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Goodfellas’ most famous scene wasn’t in the script

Martin Scorsese recently described how Joe Pesci's standout scene in Goodfellas wasn't in the script, but was based on a real conversation of Pesci's.


Goodfellas is now rightly heralded as one of the best movies of all time. The screenplay was co-written by Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, and adapted from Pileggi’s non-fiction book Wiseguy, about real life gangster Henry Hill. Scorsese came under some pressure while making Goodfellas, as he ran over by schedule by 15 days.

In a recent interview with Deadline about his upcoming movie Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese explained how the “Funny, how?” scene was born, in which Joe Pesci’s Tommy DeVito ramps up the tension by bullying Ray Liotta’s Henry. It’s a scene that would slot right into teen movie Mean Girls seamlessly, just with the added threat of violence and murder underpinning everything.

Scorsese explained the making of the crime thriller movie; “In terms of Goodfellas, it was visceral but it was there on the page, with Nick Pileggi and I, and then it was a matter of pushing, pushing, pushing. It was also designed on the page. Some things were spontaneous. Like, Joe Pesci would come in and say, ‘I wanna do this scene…’ With that whole movie, we were like, ‘Just do it.’ We did it in rehearsal, rewrote it from rehearsal.”

Scorsese continued; “He [Pesci] said, ‘something happened to me.’ We were in a restaurant. I said, ‘tell me.’ He goes, ‘I can’t tell you here.’ I said, well, let’s go to my place. So we did. He says, ‘I’m gonna act it out.’ And he did it.”

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Scorsese concluded; “I said, ‘I know just where to put it.’ It’s not even in the script. I didn’t write it in. Said, we’re gonna squeeze it in on one day shooting. And Mark Canton had a couple of the other guys from Warner Brothers with him that day, and we hear laughter off camera. It was them.” Never has a seen been so funny and so terrifying at the same time.

Check out our guide to the best drama movies and the best movies of all time.