Ray Liotta
Jersey’s tough guy hits TV
By Kate Morgan

Not many people know Ray Liotta grew up in New Jersey, the son of adoptive parents. What they do know – or at least what they remember – is Liotta’s superstar roles as the rough-hewn kid from the school of hard knocks who ends up a violent gangster or cop-turned-bad. Decades ago, Liotta’s fame was off the charts. After all, it was the young actor who said the “Field of Dreams” line that’s been repeated a million times: “If you build it, he will come.”

But times change. And actors often stop getting great roles. That happened to Liotta, and soon he was an actor few people knew. Until, of course, he found TV. Or maybe, TV found him.

“You know, I started out really hot out of the box. Then I definitely had an up-and-down career. And when things started cooling off again, it frustrated me,” says Liotta, 62.

In a move that surprised many, Liotta accepted a role in NBC’s “Shades of Blue” last year, starring opposite Jennifer Lopez. He hopes the new gig can jettison him back to Hollywood superstardom.

“TV has changed,” he says. “Cable started having these really good shows, and really great writers and directors were going there so they could tell fuller, longer stories. Now it’s these 13-episode shows, and people seem to be getting hooked on them.”

“I’ve been lucky enough to work in this business for years. But I wasn’t getting the exact kind of parts I wanted, so I was just watching what was going on. Usually, it wasn’t about if I had the ability to do it. It was more about: did I have enough oomph behind me to put butts in the seats or eyes on the tube? There were a lot of people getting movies who were coming out of television. That seemed to be the way things started to be going.”

Liotta plays crooked New York City cop Matt Wozniak, who takes bribes, plants evidence and strikes up bargains with drug dealers. Wozniak is also bisexual, and Liotta had his first on-air kiss with another man in the last season.

“It was very new for me,” he says. “I learned a couple things: If you’re going to kiss someone, shave, because stubble hurts. And cigarette breath? Forget about it.”

Liotta says the toughest scene he’s filmed so far has been his character’s suicide attempt, where Wozniak stands in front of a bus coming right at him.

“They kind of messed up the cues and speed, so I went out and stood in front of the bus, but it kept coming, and it was coming really fast. And I’m saying, ‘I don’t want to ruin the shot, but I don’t want to die.’ Luckily the guy driving the bus was a stunt guy and it stopped – but it was really close.”

Liotta’s long-running career has included lots of risky scenes, many portraying mob violence. One of his best-known roles was a real-life mobster in Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas.”


Click Here for 8 Times Ray Liotta Proved He’s a Badass


“Henry Hill, the part I played – it wasn’t that violent,” Liotta said in a WHYY interview with Terry Gross. “Everybody else was kind of crazy around him.”

“The first thing I ever did was a soap opera. And I played the nicest character in the world, Joey Parini,” Liotta added. “I got it about six months out of college. I did it for three years, and then I came to LA. For five years, nothing happened. And then the first thing I got was ‘Something Wild.’ So that kind of put me on the map. That was kind of a crazed character.”

Liotta earned a Golden Globe nomination for his 1986 breakout role in “Something Wild,” where he played a violent ex-lover. But he’s quick to note that not all his roles have been dark characters.

“I’m not always the bad guy or the villain. A couple of years ago, I did a movie with the Muppets,” Liotta laughs, referring to his role in 2014’s “Muppets Most Wanted.” “I love doing different things.”

More recently, he appeared on Tina Fey’s original Netflix series “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” as a high-strung gas station attendant named Paulie. Liotta’s comedic chops shined through, with just a hint of the wise-guy New Yorker attitude that’s made him an icon.

He also played himself on an episode of the Disney Channel cartoon “Phineas & Ferb,” and he guest-starred on an episode of “Modern Family,” where he was the butt of a joke: the teenage stars of the show had no idea who the movie star was. (At one point, Liotta appears in front of an LA house holding a garden hose. One of the adults recognizes him, saying, “You’re Ray Liotta!” and one of the teens says in confusion, “He knows the gardener’s name?”)

Liotta’s role as an LA homeowner in “Modern Family” isn’t far from the truth. The actor moved to LA after a short stint in New York when he was fresh out of college. He divorced his wife, actress Michelle Grace, in 2004. And the two have an 18-year-old daughter, Karsen, who is starting her career as an actress/model.

But no matter how far from Jersey Liotta has moved, friends who know him say he always remembers his roots. During his induction into the New Jersey Hall of Fame earlier this year, Liotta was introduced by his childhood friend Gene Laguna, and he noted the number of other friends from kindergarten in attendance at the Asbury Park ceremony.

“With the life he’s made for himself out in California, Ray has never neglected his Jersey roots,” Laguna says. “How can he? It’s in our blood. Even to this day, when he comes home he’s never forgotten there’s nothing better than a hot dog from [Union eatery] Peterson’s and the smell of that cool ocean breeze down the Shore. He’s a Jersey guy, alright.”

It seems Liotta agrees with that statement. When asked about the important things in life, his list, he says, is as follows:

“New Jersey, family and Taylor ham.”

August 2017
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