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The part of Henry Hill in Goodfellas is a leading role that needed a great performer. Director Martin Scorsese had a difficult task in finding the perfect actor to play this character. The director ended up going with Ray Liotta and it turned out to be a fantastic decision. Martin Scorsese explains that he knew Ray Liotta would be perfect for Goodfellas after a tense moment he shared with the actor. 

Ray Liotta played Henry Hill in ‘Goodfellas’

Goodfellas director Martin Scorsese and actors Lorraine Bracco and Ray Liotta attend Vanity Fair and Richard Mille celebration of Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese, Lorraine Bracco, and Ray Liotta | Charley Gallay/Getty Images for VF

Ray Liotta had a long career in Hollywood, but he is best known for his performance as Henry Hill in Scorsese’s Goodfellas. Based on a true story, Hill is an outsider to the world of gangsters, who ends up becoming heavily involved in the organization after realizing it was his dream. The film follows the dangerous criminal activity that Hill is involved in while also showing the familial connections that he makes within the mob. 

While Ray Liotta is marvelous in Goodfellas, he surprisingly did not get nominated for an Academy Award for his performance. Neither did co-star Robert De Niro. However, his co-stars Lorraine Bracco and Joe Pesci did receive nominations for their supporting roles with Pesci winning for his performance as Tommy DeVito

Martin Scorsese shares the moment when he knew Ray Liotta was perfect for ‘Goodfellas’

Liotta died on May 26, 2022. On June 6, Scorsese published an op-ed in The Guardian where he talked about his experience working with the late actor on Goodfellas. In the article, Scorsese discussed how he was looking for someone for Hill that was “dangerous,” “disarming,” and “vulnerable.” He needed to be someone who was threatening, while still likable to an audience. 

Scorsese recalled a tense moment with Ray Liotta that led him to believe that he would be perfect for the lead role in Goodfellas

“When The Last Temptation of Christ had its world premiere at the Venice film festival, I was crossing the lobby of the Excelsior hotel on my way to an interview,” Scorsese wrote. “Ray and I saw each other from across the lobby, and he headed toward me to say hello and check in with me. He came near and then he hit a wall of security. Instead of throwing a fit and demanding 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 signalled that we would talk, and he walked away. I watched it all very closely, and I saw him handle the situation with quiet authority and a real elegance. Actually, that was just what the role needed. When I look back on it, I believe that was the moment when I knew I wanted Ray to play Henry Hill.”

Scorsese regrets not working with Liotta again


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Scorsese often likes to work with familiar faces multiple times, such as De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately, the director and Ray Liotta never collaborated again after Goodfellas. In his op-ed, Scorsese says that he regrets never getting the chance to work with Liotta again, despite trying to make it happen. 

“We had many plans to work together again but the timing was always off, or the project wasn’t quite right. I regret that now,” Scorsese said. “When I watched Ray as the divorce lawyer in Marriage Story – he’s genuinely scary in the role, which is precisely why he’s so funny – I remember feeling that I wanted to work with him again at this point in his life, to explore the gravity in his presence, so different from the young, sprightly actor he was when I met him.”

“I wish I’d had the chance to see him just once more, too – to tell him just how much the work we did together meant to me. But maybe he knew that. I hope so.”

Goodfellas is streaming on HBO Max.