Sunday 25 August 2019

'You don’t go to a junket expecting to hear that' - journalist from controversial Liam Neeson 'racist revenge' story speaks out

Journalist Clemence Michallon said she felt a
Journalist Clemence Michallon said she felt a "responsibility" to share actor Liam Neeson's story as accurately as possible.
Rachel Farrell

Rachel Farrell

THE journalist who spoke to Liam Neeson in an interview where he admitted his thoughts about killing a black person said that she felt a “strong responsibility” to tell the story as accurately as possible.

Clémence Michallon, a culture writer with the Independent, described how the celebrity press junket for Mr Neeson’s new movie “went very fast” and how she wasn’t expecting him to tell the story.

In an interview released yesterday, Mr Neeson said he walked the streets armed with a weapon hoping he would be approached by someone so that he could kill them.

The actor, who is from Ballymena in Northern Ireland, told Ms Michallon in an interview about his new film Cold Pursuit that he is now “ashamed” of his past “awful” behaviour.

Speaking with Piers Morning on Good Morning Britain, Ms Michallon explained how the story came about after she asked a question about Mr Neeson’s character in the new film.

“His character in the film that this was in promotion for is a snow-plough driver whose son gets killed by a drug gang,” she said.

Liam Neeson (Laura Hutton/PA)
Liam Neeson (Laura Hutton/PA)

“Instead of mourning and doing the work that most people in real life would do internally, which is to grieve and move on, his character goes on a string of killings. And so, I said, why does this character do that instead of grieving like most people would do.

“Honestly in the moment it all went very fast. You do not go into a celebrity press junket for a Hollywood Movie expecting to hear that story. I think what I felt immediately was a very strong sense of responsibility and a strong sense of duty to tell the story as sensibly as possible.”

Ms Michallon said it was evident from the audio that the story had been “weighing” on Mr Neeson for some time now.

Host Piers Morgan questioned Ms Michallon about whether the editorial team had discussed altering the story in any way before publication or holding it back.

“This was a story that came from the press junket, Liam Neeson has done dozens of interviews. He volunteered the story, if you listen back to the tape- and I’ve done so many, many times, I can pretty much go through it by heart now- you know it’s not a throwaway line,” she said.

“He decided to tell the story that had been apparently weighing on him for a while, it wasn’t a question of lightening what he said in anyway, that’s not what we’re here for. 

“If we had wanted to do that, it wouldn’t have been our top story on the website for 24 hours almost.  It was just telling the story as fully as possible.”

When asked if she believed this would damage Mr Neeson’s career, Ms Michallon said: “I think it’s still too early to call”.

Discussing the reaction the interview has received on social media, the journalist said the outrage was “justified” but that it wasn’t the first time a celebrity interview had caused such shock.

“People have reacted with obviously a lot of shock and outrage, and people are stunned and appalled. We’re not surprised by this, the shock is justified,” she said.

“Liam Neeson himself is apparently very stunned by his own thought process, he says it himself that it’s awful. Whether or not his career ending, I think it’s ultimately up to the studios and to movie-goers to tell.

"It was a celebrity junket, so you have a time slot, I had 20 minutes with Liam Neeson and his co-star, it’s all very rigid, very regimented. You don’t expect to get this sort of startling story out of it. 

“From what I’ve seen so far this is the only time he’s shared it. If you listen to the tape it sounds like he decided to unload this story that had been burdening him.”

Mr Neeson was discussing how his character turns to anger when he told the Independent: “I went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I'd be approached by somebody - I'm ashamed to say that - and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some black b*****d would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.

"It took me a week, maybe a week and a half, to go through that. She would say, 'where are you going?' and I would say, 'I'm just going out for a walk'. You know? 'What's wrong?' 'No no, nothing's wrong.'

"It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that. And I've never admitted that, and I'm saying it to a journalist. God forbid.

"It's awful. But I did learn a lesson from it, when I eventually thought, 'What the f*** are you doing,' you know?”

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