Can Hollywood cut Liam Neeson slack? Probably not
While apologetic, with his racist anecdote he might just have committed career suicide
There’s a tiny intake of breath before Liam Neeson says the words that may just end his career. Anyone who listens to the audiotape will recognise it as the weighing-up moment that comes before a confession.
As a journalist, that’s the moment you start hyper-salivating. As an A-list movie star who has lived and worked in a country polarised by race for more than 30 years and commands $20m a film, that’s the moment you think to yourself: “Maybe I won’t launch into a racist anecdote after all.”
But actors so often confuse make-believe and reality, and no doubt thinking the hero of his new film, Cold Pursuit, is heroic because of his determination to avenge a loved one, the 66-year-old decided to go semi-back into character to tell a deeply personal and twisted story, in the low, muttered – and, yes, apologetic – stream-of-consciousness tones of a patient lying on his therapist’s couch.
Actually, my very first thought was: this man has had too much therapy. And I don’t say that sneeringly: we all know that Neeson lost his wife, Natasha Richardson, in a tragic skiing accident 10 years ago. And just last month the actor lost his 35-year-old nephew, Ronan Sexton, who died of head injuries caused by an equally random accident. So it would be surprising if Neeson hadn’t had help from mental health experts, who probably encouraged him to let it all out.
Only, in doing that, he may have committed career suicide by telling an interviewer that he once walked the streets with a weapon, hoping to take out his anger after someone close to him was raped by a black man.
Some have suggested that the ongoing grief Neeson once described as a constant and “profound feeling of instability” finally has destabilised the actor. Which may allow him at least a chance of future redemption in both the eyes of Hollywood and the movie-going public.
Even Mel Gibson was eventually allowed back into the fold after telling a policeman that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” – but that was once he’d dealt with his addiction issues.
Roseanne Barr’s 2018 racist tweet about Valerie Jarrett, a black woman who worked for President Barack Obama’s administration, will be almost impossible to atone for.
And although some have started to defend Neeson’s quotes, questioning whether that single racist thought “really makes him a racist”, the only question anyone in Hollywood will be asking for some time to come is “Liam who”?
– © The Daily Telegraph