Upon my first watching of Goodfellas many years ago, I recall being somewhat surprised to learn that Martin Scorsese and Ray Liotta hadn’t worked together again. After all, Liotta was absolutely electric in the role, easily holding his own against Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. It’s hard not to imagine Liotta turning up in Casino, The Aviator, The Wolf of Wall Street, or The Irishman, but it never happened.
We had many plans to work together again but the timing was always off, or the project wasn’t quite right. I regret that now. When I watched Ray as the divorce lawyer in Marriage Story – he’s genuinely scary in the role, which is precisely why he’s so funny – I remember feeling that I wanted to work with him again at this point in his life, to explore the gravity in his presence, so different from the young, sprightly actor he was when I met him. I wish I’d had the chance to see him just once more, too – to tell him just how much the work we did together meant to me. But maybe he knew that. I hope so.
It was Ray Liotta’s performance in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild that first caught Martin Scorsese’s eye, and when the pair finally got to work together on Goodfellas, he said it felt like they’d worked together for years. “The word ‘fearless’ is used quite often to describe actors, and with good reason: actors need to be fearless,” Scorsese said. “They have to jump in and just go, and they have to stumble and fail and risk appearing ridiculous as they’re finding their way into a role. That’s just part of the work. On Goodfellas, we were working improvisationally in most scenes, and many members of the team had known each other and worked together for years, including my mother and my father. Into that walked the new guy, Ray Liotta, and he never missed a beat. It felt like we’d worked together for years.” Like many of you, I’m still a little shocked that Ray Liotta is no longer with us. You never really know how much time you have with someone.