A new 4K restoration of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas closed out the 14th annual Tribeca Film Festival on Saturday night, and the celebration brought several of the film’s cast and crew members to the Beacon Theatre in New York City. Writer Nicholas Pileggi, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, and Paul Sorvino joined festival co-founded Robert De Niro on stage for a post-screening conversation with Daily Show host Jon Stewart. While some of the panel’s members were less comfortable sharing their memories from filming (we’re looking at you, Bobby D), the night brought to light a few secrets from the mafia classic.
Not everyone could make it.
Before the screening, the night started out on two down notes. Both Joe Pesci and Martin Scorsese weren’t able to attend. The man who played hothead Tommy DeVito did, however, send an email in his stead, which De Niro read on stage. “F–k, f–k, f–kity, f–k,” De Niro said the note read, before including an apology for Pesci’s absense. Scorsese, on the other hand, sent a characteristically rambling recorded message from Taipei, where he’s got a month left of shooting on his next film Silence. He recalled the improvised dinner with his mother, the use of popular music on the soundtrack, playing “Layla” on set during the famous montage and getting banned from an Italian restaurant after the movie premiered because of the way Goodfellas portrayed Italians.
Nicholas Pileggi almost missed his original call from Scorsese.
Stewart kicked off the conversation by asking Pileggi how the project came about. The writer explained that after his book Wiseguy received positive reviews and became a bestseller, Scorsese tried to reach him. “I never thought it was Marty calling,” Pileggi said. “I was at New York Magazine at the time, and I’d get these little pink slips that would say, ‘Call Martin Scorsese.’ I thought it was David Denby, who was the movie critic at New York Magazine, so I didn’t respond.” Eventually, the director got in touch with Pileggi through the writer’s wife, Nora Ephron.
Karen had some real-life inspiration.
The cast then recalled their early experiences on the production. Bracco told the audience about how her family’s cultural background and where she grew up informed her role as Karen. “I had an Italian father, but I have an English mother,” she said. “I learned a lot about being Italian from my dad, but we lived in a Jewish neighborhood, which helped create Karen.”
Sometimes a hoof is a hoof.
When Stewart asked about De Niro’s use of the word “hoof” during the scene at Tommy’s mother’s house, the actor gave a very matter-of-fact answer. “It’s a normal exchange between those characters where you say certain things where you’re kind of half-aware that it’s funny, but it’s also what would be said. He says, “a hoof.” A hoof is a hoof,” De Niro said. “It’s not a word that’s used a lot. My character in that situation at that dinner table in an impromptu meal while there’s a body in the trunk, it felt like the right thing to say.”
The “funny how” scene was improvised… to a point.
Since Pesci couldn’t make it, Liotta shared his experience shooting the scene that features the movie’s most iconic exchange. According to him, Pesci had a similar experience talking to “a connected” man in Queens before the shoot. When he told Scorsese about it, the director decided to incorporate it as the lead-in to Tommy’s violent encounter with owner of the Bamboo Lounge. The cast worked through the scene with Scorsese, but when Pesci went “off book” during filming, the director had to reel him back in.
Paul Sorvino almost quit.
Three days before filming was supposed to start, Sorvino told his manager that he wanted to leave the production because he couldn’t wrap his head around the contradictions within his character Paulie. All it took to change his mind, though, was a severe face he accidentally made in the mirror while straightening his tie.
Henry Hill thanked Ray Liotta for making him look good.
Per Scorsese’s instructions, Liotta didn’t meet with the real Henry Hill until after the movie came out. Once that happened, Liotta met Hill in a bowling alley on his invitation. The first thing that Hill said to him there was, “Thanks for not making me look like a scumbag.” Added Liotta: “Did you see the movie?”
Even the ketchup technique is authentic.
Before filming the scene with the meal at Tommy’s mother’s, Scorsese had Pileggi reach out to Hill to find out which method for getting ketchup out of the bottle Jimmy “The Gent” used. That’s why De Niro rolls the bottle in his hands, as we see in the finished film.