Speed Reads

at the movies

Ray Liotta explains what the real Henry Hill thought of Goodfellas

The Tribeca Film Festival ended by screening one of the defining films of its founder, Robert De Niro: Goodfellas, the classic gangster movie that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. In a post-screening Q&A moderated by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart, a panel of Goodfellas cast members — including De Niro, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, and Paul Sorvino, alongside writer Nicholas Pileggi, on whose novel the film was based — reflected on their memories from the film.

Liotta, who played real-life gangster Henry Hill in Goodfellas, explained what Hill thought of the completed film. "[Martin Scorsese] didn't want me to talk to him before [the movie]," explained Liotta. "So after the movie, I got a call to meet him at a bowling alley in the valley in California, with his brother. So I go to the bowling alley and there's Henry — I knew him from pictures. And the first thing he says to me was, 'Thanks for making me not look like a scumbag.' And I said, 'Did you see the movie?'"

The panel discussed the painstaking precision with which Goodfellas attempted to capture the real-life story; when a scene called for De Niro to use a bottle of ketchup, he asked the real Henry Hill how Jimmy Burke, on who his Jimmy "The Gent" Conway was based, used to hit a bottle of ketchup. "It's that little moment of insane authenticity that makes Marty's movies work," said Pileggi. "He just insists on it."

That same kind of obsessive work ethic continued even after Goodfellas was completed. "We went to the premiere at the Ziegfeld, and I was sitting next to [Scorsese]," said Pileggi. "At the start of the movie, I get this elbow. I look over, and he says, 'Oh, no. We should have cut that. You see that?' I said, 'Marty, buddy, you're in a tuxedo. It's the opening of the movie. We're in the Ziegfeld. Editing is over.' His mind, I think, is constantly thinking about improving it or changing it or altering it."