Ray Liotta on stage at the Cinémathèque during Monday evening's masterclass with film critic Boyd van Hoeij
Photo: Sébastien Goossens
Ray Liotta interview
As a supporter of independent movies, actor Ray Liotta was delighted to have been invited as a special guest of the Luxembourg City Film Festival. He talks with Delano about his career and his views on the film industry.
The star of “Sticky Notes” opposite Rose Leslie, Liotta was in Luxembourg this week as the Luxembourg City Film festival paid homage to his career. As well as attending what was the European premier of Amanda Sharp’s independent film, which he says he did “just to have fun”, Liotta also gave a masterclass with cinema critic Boyd van Hoeij.
Liotta had worked with several first-time directors before making “Sticky Notes” with Amanda Sharp. “Some of them are great, they really know what they are talking about and what they are doing,” he says. “Some of them think they know but don’t, and don’t listen to somebody who has had experience and maybe can help them do something different. They get very set in their ways, but they learn eventually that they should listen.” Liotta says that Sharp got caught in the editing because she didn’t listen. “But all in all I think the movie did come out well.”
In the film Liotta plays the belligerent Jack who contacts his estranged daughter Athena (played by Rose Leslie) when he discovers he has cancer. The actor admits he has never seen "Game of Thrones", and still hasn’t. But he says that Leslie (who played John Snow’s love interest Ygritte in the fantasy series) was very good to work with. “She was very committed.”
He was initially attracted to the character of Jack because he thought he was funny. “He didn’t have any filter whatsoever. He said whatever he wanted to say, whatever was on his mind…I think a lot of us at times would like what’s inside, but we’re too polite to say maybe things that would not come across well to another person. In that sense I had a lot of fun doing it.”
Liotta is a single father of an 18-year old daughter, and says that his relationship with her is obviously very different to that of Jack and Athena in “Sticky Notes”. “I raise my daughter much more traditional.”
A late starter
The role that brought Liotta to wider public attention was the angry, jealous and macho boyfriend Ray Sinclair in Jonathan Demme’s 1986 romantic romp “Something Wild”, playing opposite Melanie Griffiths and Jeff Daniels. Such was his impact in the role that I wonder whether he was worried about being typecast thereafter. “Oh totally. But I had done a soap opera before that. I played the nicest character, such a good, solid guy.”
Deciding he would rather be in movies, Liotta quit the New York based soap to move to California. “There I had five years, it was kind of lean, I would get jobs here and there, but I didn’t do my first movie until 30, and that was ‘Something Wild’. Nobody had seen me…I came out of nowhere. I think they thought they got me right out of prison or something.” It took Liotta about a year to find a role that was totally the opposite of his “Something Wild” character.
That film was “Dominick and Eugene” in which he played the medical student brother of a brain damaged garbage man. “It was really sweet, nice movie”.
In his next major role, as the “ghost” of the famous baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson in “Field of Dreams”, Liotta got to utter one of the most recognisable and iconic lines in the movies--“if you build it, they will come”. Does he think that spirit of blind optimism has been lost? “No, I think it’s there. If you’re talking about the political climate now, I think we’re trying to figure out how it’s going to be…I think all over the world it’s kind of crazy. They’re thinking ‘if you build it, they will come’, but who knows what they’re building?”
Bringing an intensity to each role he played, Liotta was next cast in his most famous role, the protagonist Henry Hill in Martin Scorcese’s “Goodfellas” and has built a canon of work of some 60 films including acclaimed roles in “Copland”, “Hannibal” and “Killing Them Softly”.
Liotta’s parents were staunch Democrats, so I wonder if he thinks that the film industry, especially the part of it that makes independent movies like “Sticky Notes”, is under threat by recent announcements of cuts in funding to the arts?
“I think film is under threat from the blockbuster, not so much by what’s going on in the United States but the fact that the studios are owned by conglomerates who just want these big tent-pole movies. So instead of making millions on a movie, they want hundreds of millions if not billions. So they’re looking at all these Marvel Comic type movies, and what they’re losing is this nice independent move like when I started in the 70s. There was a great period of movie making then, and great artists were emerging. It’s a shame that has gone by the wayside.”
With movie theatres dedicated to the blockbusters, it is up to film festivals to promote independent movies or direct TV companies to produce and premier films, says Liotta. His own career currently features a major role as a corrupt police bisexual precinct commander in NBC’s crime series “Shades Of Blue” opposite Jennifer Lopez. The second season of the series premiered in the United States on Sunday.