“I’ve never been in a fight,” Ray Liotta confessed at an often hilariously blunt public Q&A session (and earlier press conference) at the Aruba International Film Festival yesterday, demystifying his movie tough-guy image.
Liotta was in Aruba for a special screening of his 1990 gangster classic GoodFellas, a movie he hadn’t seen since it first debuted 22 years ago. The actor was proud to be accompanied by his 13-year-old daughter, who was viewing the film for the first time. “She thought it was the best movie she’d ever seen,” he beamed, “and she’s the first to say, ‘Dad, that was horrible.’”
For Liotta, memories of the making of GoodFellas are bittersweet, since his mother was dying of cancer during the shoot. To prepare for the part of mobster Henry Hill (who died last week), Liotta would drive around in his mother’s car listening to tapes Hill had made recounting his career in crime. “But he was always chewing potato chips,” the actor recalled. “It drove me nuts.”
Director Martin Scorsese discouraged Liotta from meeting Hill before the film, to avoid biasing his performance. But the actor later encountered Hill in a bowling alley in the San Fernando Valley. “He said, ‘Thanks for not making me a scumbag.’ I said, ‘Did you see the movie?’”
Many years later, Liotta saw Hill again, passed out on the lawn outside a Mexican restaurant. “He was a really messed-up guy,” his cinema alter-ego concluded. “Maybe he’s finally at peace.”
GoodFellas’ celebrated “You think I’m funny?” scene came out of a rehearsal improv, Liotta revealed, inspired by co-star Joe Pesci’s own encounter with a Mafia hothead. Liotta has recently worked with improv-loving comedy directors like Jody Hill and David Wain, but he cautioned, “Improv needs to be within a structure.”
Method acting and other navel-gazing approaches to the craft are not Liotta’s thing. “It’s all about playing pretend,” he said several times during the session. In the audience were a father and his 12-year-old aspiring-actor son who had watched GoodFellas the night before. (“You’re an irresponsible dad,” Liotta chided.) Asked to provide some acting advice for the youngster, Liotta reiterated, “All it is is pretend. Don’t let people say it’s more than what it is.” After a pause, he added, “You got that ?”
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