For nearly four decades, Ray Liotta played some of the most intimidating and wild roles in film. Growing up in a working class neighborhood in New Jersey, his background landed him parts in mob films and police dramas such as Goodfellas, Cop Land, Field of Dreams, and The Place Beyond the Pines. In a massive new oral history of the late actor’s life and work for Esquire, friends, family, and costars (like Sigourney Weaver! and Jennifer Lopez! and Andy Garcia!) shared stories about how they met the “naturally cool-ass fucking dude.”
Throughout that career, though, not everyone was immediately prepared for Liotta’s intensity on set. As Liotta’s long-time manager, Beth Holden-Garland, remembers, there was a time on the set of The Place Beyond the Pines when Liotta had to work a little tough love into the scene before getting started. Ray Liotta played a character named Detective Peter Deluca in the Derek Cianfrance-directed film, a “super scary, dirty, intimidating cop,” Holden-Garland recalled. There’s a scene in which he has to shake down Bradley Cooper’s character—and Cooper reportedly just “wasn’t getting there.”
“Derek pulled Ray aside and goes, ‘I want you to really fucking let loose on him now. Just say whatever you want to say to him,'” Liotta’s manager reveals. “Ray got in Bradley’s face and said, ‘You are the luckiest actor in this town. You suck, Hangover II sucked.’ He just ripped into him like nobody’s business. Then Derek was like, ‘Action!’ And then they got the scene.” Cooper took the teasing like a champ and Cianfrance ended up loving the fired-up take. “Those moments on set that were so emasculating and humiliating,” the director shares in the same oral history, “I can say they are some of the greatest moments in my life.”
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Josh Rosenberg is an entertainment writer living in Brooklyn, keeping a steady diet of one movie a day; his past work can be found at CBR, Spin, Insider, and on his personal blog at Roseandblog.com.