People in Liam Neeson’s home town of Ballymena have spoken out in support of the under-fire Hollywood actor.
The 66-year-old has denied allegations of racism after sparking a public row with controversial comments made during an interview to promote his latest movie, Cold Pursuit.
He told The Independent how almost 40 years ago he had walked the streets of a city armed with a cosh, with thoughts of killing a black man in revenge for his friend being raped by a black man.
Responding to widespread criticism, Mr Neeson told US talk show Good Morning America that he had had a “primal” desire for revenge. But he denied being a racist, claiming he would have had the same reaction if his friend had said she’d been raped by a white man.
Mr Neeson, who was awarded the Freedom of the Borough of Ballymena in 2013, sparked an outcry with his initial remarks. But shoppers in the Tower Centre today voiced their backing for the town’s most famous son.
Linda Carson from Glengormley commented: “I think he did what he did out of anger. He’s not that kind of person I don’t think.
“He has been a nice guy all these years so I think he did what he did, but he regretted it immediately.”
Her husband Edward said he thinks Mr Neeson has been “unfairly treated” for being truthful about his past.
“I think people are entitled to express their own opinion.
“If it happened to one of your own friends you might do the same thing,” he said.
Another shopper, who wanted to be known only as Olivia, said: “It’s been a bit blown out of proportion.
“I don’t think he was being racist as such. He was just reacting to that situation at that time. If it had’ve been a man covered in tattoos or a man with such and such a colour of hair who’d done it [committed the rape] then that’s who he’d have been on the look out for.”
James Stewart, 37, said Mr Neeson still has the backing of people in his home town.
“He was only telling the truth about something that happened in his life years ago, but people are just jumping on the bandwagon now. We just live in an overly PC world,” he said.
Robert Mahood said he remembers Mr Neeson from the days when he lived in Ballymena.
“It surprised me that he’s said something like this now, but I don’t think he’s a racist.
“It certainly wouldn’t stop me from going to see his films.”
A man from the village of Cargan, who didn’t want to be named, said: “Liam Neeson was expressing his anger about what happened to his friend and he said he regretted what he did. I don’t believe he’s a racist.
“If you open your mouth in public at all these days, especially if you’re famous, you’re beat.”
Judy McKee from Desertmartin added: “I think people should take account of what he says. People’s feelings sometimes get in the way of what they do and the way they would usually live and behave.
“He’s still a good actor and I respect him. You can’t take that away from him.”
Meanwhile, former Liverpool and England footballer John Barnes has defended Liam Neeson, saying the Northern Ireland actor “deserves a medal” for his honesty about once having violent thoughts about killing a black man.
Mr Barnes, who was subjected to vile racist abuse during his playing days, told Sky News that he respected the Taken and Schindler’s List star for telling the truth about his feelings.
Stressing that Mr Neeson was talking about revenge and how it doesn’t do anyone any good, Mr Barnes said the Hollywood star cannot be blamed for his thoughts at the time because “this is what society has shown him, that black people do, Muslims do – this is what society has wrongly shown him, this is what the media have wrongly portrayed to him.”
“He went on to say he was ashamed and horrified by the way he felt,” Mr Barnes said. “He’s not ashamed and horrified at wanting to commit the act of revenge, he’s ashamed and horrified because that is what he thought about all black people.”