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(Credit: Press / HBO)

Film

The unusual way Ray Liotta started acting

When the news broke earlier this week that Ray Liotta had died, the world was left shocked. The New Jersey native starred in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster flick Goodfellas, and ever since, he was hailed as one of the ultimate character actors of our time. No official details of his death have been announced just yet, but all we know is that he passed peacefully in his sleep in the Dominican Republic whilst shooting the upcoming film Dangerous Waters. 

Liotta’s performance as Henry Hill in Goodfellas is one of the most complete we’ve seen in modern cinema, and without him, the film just wouldn’t have been the same. Whether it be the dexterity of his performance, in the way that he straddled both the comedic and dramatic, his iconic lines, or the natural chemistry he had with co-stars Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, there’s a lot to love about the performance, and no surprise that it often gets mentioned as one of the greatest of all time. 

Unsurprisingly, Liotta became synonymous with the character of the Italian-American crook following his performance in Goodfellas, and fittingly, he was hired to voice the equally as morally questionable protagonist, Tommy Vercetti, in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in 2002.

The impact of Ray Liotta’s career-defining role in ‘Goodfellas’

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What he delivered was unprecedented, and it helped to take video games to another level in terms of what they could do and what they represent. Without his performance here, we’d be without the incredibly immersive stories of the subsequent Grand Theft Auto games and the Red Dead Redemption arc. 

Not long after the news of Liotta’s passing broke, many of those who have worked with him paid their tributes. His co-star in Goodfellas, Lorraine Bracco, who played Hill’s wife Karen, said: “I am utterly shattered to hear this terrible news about my Ray. I can be anywhere in the world & people will come up & tell me their favorite movie is Goodfellas. Then they always ask what was the best part of making that movie. My response has always been the same…Ray Liotta.”

Aside from Goodfellas, he also made his name as Shoeless Joe Jackon in the 1989 blockbuster Field of Dreams opposite Kevin Costner, as well as in a variety of other memorable titles such as Blow, Killing Them Softly, The Place Beyond the Pines, Marriage Story and The Many Saints of Newark

The variety of films that Liotta starred in clearly showed to everyone his brilliance as an actor, and duly, some of the most renowned in his profession also offered their condolences after his death, such as actress Jamie Lee Curtis, who wrote: “Ray Liotta has died. His work as an actor showed his complexity as a human being. A gentle man. So sad to hear.”

Given that he was such a hero of cinema, people have long wanted to know how did Ray Liotta get into acting? Well, luckily for us, he revealed how during an appearance on Kelly and Ryan in September 2021. It transpires that it was something of an accident. 

Liotta was asked by the hosts how he knew that acting was his “pursuit”, to which he quipped, “I still don’t”. He said, getting more serious: “It never happened until college; I’m not proud of this. I had no idea of what I was gonna do outside of High School in New Jersey.” 

Just as he is about to tell his story, the over-animated hosts interrupt by providing their thoughts on the pressures kids face in school and the expectations they’re faced with.

Finally catching a break, Liotta then continues: “I hear in Italy you have to determine what you want to do in order to determine which High School you’re gonna go to… I had no idea what I wanted to do; my dad said, ‘Go to college, take whatever you want’. I pretty much walked out of my SATs ‘coz I said, ‘Who am I trying to kid? I’m not proud of this’, so I figured I’d like work construction or something manual.”

“So, I got into the University of Miami, and I was in line to take, you know, just general courses and there was something for like math and history (gestures to the wall). I thought there was no way, ‘I don’t even want to be in college at all. I’m not gonna take, like, math and history’. (It was) right next to what was for the drama department that I had with my friend Jean. We took the class, just goofy little kid’s theatre stuff, and I dunno, it just happened slowly. In the first year all I did were musicals.”

Watch the video below.

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