Movies

Ray Liotta On The Big Surprise He Had For Everyone In ‘The Many Saints Of Newark’

The last time I interviewed Ray Liotta was nine years ago when he was promoting Killing Them Softly (a great, deliberately paced movie that, at the time, confused viewers expecting something a little more action-packed). At the time Liotta seemed very conscious of the “slower” times in his career, going as far to cite his “up and down career.” I got the feeling Liotta was hoping for big things from Killing Them Softly, which did okay at the box office and its critical praise keeps growing.

But, now, nine years later, Liotta’s career is in a different place. He’s still coming off the glow of his scene-stealing turn as a boisterous divorce attorney in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story and now has a key role* in the long-awaited prequel to The Sopranos, The Many Saints of Newark. Liotta was approached to pay Ralphie Cifaretto on the series but turned it down. So, now, Liotta finally joins The Sopranos universe. (It’s at this point we will get into some spoilers for The Many Saints of Newark so if you want to go in fresh, come back after you watch the movie, which you can do right now either at a movie theater or on HBO Max.)

*Key role is somewhat misleading, as Liotta plays two roles in the film. His advertised role is that of Dickie Moltisanti’s father, “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti (aka Christopher Moltisanti’s grandfather), a loudmouth braggart who wears out his welcome with others in his presence pretty quickly. Liotta also plays Hollywood Dick’s twin brother, Sal, a more stoic figure who Dickie (Alessandro Nivola) visits in prison for life advice. And that advice is basically, hey, nitwit, your influence going to ruin this kid Tony Soprano’s life.

What’s funny is, before this interview, I was told we were not allowed to talk about Liotta’s role as Sal as to keep the surprise intact. Well, it turns out Liotta has a mind of his own and, frankly, I could tell he was kind of tired of not talking about Sal because he’s obviously pretty pleased with how that character turned out. What I didn’t know was Liotta was not supposed to play both roles. As he explains, another actor was supposed to play Sal but demanded too much money, so David Chase and director Alan Taylor asked Liotta if he’d like two roles in the film.

As Hollywood Dick, you look like you’re having the time of your life in this movie. How was Hollywood Dick described to you once you kind of got the idea that you were going to be doing it? Was it on the page or was this you?

I did a lot of homework with the show. I made it deeper than maybe just the lines on a page. But that’s what I try to do with all of them. And it was pretty much, it was all written. You don’t go up to David Chase and say, “Can we change this? Can you change that?” He’s just not that type. Or do you really need to? He writes what he wants you to be.

You just seem very into this role.

Well also, I mean, sometimes when you’re playing maniacs like this, there is a common thread through it all. And usually, it’s an intensity. I mean, between me and you, a lot of gangsters are like little boys, “Who you looking at? You looking at me? Fuck you.” you know? Like that’s what happens on the playground. Well, I mean, not as a put-down, they’re easily offended.

That’s kind of a put-down, but it’s not wrong.

Yeah. But if you put it in the paper, then you better watch out because I’m going to say you said it.

We both might be in some trouble.

There’s nothing wrong being sensitive about things. It’s how they go about it.

Sure.

But, whatever, that’s a business I don’t know anything about.

When you met with David Chase, was there any mention of trying to get you for Ralphie? As in, “glad you finally came around.”

No, not with this one or the other one. He came up to talk to me about a part that he hadn’t, I forgot what season it was, but Joe Pantoliano-

I think that’s season three.

That’s what I heard, three. And you know, it just didn’t feel right for me to do at the time. And Joe won an Emmy for it! But I always, I still left it, wanting to work with him. So when this came along, they didn’t even see me. They didn’t even request me. They didn’t have anything. I said, you know what, I really think I want to be a part of this. I don’t care how big the part is. I want to get at least a chance to work with David Chase. So I flew myself out to New York — I live in LA — I flew myself out here, put myself up, and had a lunch with David Chase and Alan, the director. And it just was a good little two or three hour lunch. And at the end of it, they say would you like to play Hollywood Dick? “Yeah. Yeah. That’s why I’m here. I wanted to work with you.”

Do you think there’s a chance you had to reach out to them because they had flirted with you before? Like if you invite a friend to a party and they keep saying now, you stop inviting them?

No. It was only once…

But didn’t they think about you for Tony, but they didn’t actually come to you? Do I have that right?

No. That’s not a true story.

Oh, it’s not? Okay.

I never heard that. I’ve never been approached. My agent never said, what do you think? I don’t know where that came from, but no, that’s not true at all.

With the Ralphie, you said it just didn’t feel right. How long is that process to get to the point where you decide this is not right?

It’s just something that didn’t feel right. Whether it took, two days, one day, 20 minutes or half an hour. I don’t remember per se. I just knew that it wasn’t something… I think was because I didn’t want to just keep going to a series at that time.

Oh, I see.

And I also didn’t feel like I was right for it. I mean, I’m sure they did, or else they wouldn’t have asked. Well, the point being is, so I came down here to talk to David and Alan, and it worked out. And then if you didn’t know – then I don’t know what it was when we started, or if it was something that was coming up – but then they asked if I would play his brother, too. What, really? How would we do that? Would I use prosthetics? We going to do this, we’ll do little things here or there? It was just kind of like, “trust me.” And that’s a great thing about David. He has thought everything out through and through. And it’s his sensibilities that it would work. And I like to think that it worked.

It definitely works. Oh, that’s interesting. So it wasn’t at the same initial meeting? It was only later they asked you to also play Sal?

I think we were auditioning some parts of that. Somebody was negotiating for it. I just heard that from a third party. I don’t know. So I don’t know how true it is. And the person kept asking for more money, more money, more money. To David, or anybody, if they keep asking, we can play the game. A little of a negotiation. But at the end of the day, from what they were saying, it’s like enough already. You obviously don’t want to do it, or else you would do it for X amount. And so I think that person turning it down was good for me to do it. Just like me turning down the Ralphie role, that Joe Pantoliano did. That worked out.

Before this interview, they told me not to bring Sal up.

Because I still don’t know if… there was some interview I was going to do last night…

Right, with Alan Sepinwall for that SAG screening. He texted me yesterday wondering if you’d talk about it and I assumed since people had just seen the movie it was a different situation…

Totally. But the thing is, he told everybody to put their cell phones away and nobody listens to that. But the Warner Bros. person here said, “No, now it’s cool for us. Go ahead and do it.” So I said, all right. And we just sent a little bit about it and he didn’t talk a whole deal about it. It was out there. And that was it. So when is this article coming out?

We’ll wait until the movie comes out. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone either. I would rather people experience the way I did.

Totally, totally. And that’s why I’m hoping you’ll respect that. And then we’ll have some more stuff to do later.

I re-read that interview we did for Killing Them Softly. You kept mentioning the slower period in your career. That is definitely over. But why do you think that was?

It’s a numbers game, I guess. I waited, I tried to make the best selections of movies that were coming my way. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t. But I still, luckily, I still kept working. It wasn’t at the caliber that I wanted it to be at. And I’m competitive. And I just believe that it could happen again. And maybe this little period is in a different way, and I’m a different person. But when you’ve been doing this for 40 years, there’s going to be good. There’s going to be bad. And hopefully that will carry on.

And you’re in Cocaine Bear. I don’t know if you know this, but it’s already getting a lot of attention on the internet. People are very excited for Cocaine Bear.

Oh my gosh, just the title alone!

You started filming this right?

Yeah. They’ve been doing it for about a month. I just was there a few days ago. I’m going to go back tonight. Yeah, it’s really an interesting, different story. And it definitely resonates with me. What are you doing? Like, Cocaine Bear! What is that? Just the title alone.

Yeah, you don’t have to sell anyone on a movie called Cocaine Bear.

Exactly!

When they came to you for Cocaine Bear, or however that worked, where you like, well yeah of course I’m going to do a movie called Cocaine Bear if you offer it to me.

Something like that. At first, I said, man, I don’t know about this. It’s only like a couple of scenes and I didn’t want to be in that rut like I was before. You know, it’s like a couple of things in a studio movie that’s about a cocaine snort and blow. I like Elizabeth Banks. I’ve worked with her in a movie before, but we didn’t have any scenes. And sometimes you’ve got to say, we just came off the pandemic, which for a whole year there’s no income coming in. But, again, this wasn’t a money decision. This was hopefully their decision.

Over the pandemic, I obviously re-watched Goodfellas more than once. But I also re-watched My Blue Heaven. Have you seen that movie? It’s basically a sequel to Goodfellas with Steve Martin playing Henry.

Literally, that’s what the movie was about?

Yes, because Nora Ephron was married to Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote Goodfellas. They did a lot of research together, so she basically made My Blue Heaven based on what happens to Henry Hill after Goodfellas.

Really? I did not know that, nor have I seen it. So I’ll put that on my list.

Yeah, you should. Rick Moranis is in it. It’s a great movie.

That’s funny.

Last time we spoke you said you’ve never seen Field of Dreams because at the time your mom was sick and it was a tough time in your life. Did you get to watch the Field of Dreams game this summer?

The game? Yeah! I thought it was great. And just the weightiness of guys playing baseball? To them or somebody who dedicates their life to that sport. I’m really about your connection with your parent and a parent’s connection with their kid. And I didn’t know that it resonated, I didn’t know. I thought they were going to do it on the field that we used.

Yeah, I did too. I didn’t even know they made a different field.

Even I hit a home run!

No offense to your baseball talents, but I guess that’s why they couldn’t do it on that field.

I think they knew well and good. And the guy that probably owned the house and the field and the corn, where we shot, they just moved some more corn away. Yeah, they put up that field. I just thought it was beautiful. The way they did it, how they walked out. It was a Field of Dream, or two.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.

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