05/02/2019 14:25 GMT | Updated 05/02/2019 14:26 GMT

Liam Neeson Breaks Silence On Independent Interview Controversy, Insisting He's 'Not Racist'

"We pretend we’re all politically correct... sometimes you just scratch the surface and discover racism and bigotry."

Liam Neeson has spoken out amid the backlash he is facing for comments he made in an interview with The Independent.

Speaking about the idea of revenge, Liam recalled to the newspaper that decades earlier, he had walked the streets at night with the intention of “killing” a black man, after his friend told him that she had been raped.

Speaking on Good Morning America on Tuesday, the Taken actor addressed the controversy for the first time, insisting that he is “not racist” and attempted to offer explanation for his comments. 

Liam Neeson appearing on Good Morning America

“We were doing a press junket,” he told the host. “And the topic of our film is revenge. Its base is revenge.

“The lady journalist was asking ‘how do you tap into that?’, and I remembered an incident nearly 40 years ago where a very dear friend of mine was brutally raped. I was out of the country, and when I came back she told me about this.

“She handled the situation, herself, and her rapist, incredibly bravely. I have to say that. But I had never felt this feeling before, this primal urge to lash out.”

He continued: “I asked her, did you know the person – it was a man – ‘no’. His race? She said he was a black man. I thought, ‘OK’. 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.”

Revealing he did this “four or five times” Liam said he stopped when he “caught himself”, noting: “It really shocked me, this primal urge I had. It shocked me and it hurt me. I did seek help, I went to a priest, and I made my confession. And believe it or not, power-walking two hours every day [helped] to get rid of this.”

Liam then insisted that he is “not racist”, pointing out the incident was “nearly 40 years ago” and that he had asked other questions about his late friend’s attacker, besides his race.

"I am not racist, this was nearly 40 years ago."

He also maintained he’d “definitely” have had the same reaction were the rapist not black, claiming: “If she’d have said an Irishman or a Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian, I know it’d have had the same effect. I was trying to show honour and stand up for my dear friend in this terrible medieval fashion.

“I’m an intelligent guy and that’s why it shocked me when I came down to earth. Luckily, no violence occurred, ever. Thanks be to god.”

When asked what he hoped to get from him speaking out, Liam said: “To talk openly about these things. We all pretend we’re all politically correct, in this country, and it’s the same in my own country. Sometimes you just scratch the surface and discover racism and bigotry, and it’s there.

“I remember when we were shooting Schindler’s List in Poland 25 years ago, hearing remarks from drivers taking us to set, and thinking ’am I hearing this right? This guy is making anti-Jewish comments and I’m in the back of the car, playing Oskar Schindler’.”

Host Robin Roberts then asked what the “teachable moment” of the controversy would be, to which he invited her to share her thoughts.

“The one point I want to make out – and this wasn’t found out, you admitted this, this isn’t a gotcha,” she explained. “But having to acknowledge the hurt, even though it was decades ago, but an innocent black man could have been killed because of the colour of his skin.”

To this Liam responded: “They could have killed me too.”

“Violence breeds violence,” Liam concluded, “And bigotry breeds bigotry”, before adding: “See the movie, by the way, it’s a good movie.”

Robin Roberts speaks to Liam Neeson

Liam initially sparked controversy when he told The Independent: “My immediate reaction [to his friend’s rape] was… 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 ‘black bastard’ [two words which the newspaper refers to him as using air quotes as he said] would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could... kill him.”

Reflecting on his behaviour, Liam acknowledged that he had acted in a “horrible, horrible” way, adding: “It’s awful. But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing’, you know? I understand that need for revenge, but it just leads to more revenge, to more killing and more killing.”