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [making air quotes with his fingers] ‘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 interviewer, French journalist Clemence Michallon, wrote on Twitter that, at the end of their interview, Neeson asked her take care how she wrote the story.
She said he jokingly used the voice of his character in the film Taken – where he played a former CIA agent trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter.
I will leave you with this’, Miss Michallon wrote. ‘At the end of the interview, Neeson politely told me he had a request.
‘He asked – if I were going to use the story he shared, would I be very careful? I said yes – I am always very careful.
‘And then he said, ‘or else’ – and he switched to his other voice, his actor voice, the voice he uses in that Taken phone scene, and he was clearly joking – ‘I will find you’.’
She added: ‘Whether or not that was appropriate remains to be determined. But he said, ‘I will find you’. He said that to me in the same voice.’
Neeson replied: ‘There’s something primal – God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions. I’ll tell you a story. This is true. I’m not going to use any names. But I was away and I came back. And she told me she had been raped.’
Of his thoughts of revenge, he added: ‘It took me a week, maybe a week and a half, to go through that.
‘She would say, ‘Where are you going?’ and I would say, ‘I’m just going out for a walk.’ You know? ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘No no, nothing’s wrong, I’m fine’. It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that, ‘And I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist. God forbid.
‘But I did learn a lesson from it.’
Neeson’s revelation, and the language he used, provoked an immediate response on social media, with many accusing him of racism for demanding to know the ethnicity of his friend’s attacker.
His use of racist language, even to describe his extreme emotions in the heat of the moment, was described as ‘disgusting’ by one Twitter user.
Another said: ‘It reinforces the idea that people of color, and especially black men, are collectively responsible for the misdeeds of one.’
Frederick Joseph, who launched a GoFundMe appeal to help take underprivileged children from Harlem in New York to see the Oscar-nominated superhero film Black Panther, tweeted: ‘Liam Neeson being ready to take any Black life over what one person allegedly did just shows how meaningless and inconsequential black lives are to some.
‘Even him telling the story demonstrates a level of privilege and understating that there may not be repercussions.’
Critics also wrote: ‘Well, I’ve seen it all now. Liam Neeson admitted to going around trying to find a black person to kill because someone he was close to got raped by a black person, and the journalist spoke to a psychologist to help contextualize his racism and included it in the article? WILD.’
One tweeted: ‘Liam Neeson 1) says he wanted to kill a random black man over an unrelated crime 2) thought this was an anecdote he could share to promote his movie.’
Another said: ‘Wow so Liam Neeson is f***ing cancelled. So if the guy was white you’d go stalking the streets to find a random, unrelated white person to kill? Scumbag.’
In his latest film Liam Neeson plays Nels Coxman in Cold Pursuit, a small town snowplow operator intent on tracking down the drug dealers he believes to be responsible for the death of his son.
The film is a remake of 2014 Norwegian film In Order Of Disappearance and also stars Emmy Rossum and Laura Dern.
Liam has had a troubled personal life.
Only three weeks ago, he learned that his nephew, Ronan Sexton, passed away, five years after suffering catastrophic head injuries in a 20ft fall from the top of a phonebox.
Ronan was partying with friends in Brighton in June 2014 when he climbed up the kiosk on the city’s seafront but slipped and landed in a concrete subway below.
The tragedy came nine years after the death of Neeson’s wife of 15 years, Natasha Richardson, who suffered a fatal head injury during a ski trip in 2009.
And in yet more heartbreak for the family Ronan’s mother lost her partner Harry Shannon two years ago.