10 Facts You Never Knew About Ray Liotta's Career

Daniel Mitchell-Benoit
Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in a still from Goodfellas
IMDb | Warner Bros.

Best known for his iconic role as Henry Hill in the 1990 film Goodfellas, Ray Liotta was a prized actor who took on many hard-hitting roles and portrayed a wide variety of characters, though he was known to lead toward the gritty yet charming.

The recent news of his passing has shocked the world and left many reminiscing on his long, cherished career. Here, you can learn a little more about what all his years of acting entailed and a few behind-the-scenes facts about him, too.

He worked at a cemetery before he became an actor.

Ray Liotta being interviewed by Bonnie Hunt.
youtube | thebonniehuntshow

While studying at the University of Miami, he took up acting as a hobby, but it wasn't something he was making enough money in to get by right away.

Instead, he worked as a maintenance man for a cemetery. On The Bonnie Hunt Show, he explained that, "I cut the grass and stuff. And I set up funerals and the chairs and everything that happens."

He adopted a very peculiar diet for his role in 'Narc'.

Ray Liotta as Henry Oak in a still from Narc.
IMDb | Paramount Pictures

He gained over 20 pounds for the role of Henry Oak, a character he believed to have a large presence that he wanted to embody.

To put on the weight fast enough for filming, he mostly ate Chinese food. He claimed the extra soy and water in Chinese food are what helped him appear 'puffier' and more filled out.

He was once offered the role of Batman.

Michael Keaton as Batman in the 1989 film Batman.
IMDb | Warner Bros.

In fact, he was offered three separate roles for what would become the 1989 Batman film. Warner Bros desperately wanted Liotta on board, so they offered him the role of Joker or Harvey Dent first.

When he turned those down, they then offered him the titular role as the Batman himself, which he also said no to, citing not wanting to star in a superhero movie.

He was considered for Scar in 'The Lion King', too.

A still from The Lion King where Scar is leering at Simba.
IMDb | Walt Disney Pictures

Another famous role that never quite made it to him was the voice of Scar in Disney's The Lion King.

Liotta was considered alongside Alan Rickman, Tim Curry, and Robert Duvall among others, but ultimately Jeremy Irons landed it and gave the stellar performance we all know today.

His performance in 'Goodfellas' was fueled by grief.

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in a still from Goodfellas
IMDb | Warner Bros.

In an interview with Little White Lies in 2019, he revealed, "When I was doing Goodfellas, my mother was dying – and did die – from cancer in the middle of [filming]."

He described using those strong emotions in his performance as, "I brought outside stuff in and personalized it there. But it’s impossible to personalize [generally], because every character I’ve played is so far from who I am."

Speaking of 'Goodfellas', he did some strange research for the film.

Ray Liotta being interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel.
youtube | Jimmy Kimmel Live

He had lunch with a real mobster so he could learn how best to play one in the film, a role that would become his most iconic.

He believes the guy he spoke with played a bit of a mean trick. He spoke about it in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, saying, "I wanted to pay [for our lunch], you know, he’s telling me things and sharing things, but my wallet’s not there." He later found his wallet just outside on the street, and he's convinced the mobster stole it as a prank.

More...interesting research was done for his role in 'Hannibal'.

A still from the film where Ray Liotta's character is seated at a table while Hannibal stands beside him.
IMDb | Universal Pictures

You know that one scene from the 2001's Hannibal? Yes, that one. Liotta did a lot of research leading up to that shoot. He was trying to figure out how one would react to something like that, and that he would watch videos of brain surgeries as inspiration.

He wasn't allowed to tie his own tie during 'Goodfellas'.

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in a still from Goodfellas
IMDb | Warner Bros.

This is more of a Scorsese detail, but the Goodfellas director was so detail-oriented that Liotta wasn't allowed to tie his own tie during filming. Instead, Scorsese himself would tie it every single day since he wanted it done a particular way.

He was an avid horse rider.

Liotta had to learn to ride a horse for the 2015 miniseries Texas Rising, and maintained the hobby even after he was finished with the show.

"I’m pretty much obsessed with [horse riding]," he told Esquire, "Each horse is different – they really have these different personalities – and they’re just really beautiful.”

He admitted to not always being the nicest coworker.

Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in a still from Goodfellas.
IMDb | Warner Bros.

Though in interviews he seemed to be a pretty amicable guy, he admitted to becoming kind of rude when he'd butt heads with a director.

"And there’s nothing worse than working with somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing […] It gets really frustrating – then I can be a d*** on set," he told Metro.