Ray Liotta made an impact on audiences with his intensely powerful performance in Something Wild. Since that extraordinary debut, Liotta has garnered raves for a gallery of characters in such diverse films as Dominick and Eugene, Field of Dreams, Goodfellas, Corrina, Corrina and Cop Land.
More recently, the busy actor co-starred in Hannibal, Heartbreakers and Blow. This week, Liotta stars as a father trying to come to terms with the death of his wife in the luminous Rumor of Angels, appears with Denzel Washington in the upcoming John Q, and gives a brilliantly ferocious performance as a determined cop in the Indie thriller Narc, which screened at last month’s Sundance Film Festival. Paul Fischer sat down with Liotta in a hotel bar to discuss the variety of his roles.
Answer: Now I saw Narc at Sundance, which is so different from Rumor of Angels, and I noticed you had a producer credit on that. How did that come about?
Question: At that time, I had switched agents and I wasn’t happy with some of the scripts I was getting. I wanted to see what they had of their clients that was unproduced. Because I always wanted to start a company and to do something but that just came, really, about after. And they sent me Narc, I read it and I was really moved by it; it was just really well-written, and what you think is happening, isn’t, especially at the end where it really took me by surprise, there aren’t many movies that do that. Then I met the director, and really liked his sensibilities. I just felt like he, you know, knew his stuff. He was one of those few guys that maybe could cross over and really become something. I also at that time already had “Hannibal;” I was cast in “Blow,” and I think “Heartbreakers” was just coming around, so I knew that I was covered in terms of the studio kind of way, that, you know, it was a second-time director who knew it would turn out as well as it did. So I just decided to go for it.
Question: We’ve spoken a few times over the years and one of the things that I’ve always remarked upon is that you’ve had this kind of various ‘second coming’ of career spans. And there was obviously a certain degree of expectation that after “Goodfellas,” things would be great for you, but your career’s kind of had ups and downs. Are you philosophical about the way that your career has panned out?
Answer: Yeah, I mean, what could you do? A lot of it was, sometimes I didn’t feel like I was represented right, because you know, “Goodfellas” was my fourth movie, and I’d heard so much about typecasting that I figured that after Something Wild I did “Dominick and Eugene,” a really sweet movie, then “Field of Dreams,” then “Goodfellas” and then I did a movie, “Article 99,” where I played a heart surgeon; it was a black comedy. We knew that Orion was gonna go bankrupt at the time, so they couldn’t really promote the movie, so after the big splash with “Goodfellas,” I waited a while because I was getting a lot of bad guys. I’ve always felt that I wanted to do this for the longevity – to do different parts. To do Narc and then to do something like Rumor of Angels, different things. And then you kind of lost some steam and momentum, I did, and I don’t’ think my agents really backed me properly, which is why I kept changing them and now I feel like I’m with somebody good. But then, that could be like most peoples’ careers where there seems to be ups and downs, there’s very few that don’t. So hopefully, now, it’s coming out. What’s great about this business is that there’s not one set age that it doesn’t happen to you by, at least for men, you know, there’s always more to do.
Question: One of my wife’s favorite film of yours is “Corrina, Corrina” and I was wondering, if it is easier for you to play a gentle character than it is for you to play somebody that’s hard-edged and all?
Answer: Well, it’s easier in the sense like, on Narc, sometimes it’s six o’clock in the morning when you go to work and you have to finish up a scene that you did the night before, or the day before, and you still have to stay edgy and, like that last twenty minutes or twenty-five minutes of Narc, it’s just such high-energy which took a week to do, so there’s just some days you’re not in the mood to do it, and so in that sense it’s easier to play somebody who is not as, wound as tight, but dynamically, what most people seem to remember are those characters where characters are wound tight.
Question: What was it about the particular character that appealed to you in “Rumor of Angels?”
Answer: You know what? I just liked this script, again, it was something that I read and was moved by; I teared up. I already had a movie with Paul Schrader, where I played a very edgy character. This one just came about, and I read it and Peter cast me; Vanessa Redgrave was doing it, and we were shooting it in Halifax, and, yeah, I mean, there was just — you know, I don’t need to be the main guy all the time but just to be a part of something so sweet and nice, and hopefully this will find a niche and people will see it.
Question: Do you tap into anything to play a guy like this? I mean this is a character who is steeped in kind of a grief that he won’t admit to, for the most part.
Answer: I’m much more of an emotional person, and wear my emotions on my sleeve and like to talk things out. I’ve been through loss with my mother, it happened right in the middle of “Goodfellas,” so no, I don’t really take a movie to gird something or to get something off my chest, or anything like that.
Question: I mean, how hard is it for you to tap into a character like this in terms of the way he has to express his emotions? I mean, do you relate to your own paternalism, for instance?
Answer: No, no, I mean, it’s all make-believe and you know, it’s harder to be mean; I’ve been in one fight in my whole life in seventh grade. It’s almost harder to be that edgy kind of crazy guy than it is dealing with loss. I really like acting and I know what my job is. My job is to fulfill the script and to use my imagination, so the more you do that the less personal you make it, then the more you get to explore different things.
Question: How different of an actor are you from Vanessa Redgrave? How do you work with somebody with her particular background?
Answer: I don’t know how she works, really. Being one of the main people in the movie, you get the director’s attention a little more. I don’t know what her method is, what her methodology is. Her and me, I use different things. Some things I can relate to; some things I can’t. Some things, if I’ve got to be like, edgy all day or something, I’ll let things bother me a little more, whether it’s driving and you know, the way people are driving, you just play little games with yourself to make yourself more vulnerable for that day.
Question: The older you get, is the job of acting easier for you?
Answer: Yeah, I think so. I think you get – at least, you know you’ve done it for a while; you might get some things that have done well; you know how you did it and what you used, and that’s one of the great things – I had that run where, I’ve got a movie coming out in two weeks with Robert Duvall that I did, “John Q,” –
Question: Yeah, a wonderful film, too –
Answer: — yeah, and I did “Hannibal” with Anthony Hopkins; I worked with DeNiro and Gene Hackman in “Heartbreakers.” So to watch these guys work and the ease that they do it; it is exhilarating and it just happens to do time and the experience of doing it, you know. Work just happens; it doesn’t work and they say “Cut,” and you do it again, you know what I’m saying? But when you’re younger, you’re just trying to prove so much that you deserve to be there and then, you don’t know who’s gonna be there the next day and you don’t want anybody to think that you’re not a good actor, so you might plug onto things and get a little edgier than you’d be.
Question: “John Q” is another sort of high-profile studio movie, but it’s also, again, is not a huge part. What was the – why were you into doing that?
Answer: Yeah. That was it. I had done a few things; I’d done “Hannibal,” “Blow,” and “Heartbreakers” and I knew the director, Nick Cassavetes, and he called me up and asked me if I wanted to do it, and I read it and, you know, I think at one point he wanted me for James Woods’ character, the doctor, which would’ve been interesting. And then he said, “What about the police chief?” I said, “Well, no.” He said, “Well, Robert Duvall is, you know, the negotiator. And I said, “Well, forget it; I’m in.” So just to hang out with Robert Duvall, to be his boss and to be yelling at him was a great, great, fun thing to do.
Question: What else have you got coming out; you’ve been just incredibly busy —
Answer: An episode of “Just Shoot Me.”
Question: Who do you play on that?
Answer: I play myself. I did a Christmas episode and then they asked me to come back. I was on the Jay Leno Show and Laura San Giacomo won’t go out with me, so I’m on the Leno show and I start singing to her, and it’s just crazy, good fun. I did a movie called “Point of Origin” for HBO that’s coming out this summer; it’s a true story about an arson investigator, investigating these arson fires and it turns out that it’s a fireman who’s lighting the fires; this really happened in Glendale, and then I’ve got Narc.
Question: Do you ever stop working?
Answer: Yeah, there have been periods, trust me. It’s just, I don’t know, a range of horrors, the timing of things; my first three movies were done by like, March or April, so for the past eight months there was really nothing that came out. “Point of Origin” was supposed to come out last year but then September 11 hit.
Question: Has Lion’s Gate indicated when they’re going to release Narc?
Answer: No, they’re meeting after this today. I don’t know; there’s still a bunch of studios that are vying to take it away from them.
Answer: Yeah. A lot of people are really interested in it.
Question: It’s a very commercial film –
Answer: Yeah, I think so, too. I think they realize that and they want to hold onto it; but I have a feeling it’s gonna be September or October.
Question: How did you find Sundance?
Answer: I really liked it. I was very shocked and surprised; you know, you figure, like, all these edgy, independent films; they do these crazy, quirky, edgy movies and there you’re walking down this pristine, gorgeous, you know, brisk air, place. It was just, very – I was shocked by it. I was! I was really surprised by it. I really was. It grew on me.
Question: Did you actually get to see any films?
Answer: No, I didn’t.
Question: But you skied?
Answer: Someone stole my skis. Would you believe it?
Question: Where did that happen?
Answer: Deer Valley; I’m skiing away, skiing away, skiing away, go to get something to eat, put the skis in the rack, and come back and the skis are gone.
Question: You’re kidding me!
Question: They were your own skis?
Answer: No, they were rented.
Question: Never a dull moment on your watch!