Ray Liotta (RIP) Talks About His Most Memorable Performances: Something Wild, Goodfellas, Field of Dreams, and More

Over the near­ly four decades he act­ed in motion pic­tures, Ray Liot­ta worked with auteurs from Jonathan Demme to Mar­tin Scors­ese to Noah Baum­bach — and also appeared in the likes of Oper­a­tion Dum­bo Drop, and Mup­pets from Space, and Street Kings 2: Motor City. But whether in an acclaimed Hol­ly­wood mas­ter­work, a goofy com­e­dy, or a direct-to-video thriller, Liot­ta’s char­ac­ters always seem whol­ly to belong there, exud­ing his sig­na­ture mix­ture of half-bluff­ing grav­i­tas and errat­i­cal­ly mag­net­ic suavi­ty. His death last month has sent many of us back to his var­ied fil­mog­ra­phy, some high­lights of which the man him­self dis­cuss­es in the GQ video above.

After a few years in the soap-opera trench­es, Liot­ta became a star in 1986 with his por­tray­al of a rough-hewn ex-con­vict in Dem­me’s mod­ern screw­ball com­e­dy Some­thing Wild. But the chance to play that break­out part, as he explains in the video, only came his way after he worked up the nerve to ask Melanie Grif­fith — a con­nec­tion he’d made in act­ing class­es — to get him into the audi­tion.

“I was just ready and want­i­ng it,” he remem­bers, and sure­ly these feel­ings stoked the char­ac­ter­is­tic inten­si­ty, some­times men­ac­ing and some­times com­ic, that would come through in that role, and for which he would soon become well known. Just three years lat­er, Liot­ta was play­ing Shoe­less Joe Jack­son in Field of Dreams (a beloved pic­ture he admits to nev­er hav­ing seen).

The year after that, Liot­ta put in per­haps his best-known per­for­mance as the eager but doomed mafia asso­ciate Hen­ry Hill in Scors­ese’s Good­fel­las. Though he could play every­one from a bar­tender to a com­mer­cial jin­gle-writer to Frank Sina­tra, his roles there­after would include no small num­ber of crim­i­nals, police offi­cers, mil­i­tary men, and spe­cial agents: each an author­i­ty fig­ure in his way, each made vivid by Liot­ta’s para­dox­i­cal air of unsta­ble solid­i­ty. It seems that he espe­cial­ly savored the recent NBC crime dra­ma Shades of Blue, in which he played “a bisex­u­al cop that is on the take, but also loves his group of cops that he works with.” With Liot­ta’s death, we lost one of the very few work­ing per­form­ers who could bring such a char­ac­ter to leer­ing, con­vinc­ing life.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Mar­tin Scors­ese Directs a Movie: The Tech­niques Behind Taxi Dri­ver, Rag­ing Bull, and More

Orson Welles on the Art of Act­ing: “There is a Vil­lain in Each of Us”

A Vir­tu­al Table Read of Fast Times at Ridge­mont High, Fea­tur­ing Jen­nifer Anis­ton, Mor­gan Free­man, Shia LaBeouf, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, John Leg­end & More

14 Actors Act­ing: A Gallery of Clas­sic Screen Types

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.