Goodfellas has earned a reputation as one of the greatest crime films of all time. These behind-the-scenes stories and facts about the actors and the real Lucchese family are not as well known. Read on to learn what went into making Goodfellas come to life.
Both of Martin Scorcese’s Parents Have Cameos
Scorcese made sure to put a little bit of himself in the film by including both of his parents in cameo roles. His mother played Tommy’s mother during the infamous dinner scene. Scorcese’s father had a smaller role, as the character Vinny who always put too many onions in the tomato sauce.
Joe Pesci Was Identical To His Character (Almost)
Joe Pesci plays the wildcard gangster named Tommy DeVito. He is a man who has no problem whacking anyone that he’s told to, or doing it for his pleasure. The character was inspired by a real man named Thomas DeSimone, who was known to be murderous and ruthless, with a short fuse. Pesci pulled off the character flawlessly, with just a few exceptions.
The 1978 Lufthansa Heist Is Still An Open Case
As depicted in the movie, the Lucchese crime family pulled off the $6 million Lufthansa heist in 1978. It was the largest cash robbery in American history at that point. Jimmy Burke was the mastermind of the operation and is credited with its success. The heist left numerous loose ends dead, and many others in prison after Henry Hill’s testimony for other criminal involvement. However, the case remains open today. The most recent arrest was a 78-year-old Vincent Asaro in 2014. He was believed to have been a lookout and getaway but was later found not guilty. Although Asaro was deemed innocent, the investigation of the heist is still ongoing.
Tommy Cruise And Madonna As Main Characters?
Initially, the producers brought up Tom Cruise and Madonna to play the roles of Henry and Karen Hill. Scorcese even went to her show “Speed-the-Plow” on Broadway to do some personal scouting. However, these weren’t the only two considered for leading roles. There were a lot of A-list actors under consideration for the role of Henry Hill, but Scorcese wanted Ray Liotta after seeing him in Something Wild. Lorraine Bracco ended up playing Karen Hill because she related to Karen since she grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. It’s difficult to imagine the film with a different cast.
Some Of The Characters Were Toned Down
One major change was that some of the characters had to be toned down. Both Robert De Niro and Paul Sorvino’s portrayal of their characters were less violent than their real counterparts Jimmy Burke and Paul Vario. Vario was described as “one of the most violent and dangerous career criminals in the history of New York” by a federal prosecutor.
Henry Hill Made Way More Money Being A Gangster
Although the real-life Henry Hill was paid around $550,000 for Goodfellas, apparently that was nothing compared to what he used to make. Even though he’s still making money from the movie, he claims that when he was still in the mob, he was making around $15,000 to $40,000 a week. He said that during those years he blew all of his earnings on excessive partying.
Henry Hill Couldn’t Settle Down being A “Regular Shmuck”
Even though Hill had “flipped” in 1981 and went into the Witness Protection Program, things weren’t as he expected. He believed that he wanted to live a regular life, but he simply wasn’t cut out for the average lifestyle. It wasn’t long after the US Marshals relocated him that he started slipping back into his gangster ways. However, this didn’t stop him from keeping a low profile as he attended Goodfellas events, released books, and called into radio shows until his death in 2012.
The “Do I Amuse You?” Scene Was Improvised
As it turns out, the classic scene when Tommy puts everyone on edge for being called “funny” wasn’t in the script. Only Pesci and Liotta knew what was going to happen, so everybody else’s reaction was completely genuine. This is one of the film’s most memorable scenes because neither the cast or the audience knew what Tommy was going to do.
Goodfellas Had No Problem With Profanity
If you’ve ever watched Goodfellas, you know that the f-word is said more than a few times throughout the film. In total, it’s used over 300 times in just about every combination possible, which averages to be around 2.4 times every minute. It’s the 12th film with the most f-words ever used, with some of Scorcese’s other films following close behind.
Spider’s Death Turned Into A Off-Screen Fiasco
When filming the scene when Tommy kills the kid named Spider, played by Michael Imperioli, an accident happened. Pretending to be shot, Imperioli fell backward into glasses on the bar and severely lacerated his hand. He was rushed to the hospital where the doctors thought that he had been shot several times because of the makeup and special effects equipment. After they discovered he was okay, he had to wait three hours until he received treatment. Scorcese joked that one day he would be telling the story on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, and that’s what he did ten years later.
Many Of Henry Hill’s Criminal Exploits Weren’t In The Film
In the movie, Henry Hill seems like a bonafide gangster, but in reality, he was much worse. He was involved in more than a few big criminal acts that were left entirely out of the film. One, in particular, was the Boston College’s 1978-1979 point-shaving scandal, which unraveled into a national sports conspiracy.
Frank Sivero vs. The Simpsons
In the film, actor Frank Sivero played Frankie Carbone, the unfortunate mobster who is found dead, hanging on a meat hook in a refrigerator. In 2014, Sivero filed a $250 million lawsuit against The Simpsons which he said stole his looks and mannerisms for a mob character named Louie.
There Was A Formula To Choosing The Music
Although the musical genres were all over the place, Scorcese had specific rules about choosing pieces for the soundtrack. Every song had to comment on the scene or characters and had to fit the times for the scenes that they were featured. For example, at the beginning of the film, Tony Bennet’s “Rags to Riches” was playing and during the credits, the Sex Pistols’ “My Way.” The other songs played to fit the decades appropriate to the movie and also helped tell the story.
The U.S. Attorney Edward McDonald Played Himself
Near the end of the movie, Henry and Karen are discussing their options in the witness protection program with a U.S. Attorney. The attorney is Edward McDonald, playing himself. Unsurprisingly, McDonald was great at playing himself and his famous line “Don’t give the babe-in-the-woods routine, Karen” was even improvised.
Joe Pesci Was Suprised He Won An Oscar
At the 63rd Academy Awards in 1991, Goodfellas was up for six Oscars, including Best Picture. It was also up against the big movie of the year Dances With Wolves, so nobody sure of a win. Of the six, Joe Pesci took home an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Nicholas Pileggi Didn’t Believe Scorcese
Nicholas Pileggi, the author of Wiseguy, didn’t believe it when Martin Scorcese contacted him about turning his book into a movie. He thought that it practical joke that his film critic friend David Denby was pulling on him. So, initially, he ignored the calls rather than falling victim to the prank. It wasn’t until Scorcese contacted his wife Norah Ephron that he realized it wasn’t a joke. That got Pillegi’s attention, and the rest is history.
Ray Liotta Never Met Henry Hill During Filming
While filming, Ray Liotta and Henry Hill never met. Scorcese wanted to keep the two separated until after the movie was complete so that Hill couldn’t influence him to portray him a certain way. Robert De Niro visited Conway often to learn as much about his character as possible since Conway used to be his best friend. Liotta said that Hill ate potato chips the whole time which made the interviews hard to listen to.
Henry Hill Lived To An Old Age, Surprisingly
When Hill testified against the members of the Lucchese crime family, it led to the conviction of around 50 people. This was a life-threatening decision because the mob’s number one rule is “never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.”Even though Hill went into protective custody, that had only given him a small head start against the dangerous organization. Hill lived to old age and died of natural causes in 2012.
There Were Real Wiseguys On Set
To make Goodfellas as realistic as possible, Scorcese hired questionable people to fill the role of other wiseguys in the film. Nicholas Pileggi said that there was an open call for crooks and there were numerous actors who had legitimate connections with the mob.
Only Five Murders Happen On-Screen
Goodfellas is regarded as an intensely violent movie and people even walked out of the theatre during preview screenings. With such a reputation, you would expect characters to be dropping like flies, but that’s not the case. In total, there are only a total of five deaths on-screen (Billy Batts, Tommy, Spider, Stacks Edwards, and Morrie).
When Paulie Hit Henry It Was Improvised
In the scene when Henry is released from prison, he has a one-on-one talk with the leader of the mob Paulie. To prove his point, he slaps Henry across the face to show that he means business. The slap was improvised and Ray Liotta’s reaction was real, making it an iconic scene in the film.
Making The Guns As Real As Possible
There are even more unknown facts involved in the scene when Tommy shoots the kid named Spider. Before the scene, Joe Pesci asked the prop department to load his gun with full-filled blanks. The rest of the cast had no idea, so when he fired off the gun numerous times, it scared all of them. That’s why in the film, everyone is holding their ears and flinching so well.
Robert de Niro’s Character Has A Nasty Habit That He Hates
Although Robert De Niro’s character Jimmy Conway smokes like a chimney in the movie, it turns out that De Niro absolutely despises smoking. This was a bit of a challenge for De Niro because his character was smoking in almost every scene of the film, however, you may notice that he very rarely inhales.
Robert De Niro Now
Robert De Niro was nominated for BAFTA Award for his performance as Jimmy Conway. Since then he’s been nominated for a Golden Globe four times for Best Actor and has taken on more roles in crime films, which suit him well.
Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) and Tommy (Joe Pesci) Are Great Friends In Real Life
Even though Tommy beat Billy Batts to the edge of death and then stabbed him in the stomach numerous times with a kitchen knife, it turns out the actors are actually great friends in real life. This isn’t the gangster flick that they have been in together or their first Scorsese film. They take terms “whacking” each other in various other Scorsese films such as Casino where Vincent brutally kills Pesci with a gang of men armed with baseball bats in one of the most violent crime-murders in film history.
Ray Liotta Now
Henry Hill may have been one of Ray Liotta’s biggest roles, but he’s proven that’s not all he’s got. Hailing from New Jersey and moving to New York City, Liotta was well-suited for the role of Hill. He’s also portrayed Frank Sinatra in The Rat Pack and Detective Lieutenant Henry Oak in Narc.
Robert De Niro and Tina Sinatra Played A Nasty Prank On Ray Liotta
Ray Liotta was new to the mob genre back when he was filming the 1998 TV movie Rat Pack. So, to give him a warm welcome, Frank Sinatra’s daughter Tina Sinatra put a fake horse head on set. The head was a reference to the mafia film The Godfather and is used as a mafia threat.
Lorraine Bracco Never Watched the Film, Until Now
Goodfellas was released in 1990 but actress Lorraine Bracco, who played Karen Kill, never saw the film until 2017, over 27 years later. She told The Guardian, “Well, I went to the premiere, but I missed the start doing interviews, and then they pulled me out before the end, and then I had another job on a film with Sean Connery in the [expletive] jungle. And by the time I came home it wasn’t playing. And I never wanted to see it on TV. So, yeah, I didn’t see it until – Mo, when was the 25th anniversary?”
Frank Vincent Was Claustrophobic
After Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) is brutally beat down by Tommy and Jimmy as Henry watches in disbelief in the back, they wrap him in a sheet and throw him in the back of the car. While although cinematically it made sense and was as gangster as it gets, there was one problem. Frank Vincent was incredibly claustrophobic. So, when they open the trunk to see him dying inside, the look on his face is not all acting. He was actually scared and incredibly uncomfortable which worked out for everyone, except for Vincent.
Goodfellas Wasn’t an Instant Hit
Although Goodfellas is considered to be a classic today, and one of the greatest gangster films of all time, that wasn’t always the case. After its release, it received good reviews and was nominated for the Academy Awards, but it was Robert Ebert who really gave the film its name. He stated that “No finer film has ever been made about organized crime – not even The Godfather.” This got people’s attention, especially after he gave the film a perfect four stars and helped to create the hype around Goodfellas that still lingers today.
The Godfather, Goodfellas, And The Sopranos
The cast of Goodfellas shared many of the same actors that were also featured in The Sopranos. This included Tony Sirico, Lorraine Bracco, Frank Vincent, Michael Imperioli, as well as some others who played small parts in both. However, actor Tony Lip was the only person to have acted in Goodfellas, The Sopranos, and also The Godfather. The three are known as “The Holy Trinity” of Mafia films and he gets to put on his resume that he was involved with all of them, something nobody else gets to brag about.