‘Goodfellas’: The ‘$20,000 Mistake’ an Actor Made During 1 of Martin Scorsese’s Great Shots
When Goodfellas (1990) first hit theaters, critics praised it from every angle. Gene Siskel, the hard-to-please half of Siskel & Ebert, pointed to the stellar work of the cast (and the work of Joe Pesci in particular). But Siskel raved about the work of director Martin Scorsese most of all.
“Scorsese is in top form, with an energetic camera that darts, strolls and struts around rooms,” Siskel wrote in his brief Chicago Tribune review. Three decades later, audiences still look at Goodfellas in the same way.
On the one hand, the performances are unforgettable; but so is Scorsese’s self-conscious directing style. It’s the rare example of a wildly popular film that gets people who’d never go near a film class discussing camera angles and other visual quirks.
It’s not just the Copa and let’s-introduce-the-mooks scenes, either. After the Lufthansa heist, with the crew celebrating Christmas, Scorsese hops behind the bar for a long tracking shot that brings in extras, stars, and everyone in between. And one actor’s gaffe made the shot $20,000 more expensive.
A mistake by Illeana Douglas forced an expensive do-over of the Christmas scene in ‘Goodfellas’
Viewers first see Illeana Douglas, who plays Rosie, during the gathering of mafia wives in Goodfellas. (She’s the one who describes Miami as “Jew heaven.”) Later on in the picture, you see her again as the girlfriend of Tommy DeVito (Pesci).
Both actors play a significant role in the long shot that starts with Stacks Edwards (Samuel L. Jackson) pouring drinks. By the end of the shot, Scorsese’s taken you to the other end of the bar, where Morrie (Chuck Low) harasses the gangsters about his share of the Lufthansa heist.
In between, we see Douglas tell the woman next to her at the bar, “If I even look at anyone else, [Tommy] will kill me.” The shot obviously involved a lot of moving parts. In her 2015 memoir I Blame Dennis Hopper, Douglas recalled how the cast rehearsed the shot all day.
All the while, she was telling herself, “Don’t screw this shot up. Don’t do anything phony.” But when the camera got to her, Douglas didn’t follow her own advice. Instead of just saying the line, she punctuated it by downing the rest of her drink. Scorsese immediately yelled “Cut!”
Martin Scorsese later told Douglas the mistake cost $20,000
Douglas, then getting her start as an actor, felt mortified at her flub. And she dreaded the prospect of everyone (including Robert De Niro) looking at her as the reason for the do-over. But Scorsese played it as smooth as possible to deflect blame from Douglas. He called it a technical problem.
Later, Scorsese told Douglas (with whom the director was in a relationship) that her blunder was a pricey one. “$20,000 mistake, Marty later told me,” Douglas wrote in her memoir. “He never let anyone know but me, but he cared enough that he wanted every actor in the frame to be perfect.”
Douglas got it right the next time (and several times after that), and she used it as a lesson in what became a very successful acting career (one which is still going). “People always ask me, ‘What did you learn from Marty?'” Douglas wrote. “That was one. Sensitivity.”