Ray Liotta explains what the real Henry Hill thought of Goodfellas

Ray Liotta
(Image credit: Grant Lamos IV/Getty Images)

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."

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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."

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