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A Chat with Ray Liotta (“Snowmen”)

Bullz-Eye: I was able to check out “Snowmen” – they sent me a screener – and it was a great little movie. My highest praise is that I’ve got a 6-year-old daughter, and I’d be comfortable with her watching it with me.

Ray Liotta: Yeah, it’s really a good movie, and it definitely…it’s more than just entertaining. It definitely touches on a lot of issues for grown-ups or kids.

BE: How did you find your way into the film?

RL: It just so happens that the producer has a kid in school where my kid goes, and they were gearing up and had cast all the kids, and they were thinking about the adult roles, and my name came up. We talked, he gave me the script, and I loved it and decided to do it.

BE: So how much of the character was on the page, and how much were you able to bring to the character?

RL: It was all on the page. All of it. It was really well written. I mean, my job is to make it as real as possible and try to add as much depth and dimension to it as I can. To pretend that I was a dad whose son was sick and thinks he’s going to die, the bills that I have to pay, the guilt that I have from just working too much to pay those bills, maybe missing some of the things that are going on in his life.

BE: How well did you and Bobby Coleman get on? You seemed to have a pretty strong father-son dynamic going on.

RL: Yeah, he’s a really special kid. He’s a really nice kid, and he’s been acting for awhile now. He’s just serious about the work, so he was very committed to every scene. He had done his homework and knew his lines, and he was raring to go. He was in the pocket. So it was easy. One of the great things when you work with a kid is that you really realize something that, as an  adult, you sometimes forget: you’re just playing pretend. He pretends that I’m his dad, and I pretend that he’s my son. You just play pretend, and that’s it. It’s nothing more or less than that.

BE: A film like “Snowmen” is one which may surprise some, since you’re not generally perceived as Ray Liotta, Family-Friendly Actor, but you’ve been doing family-friendly films as far back as “Corinna, Corinna” and “Operation Dumbo Drop.” Does that get frustrating, that people try to put you in a particular niche?

RL: Yeah, within the business, it gets frustrating. But then something like this comes along and you get a chance to do it. I did a movie with Tobey Maguire called “The Details,” and that’s a little more…I’m not a nutjob in that one. [Laughs.] See, what happens is that even if people see the movies – and I think it’s true with any actor who plays good guys and bad guys –  the bad guys just tend to stand out in people’s minds. You can’t expect everybody to see every movie you’ve done. I had one woman come up to me at the gym the other day, and she said, “Oh, my gosh, all you do is play bad guys. Why are you always such a bad guy? You scare me!” And I’m…I mean, I’m not going to sit there and list the movies that she hasn’t seen. It just kind of goes with the territory.

BE: Bullz-Eye is definitely a guy-centric site, and “Goodfellas” is certainly a film that ranks high  with our viewers. What was the experience like of doing that film? Were you a fan of the mob genre when you stepped in?

RL: No. That was only my fourth movie, and before that I’d done “Dominick and Eugene,” which was a sweet movie, and “Field of Dreams.” In my first movie, “Something Wild,” I was an edgier kind of character, but that was the first time I had ever stepped into the mob world.

BE: Was it intimidating to work with a major director like Martin Scorsese so early in your career?

RL: No, I was just excited. I didn’t do my first movie ‘til I was 30, so by the time I did “Goodfellas,” I was 34 and I’d been studying for years. So when the opportunity came along, I was just chomping at the bit. I couldn’t wait. My mom was really sick at that time, too, so it really put the playing-pretend and her illness in perspective. So it was more exciting than anything. And they were all such nice people, you know? What you guys see is the end result, but the day to day, from rehearsals and setting up the shots and what goes right and what goes wrong, it’s just a whole world that happens before they see the movie.

BE: I usually ask people about their projects that didn’t get the love they deserved. You were in a series in the ‘80s called “Our Family Honor” that I can’t believe more people don’t know about, given the cast involved. It was you, Michael Madsen, Eli Wallach…

RL: Yeah, that was a really good series! I also did a series a couple of years ago called “Smith” that was really good and barely saw the light of day. We did a couple of shows, and that was it. But with the way things are with television, now if the numbers we were doing then were compared to what’s considered a hit now, we’d surely still be on the air. [Sighs.] It’s a crazy business.

BE: So would you still be willing to delve back into television?

RL: Yeah, but I’d probably want to do something more on the cable side, where it’s 13 shows as opposed to 26. I like making movies, but it’d be nice to have a series where you’re working three or four months out of the year. Then the rest of the time, you’re still able to do movies.

BE: Speaking of movies, do you enjoy the opportunity to mix it up between lead roles and parts in ensemble films?

RL: Yeah, you know, it’s really all about what’s going on in my life, the movies that are coming in…you never know. Some days you think, “Holy shit, what’s going to happen? I haven’t worked in awhile,” and all of a sudden two or three movies come along. There’s a lot of movies you turn down and there’s a lot that you do, and you hope that they work.

BE: You turned up somewhat unexpectedly in “Date Night.” How did that come about?

RL: You know, that was one of those things that my agent had somebody who was in the movie – I think it was James Franco, actually – and…I don’t know, when it came along, I wasn’t doing anything, they were shooting it in New York and I hadn’t been to New York in awhile, and it was only a couple of days of work. So I figured, “Why not?”

BE: I mentioned your underrated TV work, but are there any films in your back catalog that you think are worthy of reevaluation?

RL: Well, “Dominick and Eugene” was a really good movie that a lot of people didn’t see. I don’t have a list of the movies that I haven’t made, so I don’t know offhand. I’ve made a bunch. [Laughs.] “Operation Dumbo Drop” was a really good movie with a horrible title. There’s also a movie I made called “No Escape” that didn’t really get big play, and that was a really good action-genre film. And hopefully this movie! It’s not a big distributor getting us out there. It’s a true independent movie, but…I just think this movie is beautiful. What it says, what it’s about, and the questions that can arise from a kid’s point of view. How do you live a good life? How will you be remembered? What’s really important and what’s not? I think it’s a beautiful movie.

BE: When you worked on “Narc,” you were also a producer on the film. Do you enjoy getting behind the scenes once in awhile on films?

RL: I do! It’s nice to have a say, and as an actor, if you’re not producing it or doing anything behind the camera, you tend to just show up and do what you have to do and leave. And that’s fun, because sometimes who needs the headaches? But it’s also nice to have some say with the casting and how the director wants to make the movie. You can add things and take away things with the edit, and it’s always nice to be a part of it and see the movie in its initial stages. So, yeah, I do enjoy it. I’d like to do more of it, but it’s just so hard right now with independent movies. It’s a whole different world just from a few years ago.

BE: Lastly, I know that you’ve got plenty of films in the pipeline, but is there anything in particular on your slate that you really think people should look out for?

RL: Yeah, there’s a few. There’s “The Details,” the one I mentioned with Tobey Maguire. Laura Linney’s also in that. There’s one I did called “Cogan’s Trade,” with Brad Pitt, that’s really a nice movie. There’s another one…God, I can’t even remember them all. [Laughs.] Oh, yeah, I just finished one with Derek Cianfrance, the director who did “Blue Valentine.” It’s with Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling.

BE: “The Place Beyond the Pines”?

RL: Yeah, that’s it. So, yeah, all three of those are coming up, and they’re all really good.

BE: It definitely doesn’t sound like you’re resting on your laurels.

RL: Absolutely not. [Laughs.]