Raymond Allen Liotta (December 18, 1954 – May 26, 2022) was an American actor and producer. Henry Hill in Goodfellas and Tommy Vercetti in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City are just a few of the roles he’s played throughout the years (2002).
Ray Sinclair in Something Wild (1986) earned Liotta a Golden Globe nomination, as well as appearances in Unlawful Entry (1992), Cop Land (1997), Hannibal (2001), Blow (2001), John Q (2002), Identity (2003), Killing Them Softly (2012), The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), Marriage Story (2019) and Observe & Report (2009), as well as the drama series Shades of Blue (2016–2018).
He was born on December 18, 1954, in Newark, New Jersey. When he was six months old, he was adopted by township clerk Mary (Edgar) and the proprietor of an auto-parts store, Alfred Liotta. Alfonso was the son of Italian immigrants and the president of a Democratic Party group in his hometown.
He recalls going to parades with his father to distribute out brochures for his unsuccessful race for local office. Linda, Liotta’s adopted sister, grew up in the same home as her. When he was young, he presented a show-and-tell report on the fact that he had been adopted.
In the early 2000s, he engaged a private investigator to find his biological mother and discovered that he was primarily Scottish. Only he and his half-brothers and half-sisters were related to him.
In Union, New Jersey, Liotta was raised in a Roman Catholic home, but his family was not particularly religious. The family went to church, where he received his first communion and was confirmed, but they didn’t spend much time praying together.
According to an interviewee, “…if I’m in a fix…if I’m feeling uncomfortable about anything [he’d say] “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” to this day,” he would pray on occasion over the course of his day.
His high school was Union High School; he is a member of its Hall of Fame. In 1978, Liotta graduated from the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in acting. His performances included Cabaret, Dames at Sea, Oklahoma, and Sound of Music while he was in New York.
In what ways did Martin Scorsese know that Ray Liotta was perfect for “Goodfellas”?
Ray Liotta‘s performance in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas is unquestionably one of his finest. Henry Hill’s magnetism and simmering anger were brought to life by the actor’s performance. An encounter with Liotta on the street led Scorsese to believe that the actor would make an ideal casting choice.
Much of the success of Goodfellas was down to the strength of the performances. Joe Pesci’s portrayal of Tommy Devito is surely remarkable, but it’s Ray Liotta who stands out amongst the star-studded cast. Even though Scorsese had indicated an interest in Liotta for the character of Henry, the film’s producers tried to convince him to pass on the actor. Fortunately, Scorsese prevailed.
The long-running soap opera Another World was one of the projects Liotta had worked on before this. As it turned out, it wasn’t until his appearance as an ex-convict in Something Wild in 1986 that Hollywood began to recognize his talent.
In Something Wild, Liotta was nominated for a Golden Globe and a Bosten Society of Film Critics award for Best Supporting Actor. The National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics both gave him a nod. It was only a matter of time before the attention of the film industry came calling.
It was Scorsese who was among the first. Robert Scorsese told GQ in 2010 that he had seen Ray in Jonathan Demme’s film Something Wild before he met him. “I found him to be a fascinating individual.”
But it wasn’t as simple as inviting Liotta in and handing him the role; the director had to convince the producers and Warner Bros first. Irwin Winkler, a Hollywood heavyweight since the 1960s, reportedly thought they “could do better” than Liotta, according to Scorsese.
Barbara De Fina, a long-time associate of Scorsese, acknowledged that the producer’s aversion to Liotta was due to him being a relatively unknown actor at the time. His lack of star power was a turn-off to the producers. When Scorsese met Liotta on the street, he was sure that he was the only actor capable of portraying Henry Hill.
Scorsese stumbled with the actor during the Venice Film Festival shortly after the release of The Last Temptation of Christ. The uproar surrounding the film meant that the filmmaker attended festival events escorted by bodyguards.
“Ray approached me in the foyer and the bodyguards moved toward him,” Martin Scorsese remembered. And [Liotta] reacted in a novel way. In spite of his efforts, they realized that he was no threat. The way he was behaving at the time was appealing to me. As soon as I saw him, I thought, “Oh, he’s got it.” Then you don’t have to explain it. ‘”
Irvin Winkler was similarly impressed when he met Liotta in person outside a restaurant in Los Angeles. The producer recalls, “We went outside.” “[Liotta] said, ‘Look, I know you don’t want me for it but I…,’ and he really sold me on [it] I called Marty the next morning and I said, ‘I see what you mean.’” And thus, with that, he was given the lead.
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