MOTW: Ray Liotta's Career Isn't All About Crime

Photo Credit: Anchor Bay Entertainment
April 11th, 2013

MOTW: Ray Liotta's Career Isn't All About Crime

Ray Liotta is probably best known for his portrayal of real-life mobster Harry Hill in the instant classic "Goodfellas" in 1990. He has been acting steadily in television and films since 1978, but he was still largely unknown to the public. "Goodfellas" changed all that and launched his career with fantastic performances in gritty dramas like "Cop Land" and "Narc." What some movie fans don't realize is that for every crime film like "Goodfellas," Liotta has done a comedy or drama where nobody is a mobster or dirty cop.

Liotta got his start in the last place one might suspect a future mob portrayer would start-on a network daytime soap opera. The year was 1978, and Liotta, then just twenty-four years old, was hungry for his first acting role after two years of nearly fruitless auditions. He landed the recurring part of Joey Perrini in "Another World." It wasn't the meatiest part in the world, but it got him enough screen time to get noticed by casting directors, who gave him small parts in a few made-for-TV movies. Flush with this initial television success, he was finally cast in his first feature film in a role opposite Pia Zadora in "The Lonely Lady." The part called for him to sexually assault Zadora in a graphic way, making the film controversial when it came out, though it eventually went on to become a cult classic in later years.

After "The Lonely Lady," Liotta continued to work steadily on television in such series as "Casablanca" and "Our Family Honor." He didn't get a role in another feature film until 1986, a full three years after his shocking feature film debut. This film was "Something Wild" starring Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels. He played the psychotic ex-husband of Griffith's character who chases her down to try and win her back as she falls in love with Daniels. The film was part comedy, part drama, which allowed Liotta to flex his acting muscles a bit and be equally funny and frightening in the same film.

A few years later in 1989, he played his most high-profile role to date, as legendary baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson in the Kevin Costner melodrama "Field of Dreams." The very next year was "Goodfellas," which, of course, changed his life and career forever. In the years just after "Goodfellas," he tried to take at least some roles where he wasn't playing a mobster, crooked cop, or sociopath. One such part that some fans forget about is his turn as a single father opposite Whoopi Goldberg in "Corrina, Corrina." In the film, he is a troubled but empathetic father trying to look out for his daughter, who is traumatized by the loss of her mother. He even gets to play piano and sing jingles, since his character is an ad executive who must come up with campaigns for various products. It shows a much more tender side of Liotta than had previously been seen.

He even took comedy roles, starring in "Operation Dumbo Drop" with comedian Denis Leary. He had a small part in one of the Muppets movies and even starred in the romantic comedy "Heartbreakers" with Jennifer Love Hewitt and Sigourney Weaver. Though his part was mostly played for laughs, he was still playing the owner of a chop shop who dealt with stolen car parts. Even in comedy, Liotta still managed to play a criminal. In fact, he seemed to embrace the fact that he was typecast in crime films, even providing the voice for the popular video game "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City." He also played a version of himself in the animated film "Bees," where he mocked the intense nature of the majority of his films.

Before "Bee Movie" in 2007, Liotta had been steadily doing one or two films each year. Suddenly, he began to work much more often, taking on several films and a television appearance or two for the next few years. In 2011, he starred in six feature films, which is a great number for most actors. In addition, he made one short film and two television appearances in the same year. Liotta was suddenly everywhere again, and he hasn't looked back since then. In 2013, he will tackle a whopping eleven feature films, including another Muppet movie. It seems like Liotta has experienced a second career surge as he nears sixty years of age. At a time when most actors are in the twilight of their careers, Liotta is red-hot again.