Biking is far more than a hobby for Del Fuegos gang leader Jack – it is a way of life. That’s why he’s incensed when a group of yuppies, for whom biking is a tame weekend hobby; walk into the bar he frequents with his tough and intimidating gang. The versatile actor Ray Liotta is totally believable in the role of Jack, bringing an authenticity and darkness to the part. It is easy to understand why the four central characters (played by John Travolta, William H. Macy, Martin Lawrence and Tim Allen) would be terrified to cross his path.
“Ray Liotta was the only actor we considered for this role,” comments the movie’s director, Walt Becker. He is such a great actor and reminds me of Marlon Brando, he has that intensity. His chemistry on-screen with the rest of the cast was fantastic. He’s made Jack more than intimidating, which is what we wanted.”
In a highly amusing, action packed comedy, that is already a number 1 smash hit in the States, Liotta’s mean-spirited and menacing bad guy brings a balance and grittiness to the film. Essentially the story of a group of close friends who take a bike trip across America to rediscover life and have some fun, WILD HOGS turns into a rollicking adventure that at times is side-splittingly funny.
Over the past twenty years, Ray Liotta has starred in a wide range of diverse roles on film and television. His movies include Martin Scorsese’s classic, GOODFELLAS, HANNIBAL, UNLAWFUL ENTRY, FIELD OF DREAMS and BLOW. He recently starred in SMOKIN ACES and his next film is IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SEIGE TALE. Liotta is single and has a daughter.
The following interview was conducted in Los Angeles.
Q: You have played menacing characters before so what was special and interesting about Jack?
A: “I’ve been doing this kind of role long enough so that I know what my job is and I know this kind of character well. It is true that I have often played characters that are definitely on the edgy side, but this guy was so extreme that it was great fun to play him. It was just fun confronting those guys, John, Bill, Tim and Martin: yelling at them and telling them what to do and screaming at them to shut up.”
Q: Did you stay in character off camera, so that you could intimidate them – I hear they felt quite scared of you at times?
A: “I am just quiet. Usually during the day, they liked to entertain themselves, particularly John and Tim who do a lot joking and storytelling. I really found them annoying because the director would be ready for my close-up and usually actors would stop talking to let me do my scene, but these guys would finish their stories and would not stop talking. We’d be ready to film, but they would decide when we were going to begin. And that made me want to yell and scream at them more. So it was good, it was very realistic and really fit in with my character’s rage.”
Q: Were they intimidated by you?
A: “I don’t know if they were intimidated by me. They are top stars!”
Q: Did you train for this film, you look very fit?
A: “Nothing special, but I work out all the time. I work out 5 days a week with weights and I do cardio. I’ve been doing it for years. I consider myself a jock. In high school I always played basketball or soccer or baseball, all organized competitive sport, so I am very athletic. And after all that sport, I just continued working out regularly, because I feel good doing it. As an actor you have so much down time when you are not working, that it is good to stay physically fit. In the morning I like doing a really hard workout so that I am exhausted in the afternoon. You can do only so much driving around or going to movies. I prefer to stay fit.”
Q: Did you hang out with real bikers for research?
A: “ No, having played this kind of character before, I did not have to do research. I know how to be angry and enraged with someone who burned down my bar, which is what happens to my character in this film. Research is good to a certain point, but it doesn’t really help me to get through a movie. It’s still about my imagination and the script and playing pretend. But, having said that, in the past I have spent a lot of time hanging out with guys who are in the mafia. I also played a coroner, so I would go and watch autopsies. I played a heart surgeon for a role, so I would go and watch open heart surgeries. I have of course done my fair share of research. In general, I do like to be able to step into somebody else’s life, just to see how they live and what they do. That is exciting. Playing the surgeon for example, I spent so much time with the doctor I was following, that he asked me to scrub up and touch a woman’s heart, while her chest was wide open. How many times do you get to do that? That is one of thrilling parts of my job, you do so many interesting things and learn a lot all the time.”
Q: What was it like working with Walt Becker the director?
A: “He was great. He was very skilled considering that there are four big stars in the film, who are normally the leads in their movies and this was an ensemble. There are certain things that he had to balance. Everyone was having fun and talking and joking and he had to make sure the work got done every day. And he gives an interesting story about how he would get to work and the first assistant director would want to get things started but everybody would be talking and telling stories. Walt knew that it was wise to let them get all that energy out and off their chest. He said it was like letting the kids run on the playground before they start school. You let them blow off some steam. He really knew how to handle the whole thing and get everything completed that needed to be done. He was very smart about it.”
Q: How did you handle the boisterous atmosphere on the set when your own character is so dark?
A: “ Well, I just know my place. I just know the personalities I was dealing with and people have different needs, so you just respect them and let them do it. I’m more of the William Macy school of thought – shut up, hit your mark, and do the work. And the others have more casual fun time, which is a different approach, but everything worked perfectly for the movie. It really gelled. And it was a lot of fun hearing John and Tim joking.”
Q: Was it the comedians who were the loudest and funniest off camera?
A: “No, because Martin Lawrence, who is a true stand-up comic, was the quietest of everyone. He had fun and had a good time, but he was not loud. Tim on the other hand, was loud; he can definitely hold court and be the center of attention - but in a good way. He’s really a smart guy. His stories and opinions and his outlook on life are fascinating. He can talk about anything and everything and it is always interesting. They weren’t always cracking jokes. With three months in each other’s company, there were inevitably times when things did not seem funny, when things were irritating and all the cast got on each other’s nerves, like the characters do, that made it more realistic in fact. But everyone got on very well for the most part, there was no fighting or anything negative.”
Q: How much fun was it riding a big Harley-Davidson for the film?
A: “That was actually a challenge for me because I had never done it before. I actually had to learn how to ride a motorcycle.”
Q: What feeling do you get from riding a Harley?
A: “There is definitely a sense of freedom in riding a Harley. It’s just you on this big powerful thing, this amazing machine. You are definitely out there and exposed, so you really feel vulnerable to traffic and all the elements, plus, because I was not an experienced biker, I was concentrating so hard on not falling off or getting hit. I was extremely focused while I was riding. I stayed present; if there was anything on my mind it disappeared when I got on the bike. Now, since making the film, I am enjoying riding a motorcycle. If I’m studying for a play or I’m getting ready to do a couple of movies and I need a break, I’ll get on my motorcycle because it will just clear my head.”
Q: The Wild Hogs are looking for freedom. What does freedom mean to you?
A: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose, isn’t that a song? How does that saying go? I don’t know. My lifestyle is very free. I’m not tied to an office or a typewriter or anything. It’s just different, traveling all over the place. And playing pretend for a living is a very liberating kind of existence. Also being with my daughter makes me feel free.”
Q: Have you had any kind of mid-life crisis?
A: “No, when I was in my twenties I was on a soap opera and I had about a month off and I just decided to get in my car and drive and that was a freedom and it was great. I just went by myself and drove across the country. But that was nothing like the crises facing the guys in the movie. No, I haven’t had a mid-life crisis or anything like that. Things have happened in my life that I was not happy about, and wish they hadn’t happened, but those incidents didn’t move me to get on a motorcycle or go to Egypt or on an adventure of any kind.”
Q: Are you a leader like your character?
A: “I don’t know if I’m a leader of groups, but I definitely feel like I’m an individualist. I remember in college they asked me to join certain groups and drama organizations, I just never felt comfortable being in group situations. It’s just my personality. But I don’t need to be the boss.”
Q: What are your goals as an actor?
A: “I’d like to do an out and out love story, something like THE NOTEBOOK. I’d like to do an out and out comedy too. I think that’s going to happen. I would definitely like to play softer and more romantic characters in the future, no question about it, although WILD HOGS was great fun too. I have a really nice movie coming out soon called SLOW BURN. That’s a thriller where everything that my character thinks is happening isn’t happening and all of a sudden the woman that I’m with just turns the table on me. Also I’m playing myself in Jerry Seinfeld’s BEE MOVIE. That’s fun. I just got asked to do a voice on SPONGE BOB. I’m very excited about that too.”
Q: How much do you love acting these days?
A: “I totally love acting, it’s a great way to make a living. It’s fun to play pretend. And as I get older, I approach it in a different way. As much fun as it was in the beginning, when you are starting out wanting to make your mark, you are uptight and insecure about everything. You really want to make sure you are doing it right. You start trusting yourself more as time goes on. But there is still a love for the job that I have. I love getting a script. I love studying for it. The hardest thing is learning lines. I was always an okay student, not great but I wanted to do something I loved as a kid and I have that. In some ways learning lines is like homework. I like the preparation, the imagining part, but the actual sitting and learning lines, there is no way around it. You have to do it, there is no easy method and it is just work.”
Q: Wait Becker compares you to Marlon Brando, what is your response?
A: “That’s very flattering, but I don’t think it is true. I’m serious about the work and maybe that’s what he meant.”