No major American actor of recent memory has more of an
up-and-down careerthan 41-year old Ray Liotta. Now enjoying
critical acclaim and renewed success in the low-budget thriller
Cop Land, opposite Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel and Robert
DeNiro, Liotta agrees that perhaps some of his recent choices
were not the stuff of Hollywood stardom. "I think for a
while there I just wanted to experiment and try different things,
and was lucky enough to do so. But having said that, I don't
think that was necessarily the best career move, to go do 'Dumbo
Drop', followed by 'No Escape' and 'Turbulence'."
"I rolled the dice on
that one and lost," on Turbulence
It was the latter that was particularly disastrous, a silly
over-the-top thriller set on a plane, in which Liotta, again,
played a psycho. "I rolled the dice on that one and lost,
but it did better for me internationally and on video. That whole
experience DID make me realise you have to stick to what got you
there, what you like, what your sensibilities are, instead of
trying to chase the audience and force yourself down a real
commercial road." Liotta admits that the film business is
all about perception, and it takes one film to change the
perceptions of those that matter: audiences and Hollywood
producers. With the acclaim he has received since the release of
the new thriller Cop Land, those perceptions could well be
changing. "That film has definitely raised an awareness and
brought me back to people's minds again. The trouble is, even
though you get more scripts, you also get more BAD scripts, so
the choices become a lot harder."
Cop Land is a thriller that delves into the lives of a group
of cops who live in a small community outside of New York, called
Garrison, in New Jersey. Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) has
been the sheriff of Garrison for the past ten years, and he's
always admired the men in blue, although he could never become
one. After saving the life of Liz Randone (Annabella Sciorra)
many years ago when her car plunged into a river, Freddy went
deaf in one ear and never could qualify for the force. The many
cops who know him, including senior cop Ray Donlan (Harvey
Keitel), are friendly, but see him as a lower class officer.
Nonetheless, everything seems fine until a young officer, Murray
Babitch (Michael Rapaport), takes a leap into the Hudson River
after shooting two unarmed motorists. Everyone thinks Murray is
dead, but in reality Donlan, his uncle, has him hidden away.
Internal affairs agent Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro), who's been
investigating Donlan and others, knows something's up. So he goes
to Freddy looking for answers and asks him to watch Donlan. Of
course he could just ask Gary Figgis (Liotta), an officer who
still blames Donlan for the death of his partner who was set to
expose the corruption in the department. As Freddy starts to
question his friendship with the allegedly crooked cops, Donlan
knows he must come up with a body from the bridge jump or their
whole corrupt world might unravel. Thus he, and his fellow set
out to kill Murray who comes to Freddy for help. From then on,
the sheriff must figure out the right course to take in his ever
increasingly dangerous world, while Figgis also starts to
question his whole reason for being a cop.
"I have a theatre
background, so I like to do everything, and make it one long,
continuous scene that plays."
Rather than being another star vehicle for Stallone, Cop Land
turned out to feature an impressive ensemble cast, with each
actor, Liotta included, contributing something unique to the film
as a whole. One would have thought such an experience would have
been a great way to hone one's craft, observing all these actors.
Not so, says Liotta. "On a film like this, you don't really
have much of an opportunity to see other actors prepare, and
during rehearsals, I only really got to work with Stallone. I'd
worked with DeNiro before [on Good Fellas] and it's not as
thrilling as one might think. I mean, they all know what the
camera does, what the editor does, so they don't worry as much. I
like to do it all in the one take. I have a theatre background,
so I like to do everything, and make it one long, continuous
scene that plays."
Liotta has played numerous edgy characters in his career, but
he says this newest character from Cop Land has a different
degree of edginess from the characters that came before.
"This edginess is coming out of confusion. This was a good
cop who started doing some bad things that he's not too proud of,
and is now full of guilt. Finally he gets a chance to redeem
himself and takes the opportunity to do it. This was a guy with a
lot of gray, he wasn't as black and white as some of the
characters I'd played before." But when Liotta first read
Cop Land, it was the character of Freddy, subsequently played by
Stallone, that Liotta pushed to try and play. "Trying to get
out of the whole Turbulence thing, the role of Freddy, and this
movie in general, was back to where I wanted to return.
"This was not your
typical Hollywood fare." on Copland
"It was a character-driven piece which reminded me of the
kinds of cop movies they used to make in the seventies, which is
the period that I first became aware of, in terms of movies. This
was not your typical Hollywood fare." Then Liotta is not
your typical movie star. Raised in New Jersey, he attended
college at the University of Miami, then moved to New York City
and began pounding the pavement looking for work as an actor.
Within six months, he began landing roles in commercials and soon
cracked the television nut. He got the part of Joey Perini on the
TV soap opera Another World and stayed with the show for over two
Following a couple of failed prime-time shows (including one
based on the Humphrey Bogart movie Casablanca), Liotta finally
hit the acting jackpot. His friend Melanie Griffith help him land
a part playing her dangerous ex-husband in Jonathan Demme's 1986
comedy-drama Something Wild. While not the starring role,
Liotta's part dominated the second half of the film, and his
performance as the psychotic character was tremendously
frightening for audiences.
Liotta chose not to continue his career in the psycho/villain
vein. Instead, he opted for Dominic and Eugene(1988), in which he
played a medical student whose brother had mental problems, then
Field of Dreams (1989) as the spirit of baseball great
"Shoeless" Joe Jackson. But the true star-making part
for Liotta came next, when Martin Scorsese cast him as Henry
Hill, the lead character in GoodFellas (1990).
It was a plum
assignment-not only was it the main character, but it was a
Scorsese film after all, and Liotta would be acting alongside
Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, and Paul Sorvino.
Liotta shined in the part. His charm, penetrating eyes, and
ability to work equally well both as rational and manic helped to
make GoodFellas one of the most unforgettable films of 1990.
"This is what I love
Throughout the nineties Liotta took on many contrasting rolls.
The semi-successful Unlawful Entry (1992) saw the actor in the
familiar psychotic role which he played incredibly well. This
bought him the leading role in No Escape (1994), a futuristic
film set on a prison colony in a remote island, and shot in
Queensland, Australia. Liotta's next four films had mixed success
at the box office: Corrina, Corrina (1992), Operation Dumbo Drop
(1995), Unforgettable (1995), and of course the regrettable
Turbulence (1997). On a higher note, however, a month after
Turbulence premiered in the US, Liotta went to Thailand where he
tied the knot with his long time girlfriend, Michelle, an
With the success of Cop Land, Liotta's career is back in high
gear. He recently finished filming Phoenix, another police drama,
which Liotta is excited about, and he's about to start shooting a
new film about the infamous rat pack, in which Liotta will get to
portray Frank Sinatra, no less. It seems that Liotta's juices are
being refuelled, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
"This is what I love to do. It's fun for me, though I still
feel that even at this point, I haven't even hit my stride yet.
But I still have the passion to keep on doing it."