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LIOTTA, RAY : Copland

From his breakthrough role in Jonathan Demme's Something Wild, it was clear that the quiet intensity of Ray Liotta was a force to be reckoned with. Destined for huge things following his performance in the Oscar-winning hit Good Fellas, Liotta's career took a different direction than even he intended, culminating in his disastrous decision to star in the flop, Turbulence, last year. But with his new film, the star-studded thriller Cop Land, Liotta's back with a vengeance, and as he admitted to PAUL FISCHER, he wants to remind himself of why he became an actor.

No major American actor of recent memory has more of an up-and-down careerthan 41-year old Ray Liotta. Now enjoying critical acclaim and renewed success in the low-budget thriller Cop Land, opposite Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel and Robert DeNiro, Liotta agrees that perhaps some of his recent choices were not the stuff of Hollywood stardom. "I think for a while there I just wanted to experiment and try different things, and was lucky enough to do so. But having said that, I don't think that was necessarily the best career move, to go do 'Dumbo Drop', followed by 'No Escape' and 'Turbulence'."

"I rolled the dice on that one and lost," on Turbulence

It was the latter that was particularly disastrous, a silly over-the-top thriller set on a plane, in which Liotta, again, played a psycho. "I rolled the dice on that one and lost, but it did better for me internationally and on video. That whole experience DID make me realise you have to stick to what got you there, what you like, what your sensibilities are, instead of trying to chase the audience and force yourself down a real commercial road." Liotta admits that the film business is all about perception, and it takes one film to change the perceptions of those that matter: audiences and Hollywood producers. With the acclaim he has received since the release of the new thriller Cop Land, those perceptions could well be changing. "That film has definitely raised an awareness and brought me back to people's minds again. The trouble is, even though you get more scripts, you also get more BAD scripts, so the choices become a lot harder."

Cop Land is a thriller that delves into the lives of a group of cops who live in a small community outside of New York, called Garrison, in New Jersey. Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) has been the sheriff of Garrison for the past ten years, and he's always admired the men in blue, although he could never become one. After saving the life of Liz Randone (Annabella Sciorra) many years ago when her car plunged into a river, Freddy went deaf in one ear and never could qualify for the force. The many cops who know him, including senior cop Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel), are friendly, but see him as a lower class officer. Nonetheless, everything seems fine until a young officer, Murray Babitch (Michael Rapaport), takes a leap into the Hudson River after shooting two unarmed motorists. Everyone thinks Murray is dead, but in reality Donlan, his uncle, has him hidden away. Internal affairs agent Moe Tilden (Robert De Niro), who's been investigating Donlan and others, knows something's up. So he goes to Freddy looking for answers and asks him to watch Donlan. Of course he could just ask Gary Figgis (Liotta), an officer who still blames Donlan for the death of his partner who was set to expose the corruption in the department. As Freddy starts to question his friendship with the allegedly crooked cops, Donlan knows he must come up with a body from the bridge jump or their whole corrupt world might unravel. Thus he, and his fellow set out to kill Murray who comes to Freddy for help. From then on, the sheriff must figure out the right course to take in his ever increasingly dangerous world, while Figgis also starts to question his whole reason for being a cop.

"I have a theatre background, so I like to do everything, and make it one long, continuous scene that plays."

Rather than being another star vehicle for Stallone, Cop Land turned out to feature an impressive ensemble cast, with each actor, Liotta included, contributing something unique to the film as a whole. One would have thought such an experience would have been a great way to hone one's craft, observing all these actors. Not so, says Liotta. "On a film like this, you don't really have much of an opportunity to see other actors prepare, and during rehearsals, I only really got to work with Stallone. I'd worked with DeNiro before [on Good Fellas] and it's not as thrilling as one might think. I mean, they all know what the camera does, what the editor does, so they don't worry as much. I like to do it all in the one take. I have a theatre background, so I like to do everything, and make it one long, continuous scene that plays."

Liotta has played numerous edgy characters in his career, but he says this newest character from Cop Land has a different degree of edginess from the characters that came before. "This edginess is coming out of confusion. This was a good cop who started doing some bad things that he's not too proud of, and is now full of guilt. Finally he gets a chance to redeem himself and takes the opportunity to do it. This was a guy with a lot of gray, he wasn't as black and white as some of the characters I'd played before." But when Liotta first read Cop Land, it was the character of Freddy, subsequently played by Stallone, that Liotta pushed to try and play. "Trying to get out of the whole Turbulence thing, the role of Freddy, and this movie in general, was back to where I wanted to return.

"This was not your typical Hollywood fare." on Copland

"It was a character-driven piece which reminded me of the kinds of cop movies they used to make in the seventies, which is the period that I first became aware of, in terms of movies. This was not your typical Hollywood fare." Then Liotta is not your typical movie star. Raised in New Jersey, he attended college at the University of Miami, then moved to New York City and began pounding the pavement looking for work as an actor. Within six months, he began landing roles in commercials and soon cracked the television nut. He got the part of Joey Perini on the TV soap opera Another World and stayed with the show for over two years.

Following a couple of failed prime-time shows (including one based on the Humphrey Bogart movie Casablanca), Liotta finally hit the acting jackpot. His friend Melanie Griffith help him land a part playing her dangerous ex-husband in Jonathan Demme's 1986 comedy-drama Something Wild. While not the starring role, Liotta's part dominated the second half of the film, and his performance as the psychotic character was tremendously frightening for audiences.

Liotta chose not to continue his career in the psycho/villain vein. Instead, he opted for Dominic and Eugene(1988), in which he played a medical student whose brother had mental problems, then Field of Dreams (1989) as the spirit of baseball great "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. But the true star-making part for Liotta came next, when Martin Scorsese cast him as Henry Hill, the lead character in GoodFellas (1990).

It was a plum assignment-not only was it the main character, but it was a Scorsese film after all, and Liotta would be acting alongside Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, and Paul Sorvino. Liotta shined in the part. His charm, penetrating eyes, and ability to work equally well both as rational and manic helped to make GoodFellas one of the most unforgettable films of 1990.

"This is what I love to do."

Throughout the nineties Liotta took on many contrasting rolls. The semi-successful Unlawful Entry (1992) saw the actor in the familiar psychotic role which he played incredibly well. This bought him the leading role in No Escape (1994), a futuristic film set on a prison colony in a remote island, and shot in Queensland, Australia. Liotta's next four films had mixed success at the box office: Corrina, Corrina (1992), Operation Dumbo Drop (1995), Unforgettable (1995), and of course the regrettable Turbulence (1997). On a higher note, however, a month after Turbulence premiered in the US, Liotta went to Thailand where he tied the knot with his long time girlfriend, Michelle, an aspiring actress.

With the success of Cop Land, Liotta's career is back in high gear. He recently finished filming Phoenix, another police drama, which Liotta is excited about, and he's about to start shooting a new film about the infamous rat pack, in which Liotta will get to portray Frank Sinatra, no less. It seems that Liotta's juices are being refuelled, and he wouldn't have it any other way. "This is what I love to do. It's fun for me, though I still feel that even at this point, I haven't even hit my stride yet. But I still have the passion to keep on doing it."

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