Actor Viggo Mortensen, best known for his role in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, apologized Thursday for using the n-word during a panel for his upcoming film, Green Book.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Mortensen said, “Although my intention was to speak strongly against racism, I have no right to even imagine the hurt that is caused by hearing that word in any context, especially from a white man.”
“I do not use the word in private or in public. I am very sorry that I did use the full word last night, and will not utter it again,” he continued.
On Wednesday night, Mortensen was seated beside his black Green Book costar, the Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali, at the ArcLight movie theater in Los Angeles when he uttered the word.
“People don’t say ‘nigger’ anymore,” Mortensen said at the Q&A, which immediately alarmed people at the event.
The actor later said he was trying to make “the point that many people casually used the n-word at the time in which the movie story takes place.”
In the film, Mortensen plays the role of Tony Lip, an Italian American who works as a bouncer at the Copacabana nightclub in the ’60s.
His character in the movie uses prejudiced terms to refer to black people, including Italian slang words like “eggplant.” Later, Mortensen’s character becomes a chauffeur to Ali’s Don Shirley, a musician he bonds with while navigating their interracial friendship in the Deep South.
After he said the word, shocked attendees tweeted about the incident. “The oxygen immediately left the room,” one person said.
Another said it was “the most bizarre and uncomfortable moment [they’ve] ever witnessed at a Q&A.”
In his apologetic statement, Mortensen said that he accepted the challenge to work on Green Book “to expose ignorance and prejudice in the hope that our movie story might help in some way to change peoples’ views and feelings regarding racial issues.”
“It is a beautiful, profound movie story that I am very proud to be a part of,” he said.
Representatives for Universal Pictures, the film’s distributor, did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Adam Vary contributed reporting.