The Taken actor, 66, revealed in an interview to promote his new film Cold Pursuit, that he had walked the streets armed with a weapon hoping he would be approached by someone “so that I could kill him”.
Radio presenter Clara Amfo, author Marian Keyes and actress Annie Wallace were among those who reacted to Neeson’s statement, with Keyes saying she was “mortified”.
Discussing how his character turns to anger, Neeson told the Independent: “There’s something primal - God forbid you’ve ever had a member of your family hurt under criminal conditions. I’ll tell you a story. This is true.”
He said the rape happened some time ago and said of his friend: “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.
“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 b****** 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.’
“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 f*** are you doing,’ you know?
“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.”
Neeson’s comments have triggered debate on social media.
Author Keyes posted a message on Twitter saying: “I am mortified by Liam Neeson.”
Actress Wallace said: “Liam Neeson... DAMN! What’s wrong with people these days... not just the horrible thoughts and deeds, but saying things out loud, in a career-ending kinda way.”
Radio presenter Clara Amfo said she was “thinking about what broadcaster/host Liam Neeson is gonna use to try to exonerate himself from that “admission” of his”, suggesting it would be Larry King.
Frederick Joseph, who launched a GoFundMe to help take underprivileged children from Harlem in New York to see the film Black Panther, tweeted: “Liam Neeson being ready to take any Black life over what one person allegedly did just shows how meaningless and inconsequential black lives are to some.
“Even him telling the story demonstrates a level of privilege and understating that there may not be repercussions.”
Comedian and writer Phillip Henry said: “What’s most disturbing about what Liam Neeson said is everything. But what’s particularly terrifying is the idea that the death of any other Black guy would satisfy the revenge quota to the clear indication is that he knows his whiteness would protect if he followed through on it.”
Representatives for Neeson and film studio Lionsgate have been contacted for comment.