Ray Liotta landed Goodfellas because of a run-in with Venice Film Festival security

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In September 1988, Martin Scorsese presented his excellent and highly controversial film “The Last Temptation of Christ” at the Venice Film Festival. Among the participants that year was Ray Liotta. He didn’t have a movie at the festival, so he was there, I guess, to have a good time and see movies. On a fateful day at the Hotel Excelsior, the two paths crossed and Liotta was eager to meet the manager. However, Scorsese’s security details were not in on this idea. As Scorsese writes:

“Ray and I saw each other across the hall, and he walked over to say hello and check in with me. He walked over, and then he hit a security wall. Instead to throw a tantrum and demand that he be allowed through,” he reacted quietly and calmly, observed the rules, and patiently defused the situation. He looked at me, I looked at him, and we gestured we were going to talk, and he walked away. I watched everything very closely, and saw him handle the situation with quiet authority and real elegance. In fact, it was exactly what the role needed. Looking back, I think that’s when I knew I wanted Ray to play Henry Hill.

I love stories like this where a director sees someone in the world and instantly knows “She’s my star”, like Andrea Arnold seeing Sasha Lane on the beach and putting her in “American Honey”. Only Ray Liotta could play Henry Hill, based on vibes alone. Authority and elegance are key to this character, and seeing them stripped away makes her downfall all the more tragic. If Liotta was arrogant, Scorsese wouldn’t have seen Henry Hill. Instead, he saw pure gold.

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