The actor has clearly examined his conscience since he went looking for revenge after a friend of his was raped years ago

‘So how did you prepare for the role?’ It is one of the softest questions in film reporting, but the world got much more than it bargained for when Liam Neeson admitted to the Independent that, nearly 40 years ago, he had planned to avenge a friend who had been raped by going into black-populated areas of the city he was in, armed with a cosh, “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.” Luckily nothing came of it, and after a week or so, Neeson said, he thought to himself: “What the fuck are you doing?” His publicists doubtless thought the same.

There is so much to process about Neeson’s admission. Should we condemn his racism or applaud his honesty? Would he really have gone through with it? Has he spent so long playing these middle-aged avenger roles that he can no longer distinguish between fact and fiction? And, as a secondary consideration, will Neeson’s career survive this?

Starting with the racism question. Nobody who goes out wanting to kill a stranger based solely on the colour of their skin can deny they’re racist. Or at least that they were racist. In the initial interview, Neeson said his first questions to the friend who survived the rape were “Did she know who it was?” and “What colour were they?”

Neeson later clarified in a Good Morning America interview that he had asked more questions, and that he would have had the same reaction whatever the rapist’s ethnicity. “If she’d said an Irish or a Scot or a Brit or a Lithuanian, I know it would have had the same effect.” How important is that distinction? Is it more reassuring to know that Neeson was an equal-opportunities entitled bigot?

As an actor, Neeson’s attitudes towards race and justice are uncontroversially positive in many aspects. His last high-profile movie, Steve McQueen’s Widows, began with a quietly radical shot of Neeson in bed with black actor Viola Davis. “He’s not my slave owner. I’m not a prostitute. It’s not trying to make any social or political statements. We’re simply a couple in love,” as Davis put it. Neeson’s velvety growl and calm gravitas have marked him out for roles requiring nobility, from the Jew-saving Oskar Schindler in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, to goodly Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace to God-surrogate Aslan the lion in the Narnia movies.

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