Liam Neeson clarifies controversial revenge remarks: 'I'm not a racist'

The "Cold Pursuit" star responds to recent firestorm live on "GMA."
8:46 | 02/05/19

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Transcript for Liam Neeson clarifies controversial revenge remarks: 'I'm not a racist'
We're back with Liam Neeson who has a new movie out called "Cold pursuit." 24 hours ago he made headlines for talking about an incident that happened decades earlier involving a very close friend of his who he says was assaulted. And, Liam, first of all, I really appreciate your willingness to have this discussion because when it comes to race, it can be very uncomfortable for people and it just caught people off guard. How you responded when you were asked about revenge and do you want to explain what you said. Yeah, we were doing a press junket and it was, you know, the topic of our film is revenge. It's a dark comedy too but it's base is revenge and the lady journalist was asking me 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 and I was out of the country and when I came back she told me about this and she handled the situation herself incredibly bravely, I have to say that. But I had never felt this feeling before which was a primal urge to lash out. I asked her did you know the person? It was a man. No. His race? She said he was a black man. I thought, okay. 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 and I did it for, I'd say maybe four or five times until I caught myself on and 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, heard my confession and I was a catholic. Two very good friends that I talked to and believe it or not, power walking. Power walking. Two hours every day to get rid of this and I'm not racist this was nearly 40 years ago, but because I was brought up -- maybe I'm rabbiting on. I was brought up in the north of Ireland and brought up in the troubles, the '60s, '70s and early '80s. Can you explain to people what that is. The religion -- There was a war going on in the north of Ireland. And I had acquaintances who were involved in the troubles. The bigotry, one catholic would be killed the next day a protestant would be killed. One catholic pub would be bombed. A protestant pub would be bojed but I was never part of it. Because I -- Excuse me. No, no, no, I appreciate your willingness to discuss and to explain and to put it into context. I know you have heard from people or the reaction from people. Sure. And one of them, one response is the fact that when asking your friend and I'm glad she's okay. She passed away by the way five years ago. Sorry for your loss. Thaw asked about color. That you didn't ask the person was tall or short, big or small. I asked all those questions too. I did. I did. But I did ask about race, yeah. Because what we heard and saw was it was only asking about color. You did ask about other aspects. Would you have had the same reaction if your friend said it was a white manage. Definitely said an Irish or a Scott or a britt or a Lithuanian. I know I would have had the same effect. I was trying to show honor to my -- stand up for my dear friend and terrible medieval fashion and I'm a fairly intelligent guy and that's why it kind of shocked me when I came down to Earth after having these horrible feelings. Luckily no violence occurred ever. Thanks be to god. Do you think you actually would have -- if a -- Yes. If it was a black man who had nothing to do -- That was my feeling that I did want to lash out, yes. Because my friend was brutally raped and I thought I was defending her honor. And I admit that and it's a learning curve and -- What is a teachable moment? You said you wanted to -- it doesn't matter what you say, some people are going to be outraged. Others are going to say, well, at least he's admitting -- he's being honest that this is a feeling that some people have that never really acknowledge it. Yes, sure. But what is the teachable -- what are you hoping people will learn from you making these statements? To talk, to open up. To talk about these things, you know. We all pretend we're all kind of, you know, politically correct. I mean, in this country it's same in my own country too. You sometimes just scratch the surface and you discover this racism and bigotry and it's there. I remember when we were shooting "Schindler's list" in Poland 25 years ago, 26 years ago almost, and hearing remarks from drivers who were taking us to the set thinking to myself am I hearing this right? This guy is making anti-jewish comments to me who is playing oskar Schindler in the back of the car and it happened on several times and sometimes driving to the set we'd see swastika signs painted on walls knowing we were -- been driven past this area to go to set. What do we do? How do we have -- it goes beyond dialogue and conversation. You tell me what the teachable moment is. Please. I'm going to throw it back to you. I think the teachable moment is we have to own up to when we -- the one point I want to make out is that this wasn't discovered by somebody -- you admitted this. This isn't a gotcha. So I give you credit there. But also having to acknowledge that the hurt, even though it happened decades ago, the hurt of an innocent black man knowing that he could have been killed for something he did not do because of the color of his skin. No or people -- or they could have killed me too. At the time. At the time. But to get beyond it being a -- a difficult conversation and understanding that we do need to get to the root of it, to stop just talking about it and not -- I know that you're getting crucified before saying what you did. Sure. You're not shying away. You're admitting that it was wrong. You've learned interest that. But have to also understand the pain of a black person hearing what you said. Of course, of course, absolutely. You're absolutely right. Yeah. And at the time even though it was nearly 40 years ago I didn't think about that. All those things surprised me but it was this primal -- Yeah. Hatred, I guess that really, really shocked me. When I eventually came down to Earth and saw what I was doing, going out looking for a fight. Not the way -- that's never -- and that's what the basis of your movie too. It goes on and on and I wish we had time -- Violence breeds violence. Bigotry breeds bigotry. There's no end when you do it like that. Liam Neeson, thank you. Thank you. I know, it's not easy, I know -- I wish we could settle it all. See the movie. It's a good movie, by the way. Having said all that. It is dark. I will say that. It is dark but we will have a lot more of the movie tomorrow. But thank you for coming here as promised to have this discussion with us. It means a lot.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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