Ray Liotta, whose career truly began with a bang working on Martin Scorsese’s seminal classic "Goodfellas", has had his share of ups and downs, in a career defined by success and failure. Almost two decades after his breakthrough movie role, Liotta, 54, is still searching for new characters that continue to push him to extended boundaries.
As the tough detective who does battle with an over-the-top mall security guard in "Observe and Report", this may not be challenging, but as Liotta observes in this exclusive chat with PAUL FISCHER, at least he gets to reach a new generation of moviegoers.
Question: What was the attraction of Observe and Report? Was it a way of sort of playing a – kind of an intense character, amidst a very sort of comically chaotic scenario?
Liotta: Yeah. I think you know, how it works is the agents hear about these things, they sent it to me, just wondering if I would be interested in doing it. And when I read it, I really liked it. You know, what’s on screen is more of an intense version of what I did, but we also improv’d and did a lot where it was a little lighter. I kind of saw what my job was and I think it was just to be in that kind of genre. And – oh, I’m sorry. And also, you know, as you get – as you move on, there’s certain audiences that move with you. And this was a newer audience. You know, I’ve done a few comedies now. One – this thing with Tim Allen and then the thing with Michael Cera, and now this. So, you know, you kind of want to expand a little, and just try different genres, and different groups of people that will really respond to this.
Question: How much improv did you do on this? And how hard was it for you to keep a straight face, working with Seth?
Liotta: Well – Michael Pena was even crazier. Seth’s character, too – he’s pretty much straight on. Although funny stuff comes out of it, the commitment that he has to this character he was playing, a guy who seriously wanted to be a real cop, and seriously wanted to go after the peeping tom guy – so, there were a lot of people that were funny. Seth was a little more serious about it.
Question: Do you find the older you get, the more picky you’re becoming? Or do you have a very different set of criteria as to what you’ve decided to –
Liotta: Well, you know, you just kind of want to keep going and I think if you start finding a newer, younger audience, there’s more of a chance for you to keep going. Now, my sensibilities are different than who this movie appeals to. So, I like to see every movie, and this R-rated comedy that seems to be coming around now – the new thing in the past few years. But as an actor, you just want to keep going, and growing. I still find the job exciting, and I still like to be challenged by it. It doesn’t happen every time that you get out there to work. But I think that’s what this movie represented to me. Which is the challenge, and different audience that it would appeal to.
Question: What’s exciting about it now. I mean, why is it so exciting fro you to work now?
Liotta: Well – one, I truly feel that I haven’t arrived yet, so, with that kind of mentality, I always feel like that you’re proving yourself, but in a sense, that’s exactly what you have to do. And – you know, careers go up and down. I’m just coming out of a down period and I would like to get to do the type of roles, or at least be in a movie, where it’s about the character that I’m playing. Right now, there’s a lot of supporting stuff. And I don’t know if that’s age, or it’s just because I haven’t been in, like, major, major hits lately. So there’s always a challenge to keep it going. But it’s just my own drive, that I think keeps it going and makes it exciting.
Question: They do say that supporting roles tend to be richer, the older you get. Are you finding that at all?
Liotta: Yeah. If they’re rich, they stand out, especially the ones that I tend to get. I just did a really, really sweet movie with a bunch of, like, ten-year-old kids. And that was challenging, and fun, and a different kind of audience than I’m used to.
Question: What are you excited about that’s coming up for you?
Liotta: That I’ve done? Well, the movie I just mentioned, this kid movie I thought was great. I got this thing with Michael Cera called Youth in Revolt, that was a lot of fun to do. Probably this one I just finished in Utah.
Question: What was that?
Liotta: Well, it was an independent. It’s called Snowmen, and I’m the father of a little boy who has cancer, and how he deals with it, and what he wants to do.
Question: Do you think that movie will find its way into a festival like Toronto or Sundance?
Liotta: I don’t know. It should. It’s really well written. I really like the director, who won something in Sundance, I think last year. The short film stuff, he won. So, that, I’m pretty excited about.
Question: Michael Cera is one of these up-and-comers. What do you think it is about him that is attractive to directors?
Liotta: Well, I think because he’s been in hits! And aside from that, he’s a really good little actor. There’s this whole generation now of younger guys-- Seth, Michael Cera – where they really understand what it’s like to sustain in this business. There’s a certain brand that they represent, that they’re very cognizant of. Of who they are, and the type of audience, what appeals to them. They’re very aware of the business side of it. Which is something new that – when I started, it was just about doing as many different kinds of parts, and things that you can. Where these guys, I want to say, are manipulated – but they definitely know what they represent, to an audience.
Question: Do they ask you for advice?
Liotta: No, not really. They don’t. I mean, they might appreciate some of the movies. But – you know, they’re bigger stars than I am right now.
Question: A lot of your early stuff is being released on Blu-Ray DVDs. Do you go back and watch any of that stuff all over again?
Liotta: No, never. I never watch myself. I’ll see the movie once or twice, just to see what they did. But, no. It’s done. And I don’t – I don’t see the benefit for an actor to watch himself.
Question: Any desire to return to the stage?
Liotta: Yeah, I would like to do that. I mean, right now, movies seem to be happening. I did a show on Broadway a few years ago, and would do it again if something came along. It would just have to be the right thing.