Aruba 2012: Ray Liotta Q&A
Posted on Wednesday June 27, 2012, 22:44 by Simon Braund in Under The Radar
Another festival highlight: Ray Liotta giving an inept Italian journo a steely-eyed, Henry Hill stare when she informed him during a press conference that she’d recently interviewed him for a movie but hadn’t got a clue what it was, so could he list all his recent projects to remind her. Incompetent and rude. Just the way to endear yourself to a movie star.
Film-wise, for Empire, the stand-out of the AIFF is still the documentary Children Of The Wind, a) because it’s a compelling story of triumph over adversity, b) because it is extremely well made, c) because of the irresistible personalities of the subjects, and d) because it achieves the impossible feat of making windsurfing interesting to non-aficionados. Elsewhere, Laurent Bouzerou’s documentary Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir was a huge disappointment, a craven puff piece offering little or nothing we don’t already know. Another documentary, Nochi No Ke Lagami Bai (The Night Holds Me Back) had a lot of promise. Screening in the Caribbean Spotlight competition, it focuses on the tambu music and musicians of Curacao, tambu being once the banned music of slaves and now an integral part of the island’s culture. It had an authentic verité look and the raw, rhythmic music was great.
Unfortunately, it was in Papiamento with Dutch subtitles which made it a little hard to follow. James Franco’s Sal, a somber dramatization of the final day of actor Sal Mineo’s life, got people talking, as did Redlegs, an intense character piece reminiscent of John Cassavetes Husbands from New York director Brandon Harris.
Having taken the trouble to prepare some questions and brush up on his filmography, Empire got on with Ray Liotta rather better than the Italian contingent. Here are the highlights.
Henry Hill passed away last week. Did you have any kind of relationship with him?
I met him. But Marty didn’t want me to meet him before we did the movie. We took a lot [of Goodfellas] from Nick Pileggi’s book, but we also listened to tapes of Henry Hill. I remember when I got the movie listening to tapes of Henry talking and the stories always changed a little. So Marty didn’t want me to get influenced by that. Once the script was written, that’s all he wanted me to do. But I met Henry later on. I met with him in a bowling alley in the Valley. He was there with his brother. Years later, and this is kinda sad, I was at a Mexican restaurant for brunch one Sunday and Henry was there on the grass outside, leaning against a tree just fucked up. I mean, drunk as drunk could be. He recognized me and he said some stuff but I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. That was the last time I saw him, drunk against a tree in Venice.
How was he when you met him at the bowling alley?
He was kinda cool back then, full of life and a little flabbergasted we made a movie about his life. He knew me and we sat down and talked for a little bit. I’ll never forget, he said, ’Thanks for not making me a scumbag.’ I said, ‘Really? Did you see the movie?’
Well, he’s not that much of a scumbag. He doesn’t whack anyone.
No, but he turns on his friends, he cheats on his wife. He does quite a few negative things (laughs). But no, I’m not as horrible as Joe and Bob. The only violent thing you see me do is beat up the guy across the street who hurt my girlfriend. What guy wouldn’t do that, right?
The festival screened Goodfellas last night. How was it for you, seeing it again on the big screen?
It’s funny, I’ve have my thirteen-year-old daughter here with me and she hasn’t really seen many of my movies. So I thought, Well, if she’s going to see [Goodfellas], on the big screen is the how to see it. It was kind of our date night, so to speak, her seeing Goodfellas for the first time. And it’s the first time I’d seen it since the movie came out.
What did she think and what did you think?
She thought it was the best movie she ever saw! (laughs). I, uh... I thought it was a good movie. It’s always hard to watch yourself on screen.
Why’s that? Do you watch with a critical eye, agonizing over how you could have done it differently?
No, I don’t think I look at it like that. I pride myself on doing the homework that needs to be done; I’m pretty obsessive. And I know it’s a process so one movie doesn’t dictate who I am. Really, the best things that happen are when script, personality and director all align, and I think that movie was one of those things. It was a great part and an unbelievable director. When I was watching it, I noticed the set decoration, what was going on in the background; they were all artists, working in every department, everyone firing on all cylinders.
It looks as if there’s going to be a Goodfellas TV show, following Henry and Karen after they enter witness protection. Lorraine Braccos has said she thinks there’s a story there, and that she’d consider a cameo. What do you think?
Personally, I don’t think there’s any more to be told. I don’t even know what he did after Goodfellas. Maybe it’s a series about a guy who’s drunk as skunk against a tree in Venice. Maybe that’s a compelling story, I don’t know. But I think the way we did it pretty much says it all.
Talking of movie spin-offs, one of your first jobs was playing Sacha the bartender on the ill-fated ‘80s TV show Casablanca, which starred David Soul as Rick. What are your memories of that?
That was so early in my career. I’d done a soap opera in New York. I’d quit that and moved out [to LA] and that was just a part I got. It was a nothing part, but it was great to work with David Wolper (producer of, among many others, Roots, The Thorn Birds and North And South), who is something of a legend in the TV world. All I really remember is David Soul liking his Budweiser and sleeping in his motor home because he was going through a divorce.
You played Frank Sinatra in the 1998 TV movie The Rat Pack. Was that a daunting role, especially since you come from New Jersey?
I was offered the part a few times before that by Sinatra’s daughters who were doing a miniseries. I just had no desire to do it; it was too much. And I turned down The Rat Pack a bunch of times. Basically, I was afraid of what people would say. But I remember my acting teacher telling me that one of the things that messes up an actor is being concerned about what people are going to say. And nothing was happening for me at that time. They offered it to me again and I thought about it and decided, Why not do it. I’m from New Jersey, I know how to say ‘Fuck you’, I didn’t have to sing, and Sinatra was an intense character so I just decided to take it on.
What kind of reaction did you get?
I’ll never forget, we were doing a scene and all of a sudden the director brings in this fake horse’s head. I’m thinking, What’s with the horse’s head? It was like from The Godfather. Everyone’s really tense and I’m starting to get really nervous, like Oh my God, am I gonna get... It turned out Tina Sinatra had sent it as a joke. I turned it over and there were all these signatures of big actors who Tina had fucked with, sending them a horse’s head. So I signed the horse’s head. That was really the only reaction I got. Sinatra was dying at the time, so I didn’t hear anything from him. I think he passed before the movie came out. I remember we did the premier in Vegas. Angie Dickinson, Quincey Jones and all these Sinatra friends saw it. I mean, they came up and said things but who knows if you believe them.
Are you glad you took it on?
It’s one of those things, you’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t. You’re screwed either way you look at it.
As Paul Krendler in Hannibal, you became the only actor in history to eat his own brain on screen. How do you feel about that?
(Shrugs) For me it was a chance to work with Ridley Scott. Actually, he had cast Tom Sizemore in the part but he didn’t do it for some reason. So I did it, and I knew the brain-eating scene was going to be unbelievable. On the day we shot it I remember I said, ‘Ridley, what am I supposed to do?’ He said, ‘I dunno.’ So he was no help (laughs). So I started thinking, Okay, [Lecter] gives me these drugs, so let’s pretend the drugs are happy drugs, and I just went for it that way. I remember people walking out of the theatre at that scene. When I saw it it made me sick.
Assuming you weren’t actually snacking your own brain, what were you eating?
They asked me what I wanted to eat and I figured it had to be something repulsive, so I went for dark meat chicken.