Liam Neeson has broken his silence to deny he is racist after a storm over his comments about how he once roamed the streets seeking to kill a "black b*****d" after his friend was raped.
The Taken star did not apologise for the remarks on Good Morning America but said he had been trying to "honour his dear friend" after she was brutally raped 40 years ago.
"I'm not racist," said the 66-year-old. "I was brought up in Northern Ireland. The Troubles. The 60s, 70s and 80s. There was a war going on in the north of Ireland. I had acquaintances who were involved in the Troubles, the bigotry. One Catholic would be killed, the next day a Protestant would be killed … I grew up surrounded by that."
Neeson explained that he made the initial comments to The Independent after the journalist asked how he tapped into vengeful feelings for his new movie, Cold Pursuit.
"The topic of our film is revenge, it's a dark comedy too, but its base is revenge. The lady journalist was asking me, how do you tap into that?
"I remembered an incident 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 this.
"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 went out into 'black areas' in the city looking to be set upon so that I could unleash physical violence and I did it four or five times."
He said he sought help afterwards, talking to a priest and power walking "two hours every day."
GMA host Robin Roberts said part of the criticism was that he asked his friend about colour rather than height or size.
"I did actually, I asked all those questions too," said Neeson. "But I did ask about race."
"Would you have had the same reaction if your friend had said it was a white man, would you have wanted to go out and kill?" asked Roberts.
"Definitely," replied Neeson. "If she'd have said an Irish, or a Scot, or a Brit, or a Lithuanian, I know I would have felt the same effect. I was trying to show honour to my, stand up for my dear friend in this terrible, medieval fashion. And I'm a fairly intelligent guy, that's why it shocked me when I came down to earth after having these horrible feelings. Luckily, no violence occurred, ever, thanks be to God."
Asked whether he would really have gone through with an attack on a random black man, he said: "Yes. That was my feeling, that I did want to lash out, yes, because my friend was brutally raped and I thought I was defending her honour. And I admit that, and it's a learning curve."
He told Roberts "we all pretend we're politically correct", and said he shared the story as a lesson. "In this country, it's the same in my own country too, you sometimes just scratch the surface and you discover this racism and bigotry, and it's there," he said. "Violence breeds violence, bigotry breeds bigotry."
Neeson then encouraged the audience to see his new movie.
The actor triggered massive controversy after his extraordinary newspaper interview was published on Monday. "I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I'd be … approached by somebody," he said.
"I'm ashamed to say that, and I did it for maybe a week — hoping some (Neeson gestures 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.
"There's something primal — God forbid you've ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions."
Many viewers were unimpressed by the GMA interview, criticising him for failing to apologise or recognise the meaning of what he did.
Sheila Harris tweeted: "Liam Neeson was defying all logic and commonsense in that interview to make himself feel better about his racist actions 40 years ago. Going into the black community and targeting black men is a racist action."
Twitter user @fivefifths added: "The real thing for me on the Neeson affair is that this gets to be a moment of 'growth' for him, while lots of black folks build their entire public routines around the threat of random violence and being mistaken for some other phantom Negro."
Edwin contended that his actions were not about revenge, because he did not go after the specific attacker, but "was willing to attack any random, innocent person based on the colour of their skin."
But some defended the actor, with Jonathan Pie tweeting that Neeson had "stated that an emotional trauma made him feel unjustly prejudiced against black people, but he came to his senses, realised his gross error of judgement, and learned from it."
Soccer legend John Barnes also stuck up for Neeson, saying he "deserves a medal" he his honesty. The former England player, who suffered racist abuse during his career, told Sky News he respected the actor for telling the truth, adding, "We are all unconscious racists."