Ray Liotta

Posted on 21. Apr, 2009 by in Profiles

rayliotta1 Ray Liotta

denim dress shirt Urban Outfitters

 words by Devoe Yates, photos by Robert Todd Williamson

As snow swirls down outside his hotel’s windows,  Ray Liotta unbundles layers, seemingly refreshed and a little flushed from an afternoon skiing jaunt in the nearby mountains.  While one would expect to find him intimidating and on edge, like his best known characters, he is instead jovial, calm, and disarming.  It has been noted that his old friends find it funny that he plays the heavy in his movies these days - they know him to be quite the opposite; a man who’s never been in a real fight and once a boy who was scared of hoods on his heels after school.

Out of curiosity, I ask him if there was any particular music he was listening to on the slopes and he replies, “I really listened to everything - 70’s music, disco sometimes, some jazz. I like a little bit of everything. I’ll tell ya though, I’ve got a 10-year-old daughter and I think I’ve had enough of the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus. But I listen to it because that’s what she wants to listen to in the car.” And here Ray relates, “If there’s anything about it, you realize how out of touch you are and that you’re getting older. I don’t know who half the people are that she listens to. I really don’t. So, she keeps me kinda current.” 

While on the lifts and veering about in slaloms, Ray found himself approached by a bevy of fans, and I ask him if this was annoying at all, to which he replies, “You know, it’s spring break here and there’s a lot of people around and they’ll come up and say stuff and want a picture and things like that. But look, there was a period where I wasn’t getting recognized and I realized that I hated that a lot more. That meant that people weren’t seeing a lot of the movies I was in or that I wasn’t in a lot of movies. You get these ‘lil dry periods and now that things are kinda back on course, if you’re going to get recognized and be a pain in the ass, then you should stay home.” 

Many know Liotta from his turn as mafia man turned informant, Henry Hill, in Goodfellas, and some know him from his psychotic and brutal roles in Something Wild and Narc. And perhaps there are those that even recognize him from such odd roles as Capt. Doyle in Operation Dumbo Drop and the voice of the main dude in the top selling video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, projects that Ray himself admits he did for the money. Such were his dry spells of yesteryear. 

Ray’s here in town to shoot the upcoming Snowmen, and we’re here to talk about his role in Jody Hill’s (Foot Fist Way) new dark comedy, Observe and Report, which has been likened to a comic Taxi Driver of sorts. In the film, Ray plays Detective Harrison, the foil to Seth Rogen’s demented mall cop, Ronnie Barnhardt. Harrison is a real cop called in to solve the case of a flasher terrorizing mallrats, avid shoppers, and even the elderly, and he finds himself in a turf war with the unpredictable Ronnie. But before we get into the semantics of the film itself, let us journey back to the beginnings of Ray’s involvement with the picture, where getting cast in the film itself presented its own hurdles for Ray. “Well, with Jody, I had to audition. I really wanted to do it because the film’s so raw. But it’s raw in extreme circumstances, which is kinda what makes it fun. At the same time, I’m not re-inventing the wheel, or re-inventing myself, it’s an offspring of other things that I’ve done put into extreme circumstances.” 

“So, I met Jody once, it was just a regular sitdown, ‘Hey, how you doin’?’ I told him, ‘I’d really like to do this, if I gotta read for it, I gotta read for it.’ What am I gonna do? If you let your ego get in the way, you might miss out on things that could be fun. If that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do…if I want it. If I don’t want it, and they want me to audition, then fine, they can go and fuck themselves. But with this, it was something I wanted to be a part of. I think I went in twice. Once was for Jody, and the other time I
read with Seth.” 

After being cast, Ray found himself at home with Jody and his crew on the set of a once deserted mall in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Well, Jody, this was his first big movie. There was an excitement there and I’m telling you, the people who are at the top of the profession are people who like to play the game of pretend to the deepest and the fullest. And Jody fits right in with those guys. Jonathan Demme had a real excitement on the set about working, and the shot, and the take. He’d let you know how he felt, and if it was good. So it really inspired confidence, and made you want to be even more open to trying different things, and Jody was that same sort of way. He was always grinning and laughing. But the ability and the joy and fun that goes around with playing pretend is really contagious and it’s fun to be around those kind of people.”

In the film, Ronnie and Detective Harrison end up in a ride-a-long together at one point, it’s one of the first steps Ronnie must take to finally become a bona fide cop that can wield a gun. As legend has it, Ray did some ride-a-longs of his own while researching his character for 1992’s Unlawful Entry. I prodded to see if there were any interesting tales from his own time as a passenger in a police car. “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. The very first day, I was riding along with this sergeant, he had to go over to a building that had blown up because of a gas leak or something, and the reason they called him is that they had seen a human body part. We found the body part and put it in a plastic bag and put it in the car, so that was like ‘Holy smokes, these guys are really dealing with some intense stuff.’ And then there was a time when we went on a call where somebody was being robbed and I was not allowed to get out of the car. The sergeant went around the back of the house and I guess he flushed the guy out ‘cause this robber took off around the front of the house and stopped in front of the cop car, and saw me in there, and I’m saying, ‘Holy shit, if he thinks I’m a cop, he’s going to fucking to shoot me.’ But luckily, he stopped and saw that I wasn’t making a move, and then he just took off. That was a little intense.”  

Intense is a good word to explore here, as Ray’s characters often have an intensity of their own, violent ones in fact. In the film, he exhibits both verbal and physical intensity directed at Rogen’s character, and I wonder if there’s a process he normally goes through to get psyched up for his scenes of more dramatic and psychotic intensity. “Mmm. No, in the beginning, there was. What happens is you’re not sure that you’re going to deliver, you don’t trust your “instrument” if you will. So you kinda gear up before you have to gear up, but eventually you just sorta learn that it’s going to be there. It’s been there in the past, so why wouldn’t it be there again? Look, there’s a lot of times at seven o’ clock in the morning when you don’t feel like beating the shit out of somebody. You don’t feel like dealing with it, so you use that anger. Or maybe, on the way to work, if someone’s driving too slow and pulls some bonehead move with their car, you can allow things like that to trigger you. You kinda set yourself up for where you gotta go.” 

rayliotta2 Ray LiottaI ask Ray if he’d ever had run in of his own with a mall cop sort. “You know what’s funny, I did. There was an instance, I was in New Mexico, and I went to the Georgia O’Keefe museum there. It’s beautiful and they had some great stuff. I had headphones on - I didn’t want to know the history, I just wanted to look. So, I was listening to music, it was a really nice mellow afternoon, and this museum cop, he comes over, and with attitude, tells me to take off my earphones. I said, ‘Waddaya mean I can’t listen to it? Who can hear it? They can’t hear it, you can’t hear it, I’m the only one who can hear it.’ It just set me off that this ‘lil fucking nerd was telling me to take off my headphones.” Just for closure I wonder how the situation ended up. Ray laughs a small chuckle, “I said fine, if it’ll make ya happy, I’ll take ‘em off. But then I walked around and put ‘em on again, just to spite him. Then I saw that he was following me, and I just kinda played a little game with him, which was probably very immature on my part.” 

On hearing his laugh, it’s a little different than the signature Ray Liotta laugh, the open mouthed cackle that has visited his characters many times over the years. I ask him if there’s any origin to the laugh, and he replies, “It’s just the way it comes out. I know on Goodfellas, it came up there because Joe was so funny… but on Something Wild it kinda started there, too.” Ray pauses here, thinking about the laugh and its birth. Eventually he summed it up: “If there’s anything about the laugh that makes it signature, it’s just because I’m not doing it to be polite and I’m not doing it to make someone feel good for whatever joke they told that didn’t work, it’s that I really find something funny.”

In Observe and Report, the laugh makes an appearance when Detective Harrison is seen exiting the police station with some other cops. I ask Ray what happened before the scene began to get his laugh going, and he remembers, “I was walking out with some day players, and I started making one of them tell me stories, and I think maybe it was just the fact that he felt pressured because he was a day player and he couldn’t come up with a story which made me laugh. Whatever you have to use, whether it’s a joke or the fact that it’s a bad joke, you gotta know where you’re supposed to be.”

Share this story with your friends:
  • facebook Ray Liotta
  • twitter Ray Liotta
  • digg Ray Liotta
  • stumbleupon Ray Liotta
  • delicious Ray Liotta
  • blinklist Ray Liotta
  • googlebookmark Ray Liotta
  • email link Ray Liotta

Related Posts

Tags: , , , , , ,

One Response to “Ray Liotta”

  1. Sharane

    23. Apr, 2011

    Great article. I enjoyed reading this, and I’m happy to have learned something about his signature laugh. Thanks for this! Ray Liotta is a phenomenal actor.

    Reply to this comment

Leave a Reply

Get Adobe Flash playerPlugin by wpburn.com wordpress themes