Tom Cruise almost played Henry Hill, & other notes from Goodfellas

Senior Editor
09.22.10 21 Comments


This past week marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Goodfellas, and to mark the occasion, GQ put together an awesome oral history of the film cobbled together from interviews with the stars, cast, and crew.  Being the good Italian that I am, I read the entire thing while grabbing my crotch and stirring the Sunday gravy.  My girlfriend tried to put too many onions in there, so I yelled “Wassa matta wit you!” and slapped her upside the head.

Anyway, I urge you to read the whole thing, but here are some highlights:

Madonna almost played Henry Hill’s wife.

Producer Irwin Winkler says “Tom Cruise was discussed” to play the lead (among others).

“Ray Liotta: All I heard was that the studio wanted somebody else—’What about this?’ ‘What about Eddie Murphy?'”

“Scorsese: Ray approached me in the lobby and the bodyguards moved toward him, and he had an interesting way of reacting, which was he held his ground, but made them understand he was no threat. I liked his behavior at that moment, and I saw, Oh, he understands that kind of situation. That’s something you wouldn’t have to explain to him.”

DeNiro’s part almost went to John Malkovich.

“John Malkovich: It sort of came at a bad time in my life, when I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to think about working. It’s hard to explain why you end up in Eragon and not GoodFellas. But De Niro is fantastic.”

The “how am I funny scene” wasn’t in the original script.  It was based on something that had actually happened to Joe Pesci.

Scorsese:  When I asked Joe to be in the film, he didn’t want to do it. We went up to my apartment, and he said, ‘Let me tell you a couple of stories. If you could find a place for this sort of thing, then I think we could make it special.'”

Liotta: Joe was working at some restaurant in the Bronx or Brooklyn. He said to some wiseguy, ‘You’re funny,’ and the guy kind of turned it on him.”

Screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi:  I’ve maybe even gotten awards from people because of that unbelievable scene, that I, quote, “wrote.” I never wrote that scene! I had no idea about that scene!”

“Liotta:  Nick Pileggi gave me I don’t know how many hours of cassettes of himself interviewing Henry Hill, and I would listen to them continuously. Henry would be telling what happened, and it was so casual: “Oh, yeah, and then this one got whacked.” The whole time he’s eating potato chips, talking with food in his mouth.”

“Pileggi: You could have given Marty and me all the drugs in Malibu, we could not have made up that dialogue.”

The Copacabana tracking shot was partially a pissing contest with DePalma

“Larry McConkey (Steadicam operator): The impression I had when Marty walked us through the Copacabana shot was that this is going to be the most boring, worst thing I’ve ever done. We’re walking across the street, down the stairs, down a hallway, in the kitchen…. What is this shot about?”

“Illeana Douglas: They didn’t know that the Copacabana tracking shot was going to be such a big deal. It wasn’t like, ‘Okay, we’re going to do the greatest Steadicam shot in history.'”

“Douglas: Brian De Palma had just done this incredibly long Steadicam shot in The Untouchables, and Marty said it would be funny to try to do it one minute longer than De Palma’s. The world perceives this as “Oh, the Copacabana scene!” But what it really is, is directors behind the scenes having fun f*cking with each other.”

Shockingly, test audiences didn’t like it.  It’s surprising, because unemployed people who go to movie screenings in the middle of the day on weekdays are usually so smart.

“Barbara De Fina (producer):  The previews were scary. By the time Spider gets killed, the audience would get angry. The audience wanted to go back to having fun. The movie was taking them someplace they weren’t sure they wanted to go. A lot of people didn’t like the part when he was on drugs; it would agitate them. At one point, we wound up hiding in a bowling alley because the audience was so angry. One guy wrote F*CK YOU all over the comment card.

“Pileggi:  They had the screening in Southern California for an audience of Orange County, white, conservative people. They started seeing people getting shot in the trunks of cars and guys stabbed and about seventy people walked out. The Warner Bros. bosses were sitting there, they said, “Holy sh*t. We’ve got a bad movie. We’ve got problems.”

“Pileggi:  Bob just wore the rating agency down. Meanwhile, marketing says, “Seventy walkouts? What are we doing?” As a result, we were supposed to open in maybe 2,000 movie theaters. We opened in about 1,000. And they can put your movie in an A theater or they can put it in a B theater with fewer seats, a grungier place. They really thought they had a bomb.”

Great stuff.  In any case, it’s a shame Tom Cruise never got to play Henry Hill, since he’s always going home and get his shine box (in order to reach the higher shelves at the supermarket).

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