Ray Liotta sat down for far-ranging interview about his move to TV with the series "Shades of Blue," why he hasn't been in a Martin Scorsese movie since "Goodfellas," and why he doesn't believe the Woody Allen sexual-misconduct allegations.
For nearly 40 years Ray Liotta has been a fixture in Hollywood. From his breakout role as psycho Ray Sinclair opposite Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels in the 1986 cult classic “Something Wild” (which earned him a Golden Globe nomination) to his legendary performance as mobster-turned-snitch Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas,” the actor has adapted to every sea change the industry has thrown at him.
In the current superhero trend that movie studios are obsessed with, Liotta has shifted to television where he’s found success opposite Jennifer Lopez in the NBC cop drama “Shades of Blue,” in which the two play dirty cops (the show’s third and final season premieres Sunday).
Business Insider sat down with Liotta at a quiet restaurant in lower Manhattan to talk about his shift to television; the one critique about working with Lopez; being disappointed he wasn’t asked to be in Scorsese’s next movie, “The Irishman”; and why he doesn’t believe the sexual-misconduct allegations against Woody Allen.
Jason Guerrasio: You have said the reason you've gotten into TV is to hopefully score better movie-role offers. "Shades of Blue" is going into its last season. Did it work? Getting better offers?
Ray Liotta: Yeah. But also there's definitely been a change, a shift, in what studios do. If you look at last year's Oscars they put up 10 movies for best picture. Some of those just didn't belong. They are stretching it.
Guerrasio: They're stretching it because they want to get some of those blockbusters consideration in a field that for decades has been arthouse-focused.
Liotta: Yeah. That's all it's become. It's about getting that $100 million or $150 million box office. It keeps going up and up, and that's all they shoot for. I think there's fatigue setting it. Look at the last one — "Solo." Even though it opened big they thought it was going to be bigger. I think people are just, like, Chill out for a minute.
Guerrasio: That being said, it seems for an actor there are a lot more opportunities on the TV and streaming side.
Liotta: Now, yes — no question about it. And it's not a sin to do it. Back when I started, like '77 or so, if you were doing a television show your career was over. Or you were like Karl Malden, a great actor in some of the best movies from "Street Car Named Desire" to —
Guerrasio: "On the Waterfront."
Liotta: He was great in that. But then there was a shift in the business, where this TV thing showed up and the movie roles dried up — especially as you get older. [Malden starred on the TV show “The Streets of San Francisco” and was nominated for an Emmy from 1974 to 1977.] It was smart for him because going to TV put a ton of money in his pocket.
Guerrasio: So you dig doing TV?
Liotta: Yeah. I'll miss doing "Shades," because it was just so full and rich. I don't mind doing TV at all.
Guerrasio: But how do you feel about the Marvel movies and "Star Wars" movies? Are those projects where if you were offered a role you'd be into it?
Liotta: I would explore it. I remember after my first movie, "Something Wild." I got a call; they wanted me to audition for "Batman." And I just said, "No, that's crazy." And that was the beginning of the comic-book craze.
Guerrasio: So you've been on a TV series with Jennifer Lopez for three seasons. What's it been like? What really surprised you in how she works?
Liotta: She had so many things on her plate so I was always impressed that she always knew her lines, and mine. I need a few days to let the lines sink in, I'm used to movies where you get a month or so. I love doing the homework because things get deeper and fuller. For this, you just have to commit. With Jennifer, at first it was a big question mark for me; they want to do this edgy thing, but she was really good. She had some really good scenes. As it wore on, I think she knew she was leaving, and I don't want to bash her, but her discipline got a little looser.
Guerrasio: You mean during this season? Because she knew the show was ending?
Liotta: Maybe, I don't know. I don't know what her motives were. But all in all I had a really good time working with her. It was fun doing scenes with her. My favorite scenes from the show are with her because they were real juicy. Because in the show she's like a daughter to me.
Guerrasio: When you see someone across from you, maybe not fully into the work, distracted, are you the kind of actor who's going to pull them aside and say something?
Liotta: No. No. No. She definitely was there with her lines and dedicated in terms of the work. Just every now and then she would come late, and if you come late it's a domino effect. NBC was really strict about a 14-hour workday. They cut if off at 14. So if you're at the end of the day you may only get one or two takes of a scene, so that wasn't exactly the teamwork that was needed.
Guerrasio: You've said in interviews that you didn't really figure out the Hollywood game until well after "Goodfellas." That's when you finally got yourself a publicist and started getting yourself out there more. What's different now for an actor compared to working back in the '70s and '80s?
Liotta: I don't know how to get started now. The actors who are doing the superhero movies are the ones getting the leads in independent movies. Maybe if you get into a horror movie it helps. But right now it's the superhero guys. But I'm just curious of the shelf life on that. They just beat those movies to death. And you can't blame the studios, because from their point of view they don't give a f--- if the movie is good or bad: They need to answer to their shareholders. So I understand what it is.
I didn't have a publicist up until "Goodfellas." I didn't know that was what you're supposed to do. Nobody was helping me. I had the agents, but back then I think I was with the wrong people at that time to get me to the next thing. Now people brand themselves. I just did a movie with Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, a Noah Baumbach movie. So here's the movie where they can use their acting chops. Adam is really a talented guy. He's doing it right, but he's f---ing lucky to go and play Darth Vader.
Guerrasio: Because now he can start calling his own shots.
Liotta: Right. You become the top guy on the list.
Guerrasio: You in a Baumbach movie. I like that.
Liotta: Yeah. I'm a lawyer in it. Adam's and Scarlett's characters are going through a divorce, he comes to me, and I'm a lawyer who explains all these ways we can get stuff out of her in the divorce, and he's, like "No, that's too aggressive." So he ends up going to court, and there he realizes that Scarlett has a lawyer who's really aggressive. So then he's, like, "Oh, s--t," and he comes back to me to represent him.
Guerrasio: So a dark comedy?
Liotta: I don't know if dark, but it's a slice of life.
Guerrasio: Are you a little bummed you're not in the Scorsese movie coming to Netflix, "The Irishman"?
Liotta: At first I was, definitely. I don't know. I guess I wasn't their cup of tea because I have never really done a movie for him since. No — there was something in "The Departed" that could have happened. But I had a movie I was already committed to so I couldn't get out of it.
Guerrasio: Who would you have played?
Liotta: Ah, it doesn't matter.
Guerrasio: Out of all the memorable actors who have worked with Scorsese you are one of the few who only worked with him once.
Liotta: The parts were just never right. I have seen every movie that he'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?
Guerrasio: "Hugo," who are you going to play in that?
Liotta: [Laughs] "Hugo." That's a good movie, shame nobody went to see that. That was a really good movie. Ben Kingsley was great. But I'll be interested to see "The Irishman."
Guerrasio: The whole de-aging thing.
Liotta: Yeah. It's really going into a new thing of aging these people back. Everybody in the movie is pretty much in their 70s, so once I saw that I was like, "Oh, of course I wouldn't be asked." He's going to work with Joe [Pesci], and Bob [De Niro], and Harvey [Keitel], and Al Pacino.
Guerrasio: "Goodfellas" showed up on Netflix not too long ago and it's crazy to think that a whole new generation is now being introduced to that movie. But also I have to think because of streaming more people are seeing your other movies like "Narc" and "Cop Land" more than ever before.
Liotta: Younger people like 14, 15-year-old kids come up to me and they will say that they saw a movie of mine. I'm very, very lucky that I had two movies that I think will live for a long time.
Guerrasio: Personally, I think more than two.
Liotta: Yeah, I wish more people saw "Narc.” And "Cop Land."
Guerrasio: Do you actively go out and try to get roles that are more fun and lighthearted or does it come down to what is offered you?
Liotta: Playing Frank Sinatra [in “The Rat Pack”] was a lot of fun. You're singing and dancing, that was a lot of fun. I did that in "Muppets Most Wanted," too. I mean, I've done it. They are there — "Heartbreakers" was like that, "Dominick and Eugene" was beautiful. But just for some reason, the bad guys just stand out in people's mind. And that's with any actor.
Guerrasio: Who is the director you would drop everything right now and go work with, that you have never worked with yet?
Liotta: Woody Allen, I would.
Guerrasio: Even despite the allegations against him?
Liotta: I believe what he says. I don't think he did what they accuse him of. He's too — for his particular case I don't buy it.