In the crime drama The Son of No One, written and directed by Dito Montiel (Fighting) actor Ray Liotta plays Captain Mathers, the man about to replace Charles Stanford (Al Pacino) as Deputy Commissioner. When a dark secret threatens to be made public, both men become concerned that rumors will start about corruption in the police department, and they decide to put a stop to that.
To promote the film, Ray Liotta spoke to Collider for this exclusive phone interview about how he wanted to get involved with this film because he liked the story and was surprised by the end, not judging the characters that you play, that he had always wanted to work with Al Pacino, and how it’s the story and director that attract him to projects these days. He also talked about his upcoming roles in The Place Beyond the Pines, with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, and Cogan’s Trade, with Brad Pitt. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Here’s the film’s synopsis:
In the police thriller The Son of No One, Jonathan (Channing Tatum) is a second-generation cop who gets in over his head when he’s assigned to re-open a double homicide cold case in his Queens neighborhood. An anonymous source feeding new information on the long-unsolved murders to a local reporter (Juliette Binoche) leads to evidence suggesting a possible cover-up by the former lead detective (Al Pacino), who was on the investigation. As Jonathan digs deeper into the assignment, a dark secret about the case emerges, which threatens to destroy his life and his family.
Question: How did this role come about for you?
RAY LIOTTA: I had just gone with a new agency, this was just surfacing, and they really liked the script. I had never seen A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Dito’s first movie, but I heard that this part was already cast. I don’t know if it was cast, or the actor changed his mind. I don’t know what happened. But, as soon as they heard that this other person wasn’t going to be able to do it, the agency got right on it and I had a meeting with Dito. I read the script and I really, really liked it. I really dug Dito, and I really A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. This one just kinda happened.
What was your first impression of the script and character, when you read this? Was this a guy that you could relate to, at all?
LIOTTA: Nah, I can’t relate to any of the characters I play. There are very few movies that I can relate to, especially the characters that I play. I just liked the story and what it was about. What you want to do is align yourself with good material. I thought the writing was great, and I was surprised at the end. I didn’t realize that it was who it was, doing it all.
If you can’t relate to the characters that you play, do you try to find ways to understand them and their actions, so that you can play them without judging them?
LIOTTA: Yeah, totally. That’s exactly it. A lot of times, a bad guy is bad. Their reasons why don’t even matter. You submit your human part to the script, without any judgement. With Unlawful Entry, they had me beat up this black guy. I’ve never been in a fight, my whole life, but I remember beating up this black guy in the movie, and I felt really, really bad. I allowed my personal side to get in, but as the person I was playing. This guy had done something bad, and I went overboard with what I did, but I remember it bothering me. There was another movie that I did, called Narc, and I had to say something and use an unpleasant term for the person, and I had such a fight with the director, trying to get out of saying it. But, in the end, it’s how this guy would have talked. So, the biggest danger you can have is bringing your own personality into it. It has nothing to do with my personality. It’s what I’m doing.
It’s definitely great to see you and Al Pacino on screen together. Was that part of the appeal?
LIOTTA: Well, at that time, I don’t think he was cast. I think there was someone else who was thinking about it. When that other person dropped out, or wasn’t able to do it, they asked Pacino, and when I heard it was him, I was thrilled. I’ve been really lucky with some of the actors that I’ve admired – like Gene Hackman, Robert Duval and [Robert] DeNiro – that I’ve worked with, and one of the people that I’ve always wanted to work with was Al [Pacino]. To work with him was great, and to get to know him a little bit was even better. He’s a great guy.
What did you think of Channing Tatum? How was he to work with?
LIOTTA: He was really good. I had seen some of his stuff, and I just liked the way he approached this. He was very simple and internal about what was going on. He was in over his head, in terms of the story, and when things start happening to him, he didn’t overdo it, even with the scenes with Katie [Holmes], where she’s getting upset. I really liked working with him. He’s a great guy, too. He really is.
Do you feel comfortable using a gun for a role, or is that something you had to get used to?
LIOTTA: No, I don’t mind. I’m not a proponent of people watching a movie, and then going out and doing something bad. People have been doing bad things, well before movies. There have been many, many wars, whether it’s with guns, arrows or spears, where things happen. If there’s so much of it that people are desensitized, maybe that’s a bad thing. But, a lot of times, I’m playing a cop. That’s just what they do and what they use, unless I’m playing one in England. You just practice. I played a heart surgeon, and obviously I didn’t know how to do that, so I watched open-heart surgeries and saw what they did and got a sense of it. Then, you just play pretend.
What do you think it is about you, that you’ve come to specialize in these charming psychopaths? Do you ever wonder what it is that directors see in you?
LIOTTA: They’re limited visions. I used to be on a soap opera. It was the first thing I did, and I was the nicest character in the world. And then, the first movie I did was called Something Wild, and I was nutty in that and it got a lot of attention. Then, I did Dominick and Eugene, where I played a medical student. In Field of Dreams, I didn’t hit Kevin [Costner] in the head with the bat. But, the bad movies tend to stand out in people’s minds. Having never been in a fight myself, it was fun to play somebody so different. And then, some of those movies became more successful than the softer characters I played. It’s just the way the business is. I just did a beautiful movie, called Snowmen, that came out in very limited theaters, and it’s the polar opposite of this, but people are going to remember this more than that. The bad guys definitely stand out. If you look, across the board, at actors that have played crazier guys and more mellow guys, the crazier movies are going to stand out more. It’s just human nature. I think that’s why people go to a lot of those movies. It’s just so different than how people live their lives.
Since you work very consistently, what attracts you to a project these days? At this point in your career, is it the quality of the story and the role, more than the size of the role, or is it the people you’re working with?
LIOTTA: It’s a combination of things. The problem is that the better the movie and the better the part, the less they pay, especially in this day and age, so you have to balance it with other things that can put food on the table. Mostly, it’s the story and the director. I’ve done a few movies where I really liked the project, but I wasn’t sure about the director, and I still did it and my instinct was right, in the beginning. Even though it was a good story, the guy still didn’t really know what he was doing. It’s really about what’s going on with your life, where you’re at, and what comes along. There’s no method.
Do you know what you’re going to be doing next?
LIOTTA: Well, Snowmen just came out. I did a movie with Tobey Maguire and Laura Linney, called The Details. I’m not sure when that’s coming out. I just finished one a few months ago with Brad Pitt, called Cogan’s Trade. And then, I just finished another one with Derek Cianfrance (called The Place Beyond the Pines), who directed Blue Valentine, and that’s with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. They’re all really, really good scripts. Hopefully, the movies will be the same.
Who are you playing in The Place Beyond the Pines and Cogan’s Trade?
LIOTTA: In Cogan’s Trade, I’m a guy who runs a poker game that gets robbed and they think it’s me, so everybody is after me and wants to beat me up, and does beat me up. And then, in The Place Beyond the Pines, I was a cop, but an edgy cop that’s starting to show Bradley Cooper the ropes. It’s very grey. It’s not a black and white kind of part. You never know if what I was doing was right or wrong. It’s really perception.
With so many memorable roles in so many iconic films, is there a character or characters that you’ve played, that you remember most fondly or had the most fun inhabiting?
LIOTTA: These past few that I’ve done were fun. I really enjoyed Snowmen. Obviously, there’s Goodfellas and Field of Dreams and Something Wild. I did this movie, Corrina, Corrina, with Whoopi Goldberg. That was fun. There are a few, but not one, in particular.