A New York red carpet opening of Liam Neeson’s latest film has been cancelled amid a row over his comments that he once wanted to kill a random black man after a friend was raped.

Reporters were told the event for “Cold Pursuit” was being pulled two hours before it was scheduled to happen, the BBC reported. Organisers of the event said there would be no photographs or interviews at the New York City showing.

The actor was speaking to promote the film, a revenge thriller, when he spoke of the alleged rape took that place a long time ago and he found out about it when he came back from a trip abroad.

He said: “She handled the situation of the rape in the most extraordinary way.

“But my immediate reaction was… I asked, did she know who it was? No. What colour were they? She said it was a black person.

“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 (uses air quotes with fingers) ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.”

Neeson has denied he is racist but the remarks, published by The Independent on Monday, sparked an outcry.

After widespread criticism, he told ABC’s Good Morning America “I’m not racist”.

Asked what he wanted people to take from his experience, he told the host: “To talk. To open up. We all pretend we’re all politically correct in this country… in mine, too. You sometimes just scratch the surface and you discover this racism and bigotry and it’s there.”

He said learning of his friend’s rape about 40 years ago — she has since died — gave him a “primal urge to lash out”.

Former England footballer and anti-racism campaigner, John Barnes, has defended Neeson in an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live.

“He was ashamed a week into it. He understood that he was wrong for thinking what he did. And we have to have this conversation,” Barnes said.