Actor Liam Neeson said Tuesday that he's "not racist" after sparking outrage with a story recounting a brief period from years ago in which he sought a “black bastard” to kill after someone close to him told him she had been raped.
In an interview published in The Independent on Monday, Neeson said after a woman close to him told him she had been raped, "my immediate reaction was ... did she know who it was? No. What color were they?" The woman alleged her rapist was black, Neeson said.
"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," Neeson told Robin Roberts on ABC News' "Good Morning America" on Tuesday.
"And I did it for, I’d say, four or five times. And it really shocked me — this primal urge I had. It shocked me and it hurt me," Neeson added.
But "I’m not racist," Neeson said, adding that he would have had the same reaction "had she said an Irish or a Scot."
When asked why Neeson jumped so immediately to asking about race, as he told in his story to the Independent and repeated Tuesday morning, he said he asked other identifying questions too.
Neeson told the story, which he said happened 40 years ago, during a publicity stop for his new movie "Cold Pursuit," in which his character seeks revenge after his son is killed by a drug gang.
He said he meant to relay how a quest for vengeance can become "primal" when a loved one is involved.
"I’m ashamed to say that, and I did it for maybe a week 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," Neeson said in the Independent interview.
Many criticized Neeson for jumping to asking his friend about race and looking to punish any black man to avenge her.
"As a person of color, you represent an entire group. And a lot of times, those implicit biases — while a person on a day-to-day basis won’t use racial slurs — some of those biases will bubble up in stressful situations," Cornell L. Craig, the director of diversity programs at Pace University said Monday.
Roberts pointed out Tuesday that an "innocent black man" could have been killed.
"They could have killed me, too," Neeson answered.
Some lauded Neeson for opening up about something he's shameful about and presenting an opportunity for a greater conversation.
"To talk, to open up, to talk about these things. We all pretend we're all politically correct," Neeson said Tuesday. "Sometimes just scratch the surface, and you discover this racism and bigotry, and it's there."
"Violence breeds violence," he said. "Bigotry breeds bigotry."