The 'Goodfellas' filmmaker considers himself 'lucky to have had the chance' to work with and know Vincent

By Christopher Rosen
September 14, 2017 at 07:11 PM EDT

Martin Scorsese, who directed the late Frank Vincent in three films, is paying tribute to the famed onscreen tough guy who died Wednesday at age 80.

“Frank Vincent was someone I could count on. He was a natural who was at ease in front of the camera — on a set or on a stage. He made it look easy in all respects,” Scorsese said in a statement. “He was genuine.”

Vincent started acting in the mid-1970s and was a longtime friend of frequent Scorsese collaborator Joe Pesci. The New Jersey native’s first Scorsese film was 1980’s Raging Bull, followed by Goodfellas in 1990, and Casino in 1995.

“We worked together on three pictures, each time with his old partner Joe Pesci, and I always marveled at his genius for improvisation,” Scorsese added. “He was a hard-working actor, he understood the world we were portraying so well that he really didn’t appear to be acting at all. I will always marvel at his artistry, and consider myself lucky to have had the chance to work with him and to know him.”

Of the three films Vincent made with Scorsese, it’s Goodfellas that provided the veteran star with his juiciest role. As Billy Batts, a gangster who crosses paths with Pesci’s Tommy DeVito, Robert De Niro’s Jimmy Conway, and Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, Vincent cast a large shadow over his scenes with a profane energy only matched by Pesci. (Batts’ classic taut, “go get your f—ing shine box,” remains an oft-repeated zinger to this day.)

Said Vincent of Scorsese in a 2011 interview, “Marty has a knack for … picking people who are really not that well known and to develop them as actors. Joe Pesci and I had the chemistry anyway, from playing together for years. Marty used it three times: He used it [in Raging Bull], he used it in Casino, and he used it in Goodfellas. It was quite a nice thing for us because it brought us into the film business. And we had to learn pretty fast how to do it and what to do.”