The 66-year-old actor was talking with The Independent about how he got into character for his new role, and he recalled an apparent rape of someone close to him from “some time ago,” according to the news site.
He said he immediately wanted to know “what color” the perpetrator was. His anger boiled over, he said, and he spent a week carrying a baton and hoping that a random “black bastard” would antagonize him so he could “kill him.” He said he now feels ashamed about it.
According to the interview:
“She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way,” Neeson says. “But my immediate reaction was …” There’s a pause. “I asked, 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, hoping I’d be approached by somebody — I’m ashamed to say that — and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [Neeson gestures air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could,” another pause, “kill him.”
His co-star Tom Bateman reportedly responded, “Holy shit.”
Neeson’s camp hasn’t yet responded to the Independent article, but some pundits are appalled by the story. Kuba Shand-Baptiste, an opinion writer for The Independent, called out his comments as parroting white supremacists:
What I’m talking about, is a centuries-old idea used to galvanise racists, particularly white men, in order to legitimise their violent treatment of black people. It was the same narrative that saw Emmett Till tortured and murdered in Mississippi in 1955. And in this country the infamous Nottingham race riots in 1958 have also long been said to have broken out after a black man was seen chatting up a white woman in a pub.
She added that Neeson’s admission shines a light on a “phenomenon that too few understand.”
In “Cold Pursuit,” Neeson plays a character who goes on a revenge tear after his son is killed by a drug gang.