Iconic scenes for actors can define them to fans and the industry as a whole, opening the door to fans shouting the lines as the actor on the street or to new opportunities as jobs open up. Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) was on The Rich Eisen Show this past Friday (September 17), where he gave all sorts of insights into the classic movie, one of which involved a famous scene with Joe Pesci (The Irishman).
The scene in question is best known for being the “how am I funny?” scene. Tommy DeVito, played by Joe Pesci, tells a story to his gangster pals. Afterward, Ray Liotta’s characters tell him how funny the story was, but it incites an angry yet hilariously memorable tirade from Pesci. He did not mean to be funny, yet that was how he was taken. Later he reveals that he was pulling Henry’s leg, and things go back to being lighthearted. It turns out the rant was entirely improvised.
The truth behind it was that this happened to Joe Pesci, including the gangster part. He told his co-star and director Martin Scorsese (The Irishman) the story about how he was a waiter when he was young, and he thought he complimented a mobster about being funny. The criminal did not find that to be much of a compliment, and he received a similar reaction as we see in the iconic Goodfellas scene.
The filmmaker did not write in the story. Instead, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta rehearsed the back and forth between themselves but left their co-stars out of it to give a genuine surprise to everyone involved. That knowledge now makes one of the film’s best scenes into something better as we know the other actors were as surprised as anyone watching for the first time.
While going off scripts can be dangerous, it worked out for Joe Pesci. He was able to deliver something that gave audiences a deeper look into the head of his character Tommy DeVito as an impulsive, explosive man. You may compliment him for a story you found funny, and he might burst. Or he is messing with you to ignite a reaction. You never know, and this moment sets the foundation of who he is as a character.
Goodfellas has plenty of memorable scenes that make it the classic it is, and that is partially due to the immense amount of talent behind it. Martin Scorsese directed and wrote it based on the book called Wiseguy by author Nicholas Pileggi, who also wrote the screenplay with the legendary filmmaker. Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta were met by co-stars Robert De Niro (Joker) and Lorraine Bracco (Rizzoli & Isles).
The scene might have helped Joe Pesci win his Oscar for his supporting role in the mobster flick. While it was the only win at the Academy Awards for Goodfellas, it has quite a few major nominations. Martin Scorsese was nominated for his directing, Lorraine Bracco was nominated for her supporting role, the editing was nominated, the screenplay was nominated, and it was on the board for the big one, Best Picture.