Ray Liotta is in a hotel room for the Many Saints of Newark press junket, but that’s not going to stop him from getting his workout in. Now in his 60s, its hard for the actor—who says he used to be “majorly addicted” to running—to hit it quite as hard as he used to. But he still makes sure to find time for crunches, push-ups, and whatever else makes logistic sense.
And he knows that the brain is a muscle that needs exercising and relaxing as well. Liotta’s been acting on your screens for over 40 years at this point—which means a lot of long days on set. So, you might wonder, what’s the secret to detoxing at the end of one of those?
“You scream at somebody and then you feel better,” he says, laughing. “No, sometimes television. Just watching Family Guy, or something silly, can get you out of it. Luckily, I’ve been leading a nice life, so not too much stress.”
Liotta’s latest role in The Many Saints of Newark, the highly-awaited prequel film to The Sopranos, is a role fans of the show should certainly recognize: ‘Hollywood Dick’ Moltisanti, the boss of the Moltisanti crime family (Moltisanti, by the way, is Italian for “Many Saints,” hence the title). He’s the paternal grandfather of Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli), one of The Sopranos’ most beloved and celebrated characters.
The Moltisanti Liotta portrays in the film is quite different from the one Sopranos fans got to know two decades ago; it’s easy to sense the other characters’ fear when Liotta’s physically imposing boss is on screen. Liotta worked out in the gym a bit in preparation for his Many Saints role, but nothing compared to years past, when he would wake up at 4 A.M. just to get a full hour of training in before a 7 A.M. call time. Now, he still makes sure to do something in the mornings, even if it’s just walking.
But Liotta always has a lot going on. So we picked his mind on everything you might want to know about The Many Saints of Newark, watching (or not watching) The Sopranos, and his underrated comedy chops.
Before we get into anything else, I want to ask you about a movie you were in that I think is very underrated, and that’s Observe and Report.
It’s got a very unique dark comedy tone.
Totally. I agree. I thought Seth [Rogen] and Michael Peña were great. Especially when Michael’s going through his drug phase. I don’t know what happened with that. I was surprised about it too. I mean, that’s back when Seth was kind of on fire. I don’t know—maybe it was too dark for some people.
I think I remember hearing something about how it came out too close to Paul Blart, even though you guys made it first?
Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Totally, and that was just goofy.
Yeah. Different vibe. Well, maybe it’ll eventually become a Big Lebowski-esque cult favorite.
Well, it hasn’t happened yet. And that was a while ago.
Anyway—when people hear “Ray Liotta in a mob movie,” I think they’re always naturally going to think of Goodfellas. How did working with David Chase on The Many Saints of Newark compare to working with Martin Scorsese?
It’s just apples and oranges. Both of them are intense personalities. There’s nothing more exhilarating than to be working with people who are all wound up about a make-believe situation. And that’s pretty much what we’re doing—we’re playing pretend. But it’s great how they go over the lines, and make sure it’s being told the way they said they wanted it to be told. It’s their ball and bat.
Two different movies, two different styles. One is a big-budgeted movie, and—well, this one I’m sure the budget was pretty good too. But just different strokes.
Were you a fan of The Sopranos when it was airing?
I did not watch it much, and I still haven’t, for no other reason than…I’d rather be up and doing something. I plan to. I definitely do. Because the few times that I did watch it, the first season, I was saying Whoa! This is special. This is different.
And it’s what drove me to… you know, they didn’t want to see me for this. I wasn’t someone they were thinking about. And I said “Well, I think I can do it. Let’s see if you can get me a meeting with David Chase.” And they were in New York. They had no plans to go to L.A., and my agent called up and asked “Would you meet with Ray for lunch?” And he said, “Yeah, I’ll meet with him, but just because he’s coming out here, there’s no guarantee that he’s gonna get anything.” And I said OK, I’m used to rejection. I flew myself out here to New York, and met them—met Alan [Taylor], the director, and David, and talked for a couple hours. By the end of the conversation, they asked if I would play that part. And I said “Yeah, that’s why I’m here.”
I don’t think you guys have any scenes together in the movie, but I’m curious if you had any interactions with Michael Gandolfini. I think his character in the movie is kind of similar to your role as Henry Hill in Goodfellas, as the person getting immersed in the world.
I never really worked on the days he was working, and I would love to sit down with him. I saw him the other day, and the premiere is tonight in New York. I would one day like to sit down and see what it was like to experience it. Not even just the role itself, but revisiting his dad. I find it interesting that he was able to have his cake and eat it too, so to speak.
You’ve worked with a lot of my favorite directors over the last few years, even before this, like Steven Soderbergh for No Sudden Move and Noah Baumbach for Marriage Story. And those are all distinct moods and genres.
Basically, I go by the story, and with what it is that they want me to do. I mean, that’s the biggest decision—is it something you want to take and live with for a while? I’ve definitely done a couple things just to work with these people as a director, because who knows whether it’s a big part or a little part—I don’t care about that. Just saying that I’ve worked with and watched some of these people who really know their stuff work.
We talked about Observe and Report before, but I do always love when you do comedy, like Hubie Halloween last year. Do you have fun doing those?
Totally. I’m much more goofy than you’d realize. Again, it’s the opportunity to do these different types of genres, with different people. Depending on the time of year, what’s going on in my life, or whatever—it sort of dictates what I take or don’t take.
What do you want to do next?
I definitely want to keep making movies, or a series on a streaming network. It just depends on the material. I don’t care if it’s TV, or if its the movies. You just want to tell stories that hopefully will move people.
IMDB tells me you are currently doing the Cocaine Bear movie.
What can you tell us about that one?
They don’t want me to say anything yet. But it’s about a bear who does cocaine.
This interview has been condensed for content and clarity.
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