Goodfellas star Ray Liotta: I thought, 'Batman? That's a stupid idea'
He'll probably never shake the Goodfellas tag – but that's OK. As he teams up with Jennifer Lopez for new TV crime thriller Shades Of Blue, Ray Liotta tells Susan Griffin he's always happy to chat to fans about his old movies
RAY Liotta might be known for steely performances but the actor proves entertaining company when we meet in the cosy snug of a hotel.
Talking animatedly, the Goodfellas star shares his thoughts on the presidential campaign ("Part of me likes the edginess and the unpredictability of Trump") and anecdotes from the past – at one point re-enacting an audition he did for Cabaret in his student days.
"I wish I'd handled my career differently but, you know, hindsight..." he muses.
"When I did my first movie, Tim Burton was getting ready to do Batman and he was interested in me because he wanted it to be edgy and real," reveals the actor, dressed down today in a cardigan and jogging bottoms, clutching a cushion to his chest as he talks.
"I thought, 'Batman? That's a stupid idea', even though he'd had just done one of my favourite movies of all time, Beetlejuice. So yes, I regret not auditioning for that.
"That movie and the success of Jack Nicholson?" he adds with a grin (Nicholson was ultimately cast as the Joker in the 1989 hit). "My career could've taken off in a different kind of way!"
He's still enjoyed a varied career, of course, appearing as Frank Sinatra in the 1998 TV movie The Rat Pack, making his Broadway debut in 2004's Match, appearing in comedies such as 2010's Date Night and two Muppets movies, and dramas including 2012's The Iceman and 2014's Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.
"I've definitely had an up-and-down career," he says candidly – and if people still ask him about the menacing men he's portrayed, it's an accolade he doesn't eschew.
"It's much nicer people coming up, whatever they say. At least they're watching."
The 61-year-old is in the UK town to promote Shades Of Blue, a new crime drama set in New York starring Jennifer Lopez as Harlee Santos, a detective and single mother of a teenage daughter, who faces a difficult predicament when the FBI catches her in an incriminating position.
Pushed into a corner, she's forced to turn informant on her tight-knit team of Brooklyn cops, led by the enigmatic Matt Wozniak (Liotta).
"Everything Wozniak does is for her, which is really what's amazing," explains Liotta. "To me, it's all emotional, even though he's doing bad things – it's to help her."
The casting juxtaposition isn't lost on him.
"I get a lot of, 'Seriously? You and Jennifer Lopez?'," he reveals with a laugh.
"She's not known for that edgier kind of affair, and I am, and I think they [the producers] needed to let the audience know this wasn't a romantic comedy."
The show aired in the US earlier this year, and series two is currently being shot.
"It's really nice to have a job, to know you're going to be doing something, and I really like the show. I genuinely like the show," stresses Liotta, the adopted son of a town clerk and auto-parts shop owner, who insists he never contemplated acting while growing up in Newark, New Jersey.
"I had no idea what I wanted to do. It came time to go to college and my dad said, 'Go wherever you want, take whatever you want'."
He headed to the University Of Miami – "because at that time you just needed a pulse to get in there", and he'd walked out of his SAT exams.
"I thought, 'You know what? I'll be a drama major. Let's just mess around and do that'."
Aside from an attractive girl prompting his decision to audition for a play ("a typical actor story"), he credits a drama teacher nicknamed 'Buckets' for "helping and shaping me".
"He used to play basketball and I could relate to him as a jock," recalls Liotta.
"He liked me because I wasn't like a typical guy who had been doing theatre since sixth grade. I got all the leads in the plays, good reviews."
On graduating, he moved to New York City and worked as a barman until he was cast in the soap opera Another World in 1980.
His first, albeit brief, film role was as a sexual predator in the widely panned The Lonely Lady, but in 1987, he earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of an ex-con in the black comedy Something Wild.
Resisting the countless psychopathic roles he was offered following the film's success, he instead starred in the acclaimed drama Dominick And Eugene, about a complex relationship between twin brothers, and then in 1989's Field Of Dreams, as the ghost of baseball player Shoeless Joe Jackson alongside Kevin Costner.
A year later, he depicted real-life gangster Henry Hill in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas.
The movie's immense success brought Liotta worldwide praise and popularity, and led to lead roles in the likes of Article 99, Unlawful Entry and Unforgettable – but it's Henry Hill audiences continue to associate him with.
"People ask if I'm bothered by that but no, Goodfellas will be a top 10 movie for years and years, it seems. I have kids coming up to me like the movie's just come out that week, not realising it's like 26 years old. That and Field Of Dreams. I get a lot of Field Of Dreams lovers too."
He's not sure a movie like Goodfellas would be green-lit in this current climate of superhero movies.
"It's really, really changed a lot. I feel bad. My daughter [Karsen, from his marriage to Michelle Grace which ended in 2004] wants to act.
"She's 17, does every play she can and has already done three movies where they've shot a half hour of it and now they're trying to raise money off of what they've shot. She's in for a different [journey].
"I came in at the tail end of what was a great period and sensibility of movie-making, which was in the 70s," he adds. "It was an unbelievable period of movies, the anti-hero. It wasn't all about flying people."
Next up are dramas Alone and Sticky Notes, co-starring Game Of Thrones actresses Sophie Turner and Rose Leslie respectively, and of course, the second series of Shades Of Blue.
"I act for my own personal reasons and when I take on a role, it's all from the point of view of trying to put together a believable character that people can be locked into," states Liotta.
"The best movies or television shows are ones you're totally locked into, you're not thinking about anything else – you're just drawn in."
:: Shades Of Blue begins on Sky Living on Tuesday July 12 and will be available on NOW TV.