In an interview with Clémence Michallon for The Independent, action star Liam Neeson shared a confronting story of how he once contemplated revenge after a friend was raped.
The Oscar-nominated actor is currently promoting his latest action film Cold Pursuit, in which he plays a snowplough driver seeking revenge against a group of criminals who he believes have killed his son.
In his conversation with Michallon, Neeson – who has portrayed a man seeking for violent revenge in at least eight films – was explaining what makes Nels Coxman, his latest vengeful character, turn to anger, before hesitantly sharing a shocking anecdote that has sparked a huge controversy.
“There’s something primal – God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions,” Neeson said.
“I’ll tell you a story. This is true.”
Neeson went on to explain how, years ago, a person close to him was raped.
“She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way. But my immediate reaction was… I asked, did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.”
Then the actor recounted how we wandered through the streets with a weapon, looking for retaliation.
“I went up and down areas with a cosh [a thick, heavy stick or bar], 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… kill him.
“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.’”
Then the star of the hit action film Taken – in which he portrays a retired CIA agent avenging the captors of his daughter – pauses before expressing how he now feels about his past behaviour.
“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. It’s awful. But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing,’ you know?”
At that point, co-star Tom Bateman, who reportedly was sitting next to Neeson during the chat, reacted to the startling admission.
“Holy shit,” Bateman said.
Neeson, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1993 for his leading role in Schindler’s List, tried to explain how violence and the concept of revenge, were something he experienced first-hand while growing up in Ireland in the ’60s and ’70s.
“I come from a society – I grew up in Northern Ireland in the Troubles – and, you know, I knew a couple of guys that died on hunger strike, and I had acquaintances who were very caught up in the Troubles, and I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing, and Northern Ireland’s proof of that. All this stuff that’s happening in the world, the violence, is proof of that, you know. But that primal need, I understand.”
Cold Pursuit is based on the critically acclaimed Norwegian film from 2014, Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance). It opens in Australia on February 7.