Ray Liotta, star of Goodfellas, is making a grand return to the Mafioso life with The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel to The Sopranos. True to life, he plays ageing mobster Aldo ‘Hollywood Dick’ Moltisanti in the drama movie.
A celebrated actor involved in some of the best movies of all time, Liotta turned down The Sopranos once upon a time. Now, some years later, he had to do some convincing to get a role in the film. Alas, all’s well that ends well, and David Chase, Lawrence Konner, and Alan Taylor’s cinematic take on the DiMeo crime family is all the richer for it.
In our brief chat with him, Liotta explains exactly why he wanted to be in this picture so badly, discussing his respect for David Chase, and where he stands on the Sopranos now. Born in Newark, he also tells us a little bit about what it was like to grow up at a point when racial segregation was still holding on, and some wanted to keep it that way.
The Digital Fix: I’ve read that you chased after David Chase for this part – what made you want to be a part of The Many Saints of Newark?
Ray Liotta: No pun intended – I did chase David Chase. I’d heard about it, and I wasn’t getting any offers or anything, and it’d been a while since I did Goodfellas. David Chase once came to where I was working, took a three-hour train ride to ask me to play a character in one of The Sopranos, and it just didn’t feel right for me. But the appreciation that I had that somebody as great as him, that he came to ask me if I want to do it, I was just really flattered.
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When this movie came about, I was not on the tip of anybody’s tongue about getting this. I talked to my agent, I live in LA, he said they’re only casting in New York, I said ‘I don’t care, I just want to sit in front of David Chase and Alan Taylor, the director, I’m just interested in doing it’. Only because, even though I didn’t watch the series, I saw enough of it to know ‘Whoa, this guy really knows what he’s talking about’ – that’s a rare bird in Hollywood, and it worked out.
The Sopranos was a monumental series. Has your opinion of it changed since not watching it when it aired?
I relate to it so much as anything, it was just working with David. I’ve handled my career sometimes a little too preciously, so if I played a bad guy, then I want to play a good guy, and then after a while, you just say ‘Whatever’s the best part’, you do two bad guys in a row, so be it’.
I really wanted to work with somebody as talented as David Chase and Alan Taylor, and I just went after it. I don’t know if I answered your question, but I got something off my chest.
Being from Newark, what do you remember about the 1967 riots and political strife in the city around that time?
I was born in Newark, I grew up maybe a half-hour from it, I remember being in junior high school and high school, and the racial tension. There was just a lot of it around, and there’d be fights, and at football games, there’d be one group on one side, and another group on another side.
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Silly crap that unfortunately still happens today. It’s crazy and it’s ridiculous that it hasn’t been learned and worked out already, but this is what happened, especially at that time.
The Many Saints of Newark is in theatres on September 22 in the UK, and October 1 in the US.