“Over the last several weeks, I have reflected on and spoken to a variety of people who were hurt by my impulsive recounting of a brutal rape of a dear female friend nearly 40 years ago and my unacceptable thoughts and actions at that time in response to this crime,” Neeson said in the statement (via Variety).
“The horror of what happened to my friend ignited irrational thoughts that do not represent the person I am. In trying to explain those feelings today, I missed the point and hurt many people at a time when language is so often weaponized and an entire community of innocent people are targeted in acts of rage.”
The actor continued, “What I failed to realize is that this is not about justifying my anger all those years ago, it is also about the impact my words have today. I was wrong to do what I did. I recognize that, although the comments I made do not reflect, in any way, my true feelings nor me, they were hurtful and divisive. I profoundly apologize.”
While promoting the vengeance-minded action film Cold Pursuit at a press junket in February, Neeson recounted an incident where a female friend was raped. “I asked, did she know who it was? No. What color were they? She said it was a black person,” Neeson told the Independent at the time.
“I went up and down areas with a cosh [a heavy stick], 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’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could… kill him.”
Neeson continued, “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?”
The actor’s comments were met with immediate backlash – “Liam Neeson is canceled” was a popular theme on social media – and Neeson’s attempts to clarify his remarks on Good Morning America also missed the mark. “We all pretend we’re all kind of ‘politically correct.’ In this country – and same in my own country, too – you sometimes just scratch the surface and you discover this racism and bigotry,” Neeson said.
A red carpet premiere for Cold Pursuit in New York was ultimately canceled and the film limped to a $11 million opening at the box office.