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Why You Don't See Ray Liotta Onscreen Anymore

"You're gonna like this guy. He's all right. He's a good fella." Ray Liotta reads the narration as gangster Henry Hill in 1990's Goodfellas while he and mentor Jimmy (Robert De Niro) wait to hear from Tommy (Joe Pesci). They believe the volatile Tommy is about to become a made man — an almost untouchable member of the mafia. They eventually learn they've been waiting for nothing. The ceremony is a trap, and Tommy is killed in retaliation for the unsanctioned murder of made man Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) along with years of other violent transgressions. Henry and Jimmy think they're at the beginning of a bright future, only to have their hopes annihilated in possibly the most horrific manner you could imagine.

It's kind of dramatic to compare the death of Tommy DeVito to any actor's career, much less that of Ray Liotta, who's been working regularly in television and film since the late '70s, but it's apt considering the trajectory you'd expect from Liotta after an instant classic like Goodfellas. The film scored a ton of awards season attention — including a half-dozen Oscar nominations and one win, for Pesci as Best Supporting Actor. Unfortunately, because of luck, typecasting, some regrettable casting choices on Liotta's part — and at least a couple of public gaffes — Liotta never became the in-demand leading man we expected. Keep reading to learn why you may not have seen much of Ray Liotta lately.

He'll always be Henry Hill

When you take a broad look at Liotta's career, you may be surprised at how often he's played nice guys. He played the friendly apparition of Shoeless Joe Jackson in 1989's Field of Dreams, the victim of con artists in the 2001 caper comedy Heartbreakers, and started his acting career with a three-year stint as Joey Perrini on the daytime soap Another World. But if he plays nothing but the nicest guys from now to the end of his career, it's likely that still won't be what we remember him for. 

"People just remember the bad guys," Liotta told Metro in 2013. "[W]hen you think of Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, you don't think of the softer movies they've done. You think Raging Bull, The Godfather."

Likewise when it comes to Liotta, to many he will forever be Henry Hill, the gangster they watch rise through the ranks of the mafia in Goodfellas. That it's tough for audiences to see beyond the one role is something Liotta has come to accept without much ire. He called Goodfellas "a movie that just doesn't stop" and added, "It's unbelievable how many times a day people will come up and talk to me about Goodfellas. And now what's happening is that kids are watching it. I'm getting recognized: 'Hey, you're the Goodfellas guy.' And that's great."

He's not always a good fella on set

During the same 2013 interview with Metro, conducted while he was promoting The Place Beyond the Pines, Liotta was candid about not always being the easiest to work with. He said a lot of it hinges on the director. 

By 2013, Place Beyond the Pines director Derek Cianfrance had only directed one other film — 2010's Blue Valentine. When asked if he liked working with new directors, Liotta said he did but that it didn't always turn out great: "[S]ometimes I can tell as soon as I sit down: 'This guy doesn't know what he's doing.' And there's nothing worse than working with somebody who doesn't know what they're doing, especially if you've had experience." 

While speaking to The Globe and Mail's Johanna Schneller in 2012, Liotta admitted to something else that can make him difficult to work with. While discussing how he approaches his roles, Liotta said the nature of his character governs how he behaves when the cameras are off: "If I'm playing a nice guy, I'm great on the set. If I'm not, I'm a d***." He also talked about strategies he's learned for avoiding contact with co-stars who annoy him.

Considering how often Liotta plays guys who aren't nice, you have to wonder if he's unintentionally built a reputation as someone difficult to work with, and how much that's impacted his career.

He turned down Batman

Considering the huge success of 1989's Batman, it's difficult to imagine anyone other than Michael Keaton as Tim Burton's Dark Knight. But Keaton wasn't the only one up for the role. Speaking to the Irish Examiner in July 2016, Ray Liotta admitted one of his biggest career regrets was that he was offered the chance to audition for the role of Batman, and he passed on it. 

One of Liotta's earliest films was 1986's cult comedy Something Wild. Liotta caught Tim Burton's attention, Liotta said, because the director was looking for something "edgy and real" for his Batman. But Liotta apparently had a tough time wrapping his head around Burton's vision. "I thought 'Batman? That's a stupid idea,' even though [Burton had] just done one of my favorite movies of all time, Beetlejuice... [Batman] and the success of Jack Nicholson... my career could've taken off in a different kind of way."

It's difficult to not want to take a peek in whatever alternate reality Liotta played Batman, especially in light of Goodfellas. Cast Joe Pesci as the Joker and you could just slightly alter the heavily quoted scene when Pesci pretends to be angry at Liotta for laughing at his jokes.

Pesci/Joker: What am I, a clown?

Liotta/Batman: Well... yeah. Look at your face. Your hair is green, dude. 

He refused the offer he couldn't refuse

A lot of actors have one big role they turned down — like Will Smith famously saying no to the role of Neo in The Matrix (for reasons he recently expanded upon) or Jack Nicholson passing on Michael Corleone. You'd think after turning down an audition for Batman, Ray Liotta had already met his lost opportunity quota, but unfortunately he had another one waiting for him.

In 2001 Liotta told NBC's Today show (via the Associated Press) he had been offered the lead role of Tony Soprano in the now-classic HBO series The Sopranos and he turned it down because he wanted to focus on movies. "It was for a two-year commitment and I didn't really want to give up that time now," Liotta said. He went on to express interest in appearing on the show regardless. "I would love to do a guest spot on there, do a couple of episodes. Having done Goodfellas, it's definitely a genre I'm familiar with."

Unlike his mistake in skipping the audition for Batman, in this case Liotta has been granted something of a second chance. In February 2019, Deadline reported Liotta was in talks to appear in the Sopranos prequel film The Many Saints of Newark. We don't know who he'll be playing just yet, but it won't be Tony; that honor goes to Michael Gandolfini, son of the late James Gandolfini, who immortalized the role Liotta turned down.

No repeats with Scorsese

Martin Scorsese is known for working with a core stable of actors: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel, and Leonardo DiCaprio have all appeared in multiple Scorsese movies. So far, however, Goodfellas is Liotta's only Scorsese film. In 2018, Business Insider asked Liotta about not getting a spot in Scorsese's upcoming film The Irishman. "I guess I wasn't really their cup of tea," he shrugged. "I have never really done a movie for him since [Goodfellas]."

Pressed a bit further, Liotta elaborated. "The parts were just never right," the actor said. "I have seen every movie that [Scorsese's] done and I can't say, 'Oh, f—, I should have been doing that.' Like, Wolf of Wall Street — who am I going to play?" Liotta said he had a shot at a role in 2006's The Departed, but he was already committed elsewhere. When asked which role it was, Liotta answered simply, "Ah, it doesn't matter."

It's easy to speculate — considering Liotta's words on what he's like on the set when he isn't playing a nice guy – that the actor may have rubbed someone the wrong way while making Goodfellas. But without anything else to back it up, it's a little too easy. After all, when you remember how many crime movies Scorsese's made, you have to imagine an actor simultaneously playing a jerk and being a jerk is something the director has plenty of experience with.

The morning talk show disaster

Ray Liotta has been relatively lucky in the public gaffe department, but one bizarre TV appearance had viewers concerned for the actor's health in 2016. 

Appearing on Good Morning Britain to promote the cop drama Shades of Blue, Liotta started the interview by awkwardly spitting out a piece of gum. Throughout the interview he had difficulty answering questions, even slurring his speech. Good Morning Britain got a flurry of tweets, with multiple viewers asking if Liotta was drunk and criticizing the program for letting him appear in such a state. Many commented on Liotta's face which "appeared pale and bloated," leaving some to wonder if he was sick or maybe had suffered a bad plastic surgery. 

While it doesn't seem to have ever been confirmed exactly what was going on with Liotta during the interview, the Daily News pointed out the actor was convicted of a DUI in 2007.

Henry dying on the wrong hill

In the same June 2018 Business Insider interview in which he talked about why he hadn't worked with Martin Scorsese since Goodfellas, Liotta mentioned another famous director — and his words attracted all the wrong kinds of attention. When asked if there was a director he hadn't worked with who he "would drop everything right now" to work with if the opportunity arose, Liotta answered "Woody Allen, I would."

Allen was already under scrutiny for marrying his adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, but in the wake of the #MeToo movement and new sexual assault allegations made against the director by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, Allen was more embattled than ever when Liotta named him his dream director. After being reminded of the allegations, Liotta didn't change his mind. "I believe what he says. I don't think he did what they accuse him of," Liotta told Business Insider. "He's too — for his particular case I don't buy it."

Liotta's defense of Allen was repeated all over the web. For an actor who already had trouble landing leading roles in Hollywood, defending Woody Allen in 2018 may not have been the best move.

You're not watching the right movies

In the now-infamous Good Morning Britain clip, Ray Liotta's interviewers said the actor has made over 60 movies. Considering as of 2019 the actor is only 65 years old, that's a lot of movies. So if you haven't heard from Ray Liotta in a while, it may be because you're not watching the right flicks. 

A quick glance at Liotta's IMDb page shows he's been working consistently for years. But usually he's either in films which don't make much of a mark, or he's not the leading man, or both. In 2014 he appeared in Sin City's underperforming sequel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. In movies like 2014's Kill the Messenger, 2015's Campus Code, and 2016's Flock of Dudes, his name is nowhere near top billing. 

Unfortunately, when Liotta's either the leading man or close to it, the film doesn't do very well. Blackway – in which Liotta starred alongside Anthony Hopkins and Julia Stiles – grossed an extremely unimpressive $27,000 in the States. The 2014 comedy-drama Better Living Through Chemistry did better, but not by much, grossing $75,000. Probably the last time the stars aligned in the right way and Liotta got a prominent role in a film that also made money was 2012's Killing Them Softly

He's not picking the right movies

In 2014, after the faith-based indie The Identical bombed going up against Guardians of the Galaxy, Ray Liotta talked to The Hollywood Reporteabout the film's failure. Placing a lot of the blame on the film's distributor, whose "2,000-screen-wide plan" seemed far too ambitious to him, he questioned whether or not the faith-based aspect of the film was what kept audiences away, and also felt the critics were overly harsh, calling their reviews "vicious."

"They say there are no family movies and then there is a family movie — so who knows?" Liotta said to THR.

It's difficult to get away from the conclusion that Liotta needs to learn to choose more mainstream-friendly films. Using The Identical as an example, whether or not his thoughts on distribution and critical bias are correct, what chance would a faith-based indie ever have against a Marvel Studios summer blockbuster? What distribution plan wouldn't be too ambitious under those circumstances? Guardians had a talking raccoon with machine guns. Who wouldn't choose that movie over the guy who played Henry Hill in a church?