Ray Liotta insists he doesn’t quite recall the “Sopranos” character he discussed portraying with series creator David Chase two decades ago. It’s fitting for a Mafia series where no one remembers nothing.
“I just don’t remember his name,” Liotta says earnestly of the character.
“It just didn’t feel right. Having done ‘Goodfellas,’ I needed something different,” Liotta says.
However, for the Chase-written and produced “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” (in theaters and streaming on HBO Max Friday), Liotta fought for the chance to star as “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti.
“For me, the movie part was just different,” says Liotta, 66.
Here’s how the Newark, New Jersey-born actor pops in “The Many Saints of Newark.”
Meet ‘The Many Saints of Newark’:Inside the criminal roots of ‘The Sopranos’ family tree
Which ‘Sopranos’ character was Ray Liotta meant to play? (Hint: It wasn’t Tony Soprano)
Chase helpfully clears the air on which “Sopranos” character he discussed with Liotta. Contrary to internet rumors, it was never Tony Soprano (played by the late James Gandolfini).
In 2000, Chase traveled to meet Liotta on the Richmond, Virginia, set of the movie “Hannibal” to explore playing the role of DiMeo crime family soldier Ralph “Ralphie” Cifaretto.
“We talked about it and then he decided not to do it,” says Chase.
Liotta points to other potential commitments as further reasoning for the pass.
“I had some other things I was thinking of doing. You never know if you’re going to get something or not,” he says. “People say something and then all of a sudden it falls through.”
The “Sopranos” role ultimately went to Joe Pantoliano, who won a best supporting actor Emmy portraying Ralphie.
“Joe ended up doing a great job with Ralphie, Ray would have, too,” says Chase. “But this movie is just more interesting for Ray.”
Liotta worked it for ‘The Many Saints of Newark’ part
Liotta’s embargo on portraying Mafia characters has obviously ended. When the actor read the script for “Many Saints,” he wondered why he hadn’t received a casting call. This time, Liotta did the pursuing.
“I said to my agent, ‘What’s going on with that? They don’t need me or want me for this?’ ” Liotta recalls. “I said, ‘Let me talk to (Chase). I’ll fly out to New York and just have lunch with him.” Liotta dined with Chase and director Alan Taylor, the longtime “Sopranos” collaborator. By meal’s end, the duo had offered Liotta the “Hollywood Dick” role.
How ‘Hollywood Dick’ Moltisanti fits into the ‘Many Saints’ story
In the “Sopranos” family tree, “Hollywood Dick” is the grandfather of Michael Imperioli’s Christopher Moltisanti character from the series (the murdered Christopher narrates “Many Saints” from his grave). The grandfather wasn’t mentioned in the HBO series.
The suavely dressed “Hollywood Dick,” who earned his nickname from his showbiz connections, is not a “made,” or fully initiated, Mafia member. But “he has extremely deep ties to the Cosa Nostra, he’s made a lot of money and he’s a smart guy,” says Chase. He also has met a beautiful, much younger Italian bride, Giuseppina (played by Michela De Rossi), on a long cruise around the home country.
Liotta wore a fat suit, increased his salt intake “to keep my face puffier” and dyed his hair to play the showy character who is “enjoying the spoils” of his long career in organized crime. But the patriarch of the Moltisanti family is still in the game. He also still shows flares of his abusive temper.
“The edge is still there,” says Liotta. “Maybe not to kill people, but he definitely gets upset.”
One target of his temper is his grown son, central character Dickie Moltisanti (played by Alessandro Nivola), the charismatic mentor and uncle to a young Tony Soprano (played by Michael Gandolfini, the lateJames Gandolfini’s son).
Liotta learned a Neapolitan dialect
Playing the Naples-born immigrant required Liotta to learn the complex Neapolitan dialect for a pivotal, passionate argument with his onscreen wife.
“It’s so hard, it’s a whole different animal than speaking regular Italian. Don’t even call it Italian,” says Liotta. “Even for Michela, who plays my wife and who is from Rome, it was like a new language she had to learn.”
Fortunately, Liotta knew someone (of course) who had a cousin who spoke in the dialect. “I taped him saying just the words I needed to say. And I would just listen to that all the time.”
Chase says it was worth the wait to tap into Liotta’s power.
“Ray seems to be a rather quiet man,” says Chase. “But when the cameras roll, that electricity goes on and it’s just mind-blowing.”