Ray Liotta Was Cast In His Best Movie Because He Got In Trouble With Security

Ray Liotta was cast in Goodfellas after Martin Scorsese saw how the actor handled a tense encounter with the director's security team.

By Robert Scucci | Updated

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in Goodfellas

Great directors know that forcing a role can sometimes lead to controversy, but sometimes, luck, coincidence, and serendipity work together in tandem, and everything falls into place almost effortlessly. This was exactly the case when Martin Scorsese cast Ray Liotta for his most iconic role as gangster Henry Hill in Goodfellas. A recent Variety article states that Scorsese made the final casting decision while the Gangs of New York director was staying at the Excelsior Hotel, and it was an unexpected run that Liotta had with his security entourage that sealed the deal.

Scorsese recounts his decision to cast Ray Liotta in Goodfellas based on this incident, stating, “He had to look like he could have come out of that world, he had to have a certain innocence, he had to have authority, but most of all he needed charm as a counterweight to the violence and the horrifying behavior.” Scorsese goes on to say that when Liotta was stopped by his security “he allowed them to observe their protocols and he defused the situation.”

The situation could have been handled differently by Ray Liotta, but Scorsese thought it was his quiet and confident charm that would be perfect for harnessing in Goodfellas. It’s not every day that somebody gets flanked by security while trying to network, but tensions were running high behind the scenes because of the death threats Scorsese had been receiving for his hand in directing The Last Temptation of Christ, which sparked controversy at the time of its release. It was Liotta’s ability to be agreeable with security and the grace with which he handled the situation that would work perfectly in portraying Henry Hill.

As we all know, the rest was history; Ray Liotta’s contribution to Goodfellas is nothing short of iconic and considered by many to be his best work. As we celebrate his posthumous Walk of Fame ceremony, we reflect on Liotta’s life and career. It’s a bittersweet moment of celebration and mourning, as the final film Liotta was working on, Cocaine Bear, premiered on February 24, the same day as his Walk of Fame Ceremony.

Ray Liotta in Goodfellas

So what is Ray Liotta’s legacy, and does it end with Goodfellas? The truth is, his career started its consistent upward trajectory when he earned a Golden Globe Award nomination for Something Wild, and received critical acclaim while working alongside Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, which is what put him on Scorsese’s radar. Since Goodfellas, Liotta antagonized Tim Allen in the feature film Wild Hogs, voiced Moe’s father in season 29 of The Simpsons, and played an eccentric yet sympathetic gas station clerk in an episode of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

While Ray Liotta is most known for his iconic role in Goodfellas, it’s worth mentioning that the star had range, and a lot of his charm comes from who he was as a person. It was a brief run-in with Scorsese that could have gone south rather quickly, but Liotta’s ability to read the room and adjust accordingly made him the right guy for the job. After all, Henry Hill does some pretty unforgivable things as a gangster, but he stays in our good graces with his charm, wit, and willingness to cooperate both on and off-set.

Ray Liotta’ may have had his breakout role as Henry Hill in Goodfellas, but his legacy continues after passing away in May 2022 with the posthumous release of his final project, Cocaine Bear. It’s never easy to mourn the loss of such a silver-screen titan, but we can easily celebrate Liotta’s long and decorated career and give his 40-year run a second look. We promise you you’re gonna like the guy. He’s all right. He’s a good fella.