Liam Neeson under fire for disturbing comments on race and revenge

/ CBS/AP

Actor Liam Neeson says he is ashamed to admit he had violent thoughts about killing a black person after learning that someone close to him had been raped.

In an interview published Monday, Neeson said that after being told the attacker was black, he "went up and down areas with a cosh" (a heavy stick or truncheon) hoping a black person "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," Neeson said.

Neeson, 66, recounted the story in an interview with The Independent while promoting his new thriller "Cold Pursuit." He said the incident happened some time ago. He withheld details to protect the identity of the victim.

"It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that," he said "And I've never admitted that, and I'm saying it to a journalist. God forbid."

Many social media users expressed shock at his admission, accusing Neeson of racism.

"Never thought I'd have to cancel Liam Neeson but… here goes," entertainment reporter Alicia Adejobi tweeted. "How he ever thought he could say this without consequence is mind-boggling."

Never thought I'd have to cancel Liam Neeson but… here goes. How he ever thought he could say this without consequence is mind-boggling https://t.co/9YahdMBILq

— Alicia Adejobi (@aliciaadejobi) February 4, 2019

Neeson, who grew up in Northern Ireland during the decades of violence known as the Troubles, said it taught him a lesson about the "primal need" for revenge and the futility of endless cycles of violence.

"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."

In "Cold Pursuit," Neeson plays a father who seeks violent revenge after his character's son is killed by a drug gang.

"I think audience members live to see [that violence on screen]," Neeson continues. "They can kind of live vicariously through it. People say, 'Yeah but violence in films makes people want to go out and kill people.' I don't believe that at all.

"I think the average moviegoer thinks, 'Yeah, punch him. Punch him.' And they get a satisfaction out of seeing somebody else enact it, and they leave the theatre and they feel satiated in some way."

Cold Pursuit (2019 Movie) Official Trailer – Liam Neeson, Laura Dern, Emmy Rossum by Lionsgate Movies on YouTube

First published on February 4, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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