Ray Liotta was in a good mood when we met at Los Angeles; Four Seasons Hotel. Kinda. Intense on screen, the first time you meet Liotta he seems to adopt an all-too-serious persona. One immediately thinks he is pissed off at the world. Or reporters. “Do I look pissed off?” Actually yes, but he managed a half smile anyway.
Liotta is one of Hollywood’s busiest actors. Fresh from his critically acclaimed role as a tough, overweight cop in the Indie drama Narc, Liotta is back as a cop stranded at a motel where nasty things happen to an array of guests. It’s quite the time for Liotta, a veteran who burst into the public consciousness in 1986’s Something Wild. His career has had its fills of ups and downs, but mostly ups, he insists, when he is reminded of the number of times his famous brain-eating moment from Hannibal has been satirised.
“You don’t do anything thinking that it’s going to stick. I mean, I knew that scene was unique and I knew that I wanted it because of its uniqueness and I knew that it would be memorable how it’s perceived. It just depends on if it stays in the consciousness of people, if they keep doing skits or movies or something. Sometimes, movies have longevity because a few like, ‘Goodfellas’ or ‘Field of Dreams’ seem like they just don’t disappear.” Then there are others such as that hijacking movie I couldn’t remember. “You mean the FUCK YOU movie?” Liotta has a sense of humour after all.
Yet the 48-year actor can afford to adopt a ‘fuck you’ attitude. He’s the first to admits that he has avoided being too sucked it into the Hollywood game “because when I started there was a real appreciation for what I did and also, not to take it that serious,” he says. When I started out, it was different, as today where there is much more emphasis on celebrity as opposed to the work while when I started, it was just about the work and if you did interviews and things like that, it was more like, ‘Well, you’re not an actor, you’re a celebrity,’ and now, there’s more of a combination between work and celebrity. So, you need to balance it out with bigger and smaller movies. When I started, there was just ‘Premiere’ magazine, that was it, boom. Now, forget about it. It’s ridiculous. Today some actors get a little full of themselves about what they’re doing. They’re acting, that’s about it. Do you know what I’m saying, chill out! “
Liotta would rather be anywhere than sitting in a hotel room talking about himself. “It’s almost embarrassing doing this, to tell you the truth,” he says with a quite contempt. “Because you’re sitting here asking me questions like I have something to say; there is something unimportant about it. I mean, I understand that, I guess, it brings people to the movie, but I hope that I get really, really huge so that I don’t have to do this anymore,” he says laughingly. Yet he grins and bears it, still happy enough to talk enthusiastically about Identity, a thriller of sorts, one that sets up the audience believing it’s a conventional slasher film before turning the genre well and truly on its head.
Liotta was drawn to the film because he had trust in director James Mangold, who had previously directed him in Cop Land “we had talked about what we wanted. I had never thought about it as a slasher movie at all, not even close, because I knew that it was smarter than that, and I knew that Jim was smarter. He’s just a really bright guy, and I know that he’s got class about him. So, I knew that it wasn’t going to be degenerated to that sort of movie. I just finished Narc, which was a really heavy duty, raw, independent. This was a bigger, mainstream, commercial movie, and I thought that it would be good to do. I knew that [John] Cusack was involved and Alfred Molina. So, there was really a classy pedigree to it. I knew that with Jim, I was in good hands, and this would be a good solid version of this type of genre movie.”
For Liotta, it is important to switch back and forth between the bigger Hollywood fare as exemplified by Hannibal and Identity, and Indie films such as Narc. “I think that if you can achieve a balance, then you appease a lot of yourself and your career and what it takes to maintain in this business for a while. You could just do independent movies, but I like bigger kind of studio movies, at least some of them.” Liotta does the bigger films to keep himself in the game and exposed, he happily admits, and is equally frank about the tough side of doing a small film for yourself.
Narc, released in the US in the thick of Oscar wannabes such as Chicago and Gangs of New York, was lost in the shuffle. But Liotta, who also produced the film, remains philosophical. “You know, it was a small, independent movie and with Paramount becoming involved, it was obviously a good thing, but you can’t put a round peg in a square hole. It was an independent, small, edgy movie that they chose to release at the end of the year with big, glossy Hollywood movies, and so, I think that it really got lost in the shuffle. I think that in hindsight, it probably would’ve done better if it had come out in September right after the Toronto Film Festival, but also, we were very appreciative of the fact that they had interest and backed it as hard as they did.”
But Narc was part of a recovery project for Liotta, who decided a few years ago to take charge of his listless career. He was lucky that he had met pretty Michelle Grace, who also turned out to be a shrewd movie producer. “I met her at a baseball game. Her husband (Mark Grace) was playing. We didn’t cheat, but we got to know each other. They divorced and she was looking for an acting teacher. There was an occasion about then when she was asked to do a rap video, and she said, ‘Should I do it?’ And I said, ‘No, you should probably have dinner with me.’ “They have been married seven years and have a 4-year-old daughter, Karsen.”As a producer, Michelle is really smart,” Liotta says. And her influence on his career is noticeable.
“As soon as I became proactive in producing my own stuff, I started getting other roles,” roles in Hannibal, Heartbreakers, Blow, John Q and of course Identity. Liotta is up and running and is having a blast. “It’s better than sitting here talking about Turbulence,” he says. Ah, the ‘fuck you’ movie I couldn’t recall earlier. No more of those coming up for this actor who may hate interviews, but he still loves a challenge.