EXCLUSIVE: Ray Liotta is negotiating to join the cast of The Many Saints Of Newark, The Sopranos prequel film that New Line will put into production by spring. He joins Alessandro Nivola, Vera Farmiga, Jon Bernthal, Billy Magnussen, Corey Stoll, and Michael Gandolfini, latter of whom will play the Tony Soprano role originated by his late father James Gandolfini. Alan Taylor is directing.
Scripted by The Sopranos creator David Chase and Lawrence Konner, the prequel is set in the era of the Newark riots in the ’60s, when African Americans and Italian Americans in the city were at each other’s throats. That clash became lethal when it spread to gangsters of each group. Liotta’s place in mob movie history is stamped by his portrayal of Henry Hill in the Martin Scorsese-directed Goodfellas. He also grew up in Newark in the ’60s, and has a personal connection to the story.
“I am thrilled to be working with David Chase and Alan Taylor on The Many Saints of Newark,” Liotta said. “David’s talent is unmatched and the directing of Alan Taylor makes this even more exciting. I respect them both immensely and look forward to making this special project with New Line.”
Liotta joining the film continues the tradition of Goodfellas cast members who appeared in the series — 27 in total including stars Lorraine Bracco, Michael Imperioli, Frank Vincent and Tony Sirico among them — but being set in The Many Saints of Newark puts Liotta in rarified territory, or at least a cool trivia question.
In Deadline’s 4-part look back for the 20th anniversary of the iconic HBO show, Joe Pantoliano recalled that when he was first offered the role of Ralph Cifaretto, HBO wasn’t going to pay his quote, and the deal didn’t work out. They cast a different actor, but when that didn’t work well, they changed their mind and Pantoliano said he was reconsidered. But only after a list of other Goodfellas actors were talked to, including Liotta. That is reminiscent of Robert De Niro and The Godfather. De Niro at one point was going to play Paulie Gatto, the driver of Don Corleone whose decision to call in sick the day the Don was gunned down by rivals, led his cold to be a fatal affliction. Because John Martino played that role, De Niro was able to play the much larger role of young Don Corleone in The Godfather Part II.
The filmmakers are keeping quiet on details for the project and the roles most actors are playing in The Many Saints of Newark, but it is known that some of the beloved characters from The Sopranos will appear in the film. The Sopranos ran six seasons and won 21 Primetime Emmys, five Golden Globes and Peabody Awards. Chase and Konner are producing The Many Saints of Newark and Chase Films’ Nicole Lambert is exec producing along with Marcus Viscidi.
Liotta most recently starred with Jennifer Lopez in the NBC drama Shades of Blue and will next be seen in Charlie Day’s directorial debut El Tonto opposite Jason Sudeikis, John Malkovich and Kate Beckinsale, and the untitled Noah Baumbach Netflix film, opposite Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. Liotta is repped by Beth Holden-Garland at Untitled Entertainment and Gersh.