Ray Liotta: What I've Learned

The Goodfellas icon on what life has taught him so far​

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Ray Liotta is shorter than you think.

Not short by average human standards – bang on 6 foot is nothing to be ashamed of, after all – but short for a man you probably spent a good portion of youth imitating – and being intimidated by – in the guise of Henry Hill, his character in mob classic Goodfellas.

Liotta is big in other ways, though. There's the voice that cracks the air like a whip, the glare that seems to grab you by the throat as you ask him a question. He is a man with that rare quality of being intense even as he's being friendly, even – or perhaps especially – as he pays you a compliment.

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The handsome Hill with his ice-blue eye and clenched jaw is still there in Liotta's face, but still - he looks like he's earned every one of his 61 years. Paid for them, you might say. 

A veteran of around 80 films - some classic, some awful, most somewhere in the middle – Liotta is still plugging away, here in London to promote his new TV show, cop drama Shades of Blue. Esquire spoke to him about his career, his past, and in particular, the father he has just lost.

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I'm adopted so I don't really know what I am. Who I consider my mother and father are Italian and Scottish. I did find my birth mother and she said she was a mix of something, and when I asked about what my Dad was she wouldn't even talk about it. It was like it never even happened.

The types of movies they are making are not the types of movies when I started out. The whole game has changed.

I can't fucking believe they killed the gorilla! Did you hear about this? A kid fell in a zoo enclosure and they killed the gorilla. It just blows my mind.

Whaddaya mean a guy tried to kill himself by jumping in a lion enclosure? They shot the lion?! And the guy was saying: 'no me, shoot me!'.

The guy was naked?! Wow, that's funny. That is a great Saturday Night Live sketch. He should have wrapped himself in fucking meat if he was really serious about it. I mean think ahead, dude.

I watched the Sopranos once. But I don't watch series television. Shows that I love - I don't know if you get them here - are shows like 48 Hours, or Twenty Twenty. They are all about real life murder - some guy wants to get rid of his wife or his partner, and how it all streams together.

It blows my mind what people do to other people. It blows my mind how cruel people can be.

Right now there is stuff going on that you can't imagine. There is probably hundreds of pedophiles at work right now, there are guys panning to rob a bank, there are people planning to have a beautiful wedding or are falling in love. Right now!

If I hadn't have become an actor I'd have gone into construction. I always thought I would be doing construction. Those were jobs I had during the summer. My Dad also had a chain of automotive stores. I didn't know until after I graduated college that he wanted me to take over the business. When he saw that I was interested in something else, he said 'well, I'm sick of doing this' and moved in politics. But I never knew that he wanted me to take over. It was in his mind, but I hated it. To this day I hate the smell of rubber.

You know, my parents never really said one way or the other if he was pleased I became successful. My Mother passed away right in the middle of Goodfellas. I knew they were proud because they taped the shows I was on and they would watch them at night, but they never really said anything about it or how they thought I was doing.

My Dad just passed away over Christmas at the age of 98. Like anything, you find out from other people. 'Ah you're Dad talks about you so much'. Really? He does?

Masculinity today, I don't know. I think there is less of it. Depending on where you are from and what status you are. If you come from certain areas and certain neighbourhoods, a guy is a guy is a guy is a guy. You protect yourself, you do what you gotta do and that's all the fuck there is. Then there are other places you come to and it's a little lighter in the loafers, so to speak.

How do I define success? The easiest way I can answer that is by not answering it, in the sense that I still feel like I haven't made it. There are still things that I want to do. It's not about a dollar amount - although making a boatload would be nice, the way some people do.

I love to work out. For myself, for my health, for everything. If I put in a good two-hour workout and bust my ass, I can sit down and click with the best of them, I really can.

That's why I don't think I'll get married again: I want to watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it. If I want to do it upstairs in bed, I'll do it upstairs in bed. 

He had an expression, my old man. 'What it mean to me?'. One of his stores was broken into a lot. It was happening like once or twice a month - calls in the middle of the night. I went with him once and I said, 'Dad, doesn't this get you upset? Aren't you tired of this?' He said: 'what it mean to me? What am I going to do? This is where my store is, I like the store being here. Things happen'. He meant: 'don't sweat the small stuff'. I try not to.

Watch Shades of Blue starting this month on NOW TV with the NOW TV Entertainment Month Pass for just £6.99