Raymond Allen Liotta (December 18, 1954 – May 26, 2022; Italian: [liotta]) was an American actor and producer. He was most recognized for his roles as Shoeless Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams (1989), Henry Hill in Goodfellas (1990), and Tommy Vercetti in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (video game) (2002).
He also starred in Unlawful Entry (1992), Cop Land (1997), Hannibal (2001), Blow (2001), John Q (2002), Identity (2003), Observe and Report (2009), Killing Them Softly (2012), The Place Beyond the Pines (2012), Marriage Story (2019), and The Many Saints of Newark (2021), as well as the drama series Shades of Blue (2016–2018).
Why Doesn’t Ray Liotta Appear on Screen Anymore?
“This guy is going to be a hit with you. He’ll be OK. He’s a kind guy.” In the 1990 film Goodfellas, Ray Liotta reads the narration as mobster Henry Hill as he and mentor Jimmy (Robert De Niro) wait to hear from Tommy (Joe Pesci). They believe Tommy is on his way to becoming a mafia “made man,” an almost untouchable figure. They finally discover they’ve been wasting their time. Tommy is killed in revenge for the unsanctioned death of made man Billy Batts (Frank Vincent), as well as years of other violent crimes, during the ceremony. Henry and Jimmy believe they are on the verge of a bright future, only to have their ambitions dashed in the most heinous manner imaginable.
It’s a bit dramatic to equate Tommy DeVito’s death to any actor’s career, let alone Ray Liotta’s, who has been working regularly in television and movies since the late 1970s, but it’s a fair comparison given Liotta’s trajectory following an instant classic like Goodfellas. The picture received a lot of attention during awards season, with a half-dozen Oscar nominations and one win for Pesci for Best Supporting Actor. Unfortunately, Liotta never became the in-demand leading man we expected due to luck, typecasting, some unfortunate casting choices on his side — and at least a number of public gaffes. Continue reading to find out why you haven’t seen much of Ray Liotta lately.
Henry Hill Will Always Be Henry Hill
When you look at Liotta’s career as a whole, you’ll notice how many nice guys he’s played. In 1989’s Field of Dreams, he played the pleasant apparition of Shoeless Joe Jackson, in 2001’s caper comedy Heartbreakers, he played the victim of scam artists, and he began his acting career with a three-year tenure as Joey Perrini on the daytime serial Another World. However, even if he only plays the nicest individuals from now till the end of his career, that is unlikely to be what we remember him for.
In 2013, Liotta told Metro, “People only remember the nasty guys.” “[W]hen you think of Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, you don’t immediately think of their lighter films. You may recall films such as Raging Bull and The Godfather.”
Similarly, for many, Liotta will always remain Henry Hill, the criminal they saw ascend through the ranks of the mafia in Goodfellas. Liotta has come to recognize that it’s difficult for audiences to see beyond the one part she plays. He referred to the film as Goodfellas “”It’s astonishing how many times a day people will come up to me and chat about Goodfellas,” he continued. What’s more, it’s now being seen by children. ‘Hey, you’re the guy from Goodfellas,’ people say. And that’s fantastic.” Onset, he’s not always a good guy.
During the same 2013 interview with Metro, Liotta admitted that he wasn’t always the easiest to work with while marketing The Place Beyond the Pines. He claims that a lot depends on the director.
Derek Cianfrance, the director of Place Beyond the Pines, has only directed one other picture before that, Blue Valentine, in 2010. When asked if he liked working with new filmmakers, Liotta responded he did, although it wasn’t always a good experience: “[S] ‘This guy doesn’t know what he’s doing,’ I can usually tell as soon as I sit down. Working with someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing is even harder, especially if you’ve done it before.”
In a 2012 interview with Johanna Schneller of The Globe and Mail, Liotta revealed another factor that makes him tough to work with. Liotta noted the nature of his character influences how he behaves when the cameras are off while explaining how he handles his roles: “On set, I’m fantastic when I’m playing a good man. I’m a d*** if I’m not.” He also discussed techniques he’s developed for avoiding interaction with annoying co-stars.
Given how frequently Liotta portrays unlikable characters, you have to wonder if he’s unintentionally created a reputation as a tough coworker, and how much that has harmed his career.
He Said No to Batman
Given the enormous success of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, it’s tough to imagine anyone other than Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight. But Keaton wasn’t the only one interested in playing the part. In an interview with the Irish Examiner in July 2016, Ray Liotta stated that one of his biggest career regrets was passing up the opportunity to audition for the role of Batman.
Something Wild, a cult comedy from 1986, was one of Liotta’s first films. Liotta drew Tim Burton’s attention because the filmmaker was looking for something “edgy and authentic” for his Batman, according to Liotta. However, Liotta seemed to have had trouble comprehending Burton’s vision. “‘Batman?’ I wondered. Even though [Burton] had just completed one of my all-time favorite films, Beetlejuice… [Batman] with the success of Jack Nicholson… my career could’ve gone off in a different direction.”
It’s tough not to be curious in the other universe in which Liotta portrayed Batman, especially in light of Goodfellas. You might somewhat adjust the often referenced scene in which Pesci pretends to be angry at Liotta for smiling at his jokes if you cast Joe Pesci as the Joker.