Ray Liotta plays shady cop Matt Wozniak alongside Jennifer Lopez on NBC’s Shades of Blue, but he wants to also play an action hero.
Ray Liotta is no stranger to playing cops or the bad guy. He’s starred in such films as Goodfellas, Copland, and Unlawful Entry. Filming its third season, NBC’s Shades of Blue sees Liotta play the shady lieutenant leading a team of shady detectives including Jennifer Lopez and Drea De Matteo. Each week, the cop drama highlights twists and turns, and the shady get shadier in this gripping drama. This season saw some phenomenal acting from Liotta that makes him a strong contender for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
Here, Awards Daily TV catches up with Ray Liotta to talk about his character’s shady dealings and his dream role.
Well, that finale.
What a finale. Talk about cliffhangers. Jack Orman really knows how to put together a show and get great writers to do it. I look forward to getting the scripts and my reaction is, “Oh my God, we’re doing what?”.
What is that like for you? Because with film, once you read the script you know where you’re going. With TV, you just have no idea where Woz goes from one episode to the next. What is that like for you not knowing?
I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the show the first year. I didn’t know Jennifer as a New York cop. But I knew she was smart. I just didn’t want to be the guy behind the desk who says, “Go do this,” and they go do it and have all the fun and the action and they come back to me and I say, “Good job.” I didn’t want to be that guy. I wanted to be right in the middle of it.
To Jennifer’s credit, she was more than willing to have me share the responsibilities. I give her a lot of credit for letting me share the show with her.
I didn’t know if I wanted to do the show, and I wanted to know I was going to be involved. So I went with my manager to NBC and Jack Orman brought me into the writer’s room where the rooms were filled with what happens. There were different colors for the different characters. I saw the arc of what the first season was going to be. I saw the involvement. So, I was really looking forward to doing a 13-episode show. This came along with “Jenny from the block.” She’s bringing the block out and letting her New York out. She’s doing a really good job. I did it and they’re writing great stuff for me and so I’m extremely happy.
I like your arc. At the end of the day, he’s just taking care of his family even with the body bags filling up by the second.
Yes, but at the end of the day, he loves his family. Although, Stahl doesn’t like my character and he reveals the tape to Woz’s wife. She confronts Woz about it and his family starts disintegrating.
Then my son finds out that I’m bi-sexual, and he’s bi-sexual. Woz has always put him down because he has his own securities about being man enough to admit who I am. It’s really interesting things to do with the family. I also consider the guys I work with as my family too, and I’m really protective of them.
Did you know that Woz was bi-sexual coming in? I certainly feel when that happened, you had no idea that was coming? It just came right at you.
I knew that. I didn’t know the extreme they were going, but I knew there was going to be a kiss. Now, the only man I had ever kissed was my dad on the cheek. It really taught me something too. If I know I’m going to be kissing somebody, I’m going to know to always shave because stubble hurts. [Laughs]
There’s one scene where I grab him by the balls and throw him into the wall. I was going to grab him by the belt, and they told me to grab him there. I didn’t think the censors would even allow that, but I learned that if the script is out, the censors have already read it.
So, I grabbed him by Big Jim and the Twins and threw him against the wall. I did it.
Have you been injured?
I have. Nothing bad, but I like doing my own fighting and the running and jumping, but I’ve not had anything serious.
Every episode has the net closing in on Woz and the family. What’s it like playing someone like him? Is it tiring to play him at the end of the day?
Yes. What’s even more tiring is the schedule. We shoot two episodes at once. If there’s a location that is in Episode 1 and 2, why go back? We have to learn the scripts within a few days before the shoot so it’s rather challenging within that area.
Do you have the cop lingo down now after two seasons?
I change it a lot. Sometimes I change things around because these guys who become cops go from high school right to the academy. They’re coming out of there at 21, and they’re street to a degree. So the lingo is something I’m familiar with because it’s the way I talk. I’m from New Jersey, and it’s nothing new to me. I’ve always been around New York and cops in general.
To get something like Taken. That is the hero I’d like to play. It’s a film that has love, it’s the love of his daughter. Something like that would be ideal.
What kind of roles are you being offered?
I get a bit of everything. I was in the last Muppet Movie with Danny Trejo.
That was hilarious.
Did you see it?
I sure did.
We had a blast doing it. I’ve been lucky to do both. I’d love to do something flat out romantic or a hero. At the beginning of my career, I was very precious, and I would really wait for that next thing to come that was different from the previous project. I was trying to do it as an actor’s actor. That’s not exactly the best way to get your career going.
I was asked by Tim Burton to come in when they were doing Batman. As great as Beetlejuice was, I said I wasn’t going to come in and play Batman. That was one of the stupid moves I made.
You never really know though.
At that time, it was the first one. He ended up using Michael Keaton, and it just as easily could have been mine.
We have to put this out there now. I think you should be a hero and in a romantic comedy. Would you like to be a hero? Or even a superhero?
Totally. To get something like Taken. That is the hero I’d like to play. It’s a film that has love, it’s the love of his daughter. Something like that would be ideal.
It’s out there.
Make that the headline!
Do you have a favorite scene from the season?
Wow. I’ve had a couple with Jennifer that I really like. Some of those scenes were softer because it’s almost a father-daughter relationship. Even the scenes with the partner, that was so different from anything I’d ever done. Having that kind of dynamic and taking on that challenge and committing to those circumstances was something different than I had ever done.
There’s another scene where I’m in the confessional, and I’m opening up about my daughter killing herself and that it was my saying the wrong thing. When I opened that up, I hadn’t planned on crying, but I have a daughter. I wasn’t using emotional recall, but I could relate to loving somebody so much and they do that and it’s your fault. That was a really emotional moment. They shot it with me looking into the camera and that moment stood out.
Is there a part of you that would like to learn about Woz and more of his background?
There’s that scene I was talking about. Just the fact, he knows he wants to go to that bar and he even knew about it makes you wonder just how dark and seedy he really is. That would be interesting to explore because there are a lot of different lifestyles in the world. There are some that we know about.
That’s why documentaries are so interesting to me because we get to see how others live. I would like to see how dark Woz could be to the point of almost shocking people.
Does Woz sleep after everything he does? Does he get a good night’s sleep?
[Laughs] It takes a lot out of you to kill people.
Between his shady past and all those bodies.
I bet you it’s only a couple of hours, and they’re not a solid few hours. I’m sure there’s a lot of pacing and watching late night TV.
It’s also about his paranoia. Will that get the better of him eventually?
For good reason. I think I get things back in control. We’re in the third season and he’s trying to put the crew back together again and they stay away from him because of what happened in the finale.
Woz wants to get back what these people have done to him. It’s a very you don’t see it coming moment. At least that’s what happened when I read it.
I eagerly await it.
The cast all tweet every Sunday. Do you get involved in that?
They have their party. I don’t go and sit with them and watch it. I do it by myself, with my wife, or I watch it alone. The tweets I get are from the East Coast feed, so I’ll reply to those. I don’t understand why you’d encourage someone tweeting during the show. You want them wrapped in the show. The perfect scenario for an audience member is to be lost for an hour or two and not thinking about what your favorite food is.
Totally. It’s surprising what happens, and that’s what’s unique about the show. You just don’t know what’s going to happen.
So, you watch this, but do you go back and watch your other films?
Never. I watch some of the shows that I’m curious about to see what the directors did. I went back and saw the first episode of this because Barry Levinson did it. My acting teacher always said you are the barometer of what you do because if you get in with a bad director, you’re going to be bad. You have to rely on yourself with what works and what doesn’t.
You can tell, and you don’t need anyone to tell you. There’s a joke that I heard in Hollywood that goes, “There are two agents walking down the hall and one turns to the other and says, ‘What did you think of the script that you got?’ He answers, ‘I don’t know. I’m the only one who read it.’ ” They’re all waiting for other people to let them know. To make your own decisions is really the ideal.
Would you ever like to direct?
I produced Narc a while ago, and that’s a good one. I produced that, and it’s very raw. I’m really proud of it. Directing isn’t something I want to do. I read it and see it in my mind, but I’ve not seen the whole thing. If I were to do it, I would do it very still and let the actors act.