Just in case you haven’t yet read The Independent’s new interview with Liam Neeson, here’s the gist: During a routine junket interview for his new movie Cold Pursuit, Neeson inexplicably decided to drop a jaw-dropping story about how, in some indeterminate point in the past, an unnamed woman he knew was sexually assaulted, and, well, we’ll just excerpt at length:
“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.”
Neeson clearly knows what he’s saying, and how shocking it is, how appalling. “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.’”
He deliberately withholds details to protect the identity of the victim. “It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that,” he says. “And I’ve never admitted that, and I’m saying it to a journalist. God forbid.”
“Holy shit,” says Tom Bateman, his co-star, who is sitting beside him.
“It’s awful,” Neeson continues, a tremble in his breath. “But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, ‘What the fuck are you doing,’ you know?”
Keep in mind that junket interviews are generally not one-on-one, so this was most likely witnessed by a whole room full of people sitting around a conference-room table with tape recorders and notepads, expecting to sleepwalk through a series of questions about if it was fun/difficult to drive a snowplow, what it was like to work with Laura Dern, and so on. Then, this. On top of that, junket interviews are generally quite short—in the article, The Independent writer Clémence Michallon says it was 17 minutes in length—so there was no real chance to ask follow-up questions.
And so, aside from stating that we are all Tom Bateman in this moment, we’d like to ask a few of those follow-up questions now.
1. What the fuck?
2. Why did Neeson think this was an appropriate time to tell this story?
3. Does Neeson hold these same views on quote-unquote “black bastards” today? Because wandering the streets with a weapon in your pocket hoping a random black person approaches you so you can murder them is an extremely racist thing to do, and he doesn’t really address that aside from making air quotes and saying he is “ashamed.”
4. In fact, if Neeson had followed through and killed a random black person based on their race, it would have been a hate crime. Does he realize that?
5. Did he understand that he comes off as racist in this anecdote before he told it, or did he figure it out based on the looks on the faces of the aforementioned journalists as the words came out of his mouth?
6. What’s a cosh? (To answer this one: It’s another term for a blackjack.)
7. Seriously, what the fuck?
The answers to these questions are not forthcoming, either, as The Independent reached out to Neeson’s reps for comment and were declined. But experimental psychology professor Lasana Harris tells the paper that traumatic incidents can affect a person’s views of a particular group, adding, “I think it may have something to do with the pre-existing biases.”
So, in short: Liam Neeson likely had some prejudice against black people, whether unconscious or overt, before the assault happened, and it’s not clear how (or if) his views on race have changed since then. He does say “it’s awful” and “I did learn a lesson from it,” but that lesson seems to be about violence not being the answer, as opposed to how it was wrong to blame all black people for the actions of one black person. If Neeson was trying to say that he once held racist views, and he knows he was wrong and is trying to be a better person and is sorry, he needs to follow up and say that.
We’re not really sure how to wrap this one up, so, uh—Cold Pursuit is in theaters Friday?