What on earth was going through Liam Neeson’s head when he wandered down memory lane and came up with an anecdote that may yet wreck his entire career?
The actor turned one of those obligatory interviews to promote his new film, Cold Pursuit, into an utter car crash which saw the premiere scrapped amid worldwide outrage.
The film sees him play a grief-stricken father who becomes a vigilante to take revenge against a drug lord he blames for the death of his son.
Neeson, undertaking the usual day of one-to-one chats with journalists in a hotel room, told a story which saw him branded a racist, and probably left his poor PR agent sobbing quietly in the corner before clearing their desk.
Out of nowhere, he told The Independent of an incident 40 years ago where a good friend was raped by a black man, and, how, for a week afterwards, he stalked the streets armed with a cosh, harbouring horrendous thoughts of revenge.
He said he wanted to attack any innocent black man who happened to cross his path and kill him.
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Written down or spoken aloud, the words, and the sentiment, are utterly shocking.
The moral of Neeson’s story was, presumably, that he didn’t act, and this explained the rage he felt before coming to his senses.
Or maybe he just confused between real life and being in a vigilante film.
Actors love nothing more than talking about themselves, and Neeson has done enough of these tedious, repetitive PR trips to know you smile, throw in a few anecdotes and leave the room. You then go on Graham Norton’s show and tell a fluffy story about that night on the tiles you had with Will Smith, before pressing the flesh and moving on to the next couch packed with fellow celebs who you last met in the green room but still embrace as if they were long lost friends.
It’s hard to get it wrong, and Neeson has been doing this for a very long time. Given that experience, it’s difficult to feel any sympathy for him.
He offered no apology, but did present an explanation – that he was “honouring his dear friend” and also giving an example of how he tapped into vengeful feelings for his character in the film.
Any sympathy or understanding for either was surely shredded as folk read his words and thoughts.
This 40-year old anecdote should have remained firmly in his locker.
Neeson could have deliverd any alternative story and nabbed a headline or two. This one saw the immediate cancellation of the film’s New York premiere, and the sort of public backlash even big studios understand is not good for the box office.
It remains a bewildering, and appalling, lapse of judgement on Neeson’s part; a story so laced with shock and fear it was jaw-dropping.
This was a real “what on earth was he thinking” moment with career-ending implications, and an unknown, knock-0n effect for all who worked on his movie.