Originally created 08/19/04

'Goodfellas' cast reunites for Italian dinner



LOS ANGELES -- The theme of the night was "breaking bread, not legs" when some of the cast and filmmakers of "Goodfellas" reunited for a traditional sit-down dinner Monday night.

Ray Liotta, Paul Sorvino and real-life mob informant Henry Hill - whose gangland experiences inspired the story - showed up to gobble baked ziti, swap stories, sing some Italian opera and recall director Martin Scorsese's acclaimed mob movie.

Many hadn't seen each other since they shot the movie 15 years ago.

Sorvino, who played gang boss Paulie Cicero, said he desperately wanted the role, but played hard to get with Scorsese.

"I didn't think I had that kind of brutality," he said, recalling his first meeting with Scorsese. "I even went with a pinky ring and a black overcoat, I swear to God. I never wore a pinkie ring in my life before or since, but I wanted the role so bad! ... I think Marty had me in mind for it early on. So I said, 'I don't think the money is quite right.' He said, 'I'll take care of that!' And after I walked out I thought, 'I've just hoodwinked the greatest director in the world."'

Sorvino doesn't slice his garlic thin with a razor blade and dissolve it olive oil like his character in the movie. "I like having the chunks in there," he said.

Scorsese, currently working on his new film "The Aviator," did not attend the dinner, which was hosted by Warner Home Video to promote Tuesday's new special-edition DVD release of "Goodfellas."

Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, who won a supporting actor Oscar for his deadly "But, I'm funny how?" character, also were absent.

Liotta sat in a far corner of Matteo's restaurant, watching the movie from his red-leather booth while a painting of Frank Sinatra looked on from across the room. Liotta said he hasn't watched "Goodfellas" since the premiere in 1990.

"I'm flipping channels sometimes and it'll be on," Liotta said. "I'll wait for maybe 20 seconds before moving on."

Soon the actor's signature dish arrived at his table. He eats so often at Matteo's that they named the baked ziti after him.

"It's called on the menu 'The Ray Liotta,"' he said. "Actually my ex is the one who ate it all the time. I always had this," he said pointing to his plate. "But I guess somebody else already had the chicken parm."

Accordion player Norm Panto wandered the room during dinner, and Sorvino - an accomplished tenor - belted out some opera while sitting at a table with former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, who came just because he's a fan.

"Goodfellas" producer Irwin Winkler confided that he was initially against Scorsese's choice of Liotta for Henry Hill, but a mix of charm and gentle intimidation won him over.

"I kept saying, 'No, no, no, no, no.' But Ray came over to me casually in a restaurant and said, 'Look, I'm Ray Liotta ... but I understand you're not interested and don't want me for the part. Can I talk to you about it?' He convinced me!" Winkler said, laughing.

Screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, who also wrote the book "Wiseguy" with Hill, said he was interested in telling a "Godfather"-like story from a low-level gangster's perspective.

"They're volatile. They're a little touched-in-the-head, and that's why they're doing what they're doing," Pileggi said.

Hill, now 62, was kicked out of the Witness Protection Program for continuing to get into trouble with the law. But he isn't afraid for his life anymore. Most of the people he informed on have died in prison. And a lot of gangsters, himself included, are "Goodfellas" fans.

"What I'm proud of is (Scorsese) didn't glamorize it," Hill said. "They're not nice people ... But they accepted me, and ..."

He hesitates, then smiles. "And ... it was fun."