When one thinks of Ray Liotta, it is hard not to imagine his role as mobster Henry Hill in the crime-drama “Goodfellas.” But on Monday, May 25, the Newark, New Jersey-born actor takes on a whole new challenge for him, starring in his first-ever Western, the History Channel’s “Texas Rising.” The 10-episode limited series is the story of the Texas revolution and the rise of the legendary Texas Rangers, who tried to bring law and order to the Texas frontier in the 1830s, and went up against Mexican General Santa Anna.
Liotta is almost unrecognizable in role of Lorca, with a white beard and disheveled hair, who survived the Alamo, but becomes a man filled with vengeance after his family is murdered by Santa Anna’s troops. In person, Liotta is nothing like the dark and dangerous characters he plays on screens, and he happily chatted about his role in “Texas Rising,” his career, and more.
Examiner: This is your first Western. Did you watch them when you were growing up?
Liotta: No. In the ’60s, we would go with my parents on Sundays to – when movies had intermissions. It was great. But I was so naïve. I thought that the people who got killed onscreen were prisoners. They were put to death. That’s how real it seemed to me. But no, I didn’t watch Westerns. I wasn’t a TV watcher. It was all about being active and outside and doing things. I like Clint Eastwood, so I would go see his movies, but that was it.
Examiner: What was it about Lorca that made you want to play him?
Liotta: It’s just a great part. I guess it’s always in the back of an actor’s mind to do a Western. So to be on a horse and play somebody who was trying to seek revenge on his family being killed in front of him and then Lorca goes into a church since its the only place for shelter during the windstorm. There’s a baptism going on, and it starts reawakening this dead spot.
But Lorca didn’t even start out to be a killer. It’s just the madness of war and witnessing his two kids and his wife being killed. And then to slowly start coming around through the help of this woman, whose family was massacred by an Indian tribe. So it was just a great, rich, full character in a setting of the 1830s. It was great. I love riding horses, too.
Examiner: Any skills you had to pick up for the role, like knife fighting?
Liotta: There was that and swords and going after the bad guy and fighting with a sword, while you’re on a horse. It’s challenging and what made it more challenging is these were horses from Mexico, but they weren’t movie horses. So they weren’t trained. That was a big challenge for all of us.
Examiner: I read a quote that you said that you love to play psychotic characters because those are the ones that people remember rather than the good guys. Is that something that you thought about when you were agreeing to play Lorca?
No. I think what happens is bad guys stand out in people’s minds. Let’s just say for an example, and by no means a comparison, just like De Niro or Pacino; they’ve played good guys and bad guys, but it’s the bad guys that really stand out in people’s minds more. They’re much more dynamic.
And if you happen to be in a good story, not just a killing machine but a human being who’s been brought into a situation that has gone that far, that murder is part of who they are, it’s interesting and it’s so different.
“Texas Rising” premieres on the History Channel, Monday, May 24 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.