Looking a little tired but still eager to chat, Ray Liotta sat down with us recently at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City to talk about co-starring in The Iceman, his new movie centered around notorious contract killer Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon).
Liotta also spoke about being typecast as a gangster and the sad fact that he really doesn’t have a favorite Muppet. Read on!
Dread Central: So, Ray, what drew you to this role? What did you like about the film?
Ray Liotta: They offered it to me; I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it. [Director] Ariel [Vromen] really hadn’t done anything, but there was something that intrigued me. Michael Shannon was already cast and I didn’t really know his work that well. So I looked at some of his stuff and then met with Ariel and I liked him so I said all right. It’s as simple as that.
DC: Being from Jersey, did you know about Kuklinski growing up?
RL: No, not at all. I had seen the HBO documentary about him, but no, I didn’t know anything about him at all. And I was intrigued when I saw the documentary; I said this is really an interesting character. He looks like he wants to smile and laugh, but he won’t let himself. It looks like he’s getting emotional and then he wouldn’t let that go. There was just something very guarded about him.
DC: But at the same time he doesn’t seem as cold-blooded as some regular mobsters who will…
RL: No, there was something about him though; I could see why he did what he did. He just seemed to be unfeeling and every time he did feel something he would stifle it. I haven’t been around people like that. There’s a few I have known that have done things like people who were in Vietnam and what they did. And there’s a certain thing that they have. Plus, when you’re looking at someone who actually did those things, you look at it different.
DC: Did you do any research on The Iceman besides the documentary, and when you saw the finished product, did you feel like Michael really embodied him?
RL: Oh yeah, I told Michael I thought he was great in this. I really did.
DC: What surprised you the most about the character?
RL: I don’t know; I knew what was happening so nothing surprised me. You know, knowing the script and everything. And you realize that was just his job, that’s what he did. He wasn’t a serial murderer; he was a hitman, and there’s a big difference. But nothing really surprised me so much. Well, I was surprised how well the movie turned out; I was pleasantly surprised. That’s what you want but you never know what’s gonna happen, and Ariel, I thought he did a great job with this and I thought everybody in it is really good.
DC: About [Kuklinski’s] wife, after knowing what you know about her and her involvement, did it surprise you that she came out saying she didn’t know anything about her husband?
RL: No, I could see how you could…especially with someone like that, I don’t think she knew a lot about him. He was a closed-up individual so I’m not sure he was too demonstrative in any area except maybe for his kids, and I’m sure that was in a particular way. He didn’t come home with blood on him, ya know; he was pretty smart about how he did it. People are capable of that. I’m sure there are people having affairs on their wives that they’ll never find out about. They’re just super paranoid about being discovered. So there’s a lot of secrets out there that we don’t know about people that we think we know.
DC: Do you have any secrets you want to share with us?
RL: No. No, I have no secrets.
DC: So, if someone were to ask you why they should see a film about a hitman, what would your answer be?
RL: It’s just a good story. If you don’t want to see a movie about a hitman, then don’t; it’s all what your preferences are. But at the end of the day this is a really, really good movie and there’s not a lot of them that are around about subjects like this. And I thought the way Ariel did it is really compelling to find out and learn. People are fascinated by worlds that they’re not involved in. I am; I like watching things that I know nothing about. You just want people to get their money’s worth, and if this is your cup of tea… I think it might surprise people because you do start to like the guy even though he’s doing all this stuff.
DC: Do you find it more challenging playing a character that’s actually based off someone in real life? Is it harder to play a character that’s fiction or non-fiction because Roy Demeo was a real person?
RL: Yeah, but nobody knew him. I mean, I played Sinatra and that was kind of challenging. When you’re playing someone that everyone knows, that’s more difficult but this character nobody really knew.
DC: Are you a Winona Ryder fan? What’s your favorite film of hers?
RL: Oh, I don’t know. Beetlejuice. I really, really like Beetlejuice.
DC: What do you have coming up next?
RL: I just did a movie with The Muppets. I did something in Sin City. I’ve got this movie where I play a preacher called The Identical. So, a few things.
DC: Is there any type of role you genuinely like to play more than another?
RL: No, ya know, I’ve played some romantic [parts], someone who gets the girl without having to choke them once in a while; I wouldn’t mind doing that more. More of a family drama about a relationship. But I don’t have a favorite; you try and do as many things as you can.
DC: What did you think of Chris Evans’ performance because he played a killer that was almost likable onscreen that you didn’t mind seeing in a way. How was that different from Michael’s character?
RC: Well, the thing is, every character in this movie you could make a movie about, but it just so happens to be about Michael Shannon’s experience and his wife and his family. So you would find out things for two hours, like Roy Demeo is a fascinating character, but it’s not about Roy Demeo. Chris Evans, if they got to his back story, he was married and had a family, but it just so happens that this is about Kuklinski.
DC: You’ve, of course, played in one of the most definitive gangster movies of all time, Goodfellas. Does that make it harder for you to play another gangster, like do directors tend to think if I cast Ray Liotta, people might think of that movie too much?
RL: Hmmm… not now; I mean, it’s over twenty-five years ago, and this is the only gangster I’ve played since then. Henry [Hill] wasn’t even really a gangster; he was just in that world. He wasn’t one of them like Roy Demeo was- he was a made guy. No, I mean, in the beginning of my career I didn’t want to do anything. I got offers for those kinds of characters, and I consciously stayed away from it. But to wait for a good story and a character that’s different takes up a lot of time. So, no, I’ve not gotten roles because of… there was a movie that I could’ve done that would’ve been nice to do, but they didn’t cast me because of how they felt people associate me because of that.
DC: Who’s your favorite Muppet and why?
RL: Umm…I don’t have one.
DC: What did you do in the movie though? Were you with them?
RL: With The Muppets? We sing and dance. Me and Danny Trejo are in prison with a bunch of other… Kermit’s there and they had scattered out other Muppets; I don’t even know what their names were. Kermit gets thrown into jail because they think he’s somebody he’s not. And [someone] identical to him, this guy Constantine, is going out and doing bad things. So we’re just singing and dancing. Tina Fey plays the warden. Ricky Gervais is… somebody in it. It was fun. It was all singing and dancing.
The Iceman is playing now in select theatres.
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The Iceman is the true story of Richard Kuklinski: loving husband, devoted father, ruthless killer. He is believed to have killed more than 250 people between 1954 and 1985.
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