‘Narc’ Director Joe Carnahan Remembers the Late Ray Liotta Once ‘Having a Go’ at Tom Cruise

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NARC, Director Joe Carnahan, Ray Liotta on the set, 2002, (c) Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection - Credit: Paramount Pictures/Everett Collection
NARC, Director Joe Carnahan, Ray Liotta on the set, 2002, (c) Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection - Credit: Paramount Pictures/Everett Collection

Ray Liotta knows how to make a lasting impression. In a touching tribute, Narc director Joe Carnahan tells Rolling Stone about one of his fondest memories of Liotta, who died suddenly in his sleep at the age of 67.

“I’m still processing the news. I still can’t get over the fact that he’s gone,” Carnahan says. “He gave me my career. I could not have gotten Narc made without him. I’m still in shock. He was one of those guys who you thought he was going to live to be a 1,000.”

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But just how did Liotta help the 2002 crime drama turn from festival darling to wide-release feature? With the help of a little wine and the bravery to “have a go” at none other than Tom Cruise, of course. As Carnahan was trying to secure Cruise/Wagner Productions’ financial backing, the director took Cruise and Liotta — who starred in the film — out to dinner in Los Angeles.

“Tom Cruise wanted to have dinner with us,” Carnahan says. “So we go to Giorgio’s [in LA], and the thing about Ray is, he wasn’t like a tequila guy. His drink of choice was Chablis [wine] and crushed ice. That was his jam.”

“So, we’re talking, and you have two reasonably-sized egos in the room with Tom and Ray sitting at the table. Ray is getting a little tipsy off of the wine, and he decides he’s gonna have a go at Tom. He wants to get argumentative with the biggest movie star in the world. So Ray goes, ‘C’mon, Tom, let’s cut to it. You guys are not necessarily doing that great as a company . . . You need a movie like this.’ Tom is like, ‘What are you talking about? Mission: Impossible 2 or The Others?’ and Ray keeps saying, ‘C’mon, you know what I mean!’”

Stunned, Carnahan recalls “shrieking in my seat” as Liotta continued to playfully rib Cruise.

“Ray’s whole thing is basically: ‘YOU need Narc, we don’t need you,'” he recalls. “We leave, and I’m just apoplectic, like ‘What in the fuck are you doing going after Tom Cruise?! He’s Tom Cruise!’ And Ray says, ‘We got the hot movie! C’mon! . . . I’m testing him. I want to see if he’s up to it!”

But the unconventional tactic worked — Cruise/Wagner Productions ultimately bought up the rights to Narc. “Tom came on and really lifted Narc out of being a Sundance darling, and got Paramount to take this $3 million dollar independent cop thriller seriously,” says Carnahan.

Looking back, Carnahan is still touched by Liotta’s confidence in the film. “He just had this unshakable belief in our movie, that somehow this was more important than the biggest movie star on the planet — and it all worked out.”

A rep for Liotta confirmed to Rolling Stone on Thursday that the actor died in his sleep while on location in the Dominican Republic, where he was reportedly shooting the film Dangerous Waters.

Much like in Narc, Liotta made a career specializing in portraying tough-talking, no-nonsense characters often embroiled in the criminal underworld, or lighthearted variations of that character in comedies.

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