Commanding a powerful screen presence, an unforgettable glare and a knack for playing characters on either side of the law, actor Ray Liotta passed away this Thursday while on shoot in the Dominican Republic for Dangerous Waters. He was 67.
From more recent successes that include The Many Saints of Newark and Marriage Story, all the way back to his seminal hit Goodfellas, Liotta is most certainly an American icon. However, there was a high chance his filmography could have been played out quite differently.
Many of Liotta’s most famous roles put him in the position of a tough, steely-eyed strongman, although that never was in line with his personality. “I don’t go around beating people up,” Liotta had told The Post. “I’ve never been in a fight. I avoid it at all costs. I just commit to what’s written to me on the page and the script dictates the character.”
This commitment, nevertheless, led to several amazing roles from the mid-eighties onwards, especially his first critically acclaimed hit, the 1986 film Something Wild:
The movie that followed needs no introduction, really. Goodfellas is pretty much the most famous mafia film of all time, second to perhaps The Godfather. However, things may have been quite different, if it weren’t for Liotta’s rather discerning taste when it came to the roles he played.
Long story short, he was in the running to play Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989.
Speaking to Irish News back in 2016, the actor said, “When I did my first movie, Tim Burton was getting ready to do Batman and he was interested in me because he wanted it to be edgy and real.”
Honestly, think of him in that suit; he could at least be a pretty solid Bruce Wayne!
Despite this big casting, Ray Liotta wasn’t too interested in the role. “I thought, ‘Batman? That’s a stupid idea’, even though he’d had just done one of my favourite movies of all time, Beetlejuice. So yes, I regret not auditioning for that.”
“That movie and the success of Jack Nicholson? My career could’ve taken off in a different kind of way!”
Despite the potential missed opportunity, Liotta did play one of Hollywood’s most enduring gangsters, so it worked out. Still, he found himself craving novelty when it came to his choices.
“If I played a bad guy, then I want to play a good guy, and then after a while, you just say whatever’s the best part. You do two bad guys in a row, so be it,’” he said to Digital Fix last September. The Museum of Moving Art also noted this range in a tweet; the actor has worked with the Muppets, as a gangster, a baseball player, and even GTA Vice City’s Tommy Vercetti:
This wish to play a variety of roles led to another role going back to the producers, when he declined the chance to work on The Sopranos, one of TV’s best-rated crime dramas.
“I didn’t want to do another mafia thing, and I was shooting Hannibal. It just didn’t feel right at the time,” he said in an interview with the Guardian last year, although he did end up working on the tie-in from 2021. “I flew myself out and had lunch with David [Chase, The Sopranos creator,] and Alan [Taylor, the film’s director],” he told The Post, “and by the end of it they asked if I would play Hollywood Dick.”
And play he did, becoming a sensation on set as well as with longtime Sopranos fans, who were very excited to see him return to a gangster role. His co-star Alessandro Nivola—soon set to appear in Sony’s Kraven The Hunter—tweeted a message in memory of Liotta as well:
Other brilliant actors tweeted their messages of remembrance as well:
Even Rockstar Games paid tribute to Liotta:
Ray Liotta is survived by his daughter Karsen and fiancée Jacy Nittolo.
(Featured Image Credits: Letterboxd/Twitter)