When Israeli film director Ariel Vromen called up Ray Liotta to join his film, “1992”, the late screen legend had one question.
“In the last five years, Ray was playing softer characters in television and film, so when I called, he said, ‘Is it dirty? Because I want to go down and dirty on this film. It’s been a while!’” Vromen told ET Canada at a preview screening for friends and family at Hollywood’s Harmony Gold theatre on Wednesday. I was like, ‘Perfect.’”
Set during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, the film follows a custodian played by Tyrese Gibson, who brings his son (portrayed by Christopher Ammanuel) to work only to become embroiled in a heist orchestrated by a father-son duo played by Liotta and Scott Eastwood.
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The movie marks one of Liotta’s final leading roles — he died in his sleep while in the Dominican Republic filming Dangerous Waters in May. He was 67. His 44-year acting career featured roles in movies like “Goodfellas”, “Field of Dreams“ and “Marriage Story”, and television shows including “Shades of Blue” and “Black Bird”. “Cocaine Bear”, another film he shot prior to his death, will release in February.
A cut of “1992” initially screened at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and the film will be released in 2023, however Vromen wished to pay tribute to Liotta with a special event, where loved ones viewed the thriller for the first time. Liotta’s fiancé Jacy Nittolo was believed to be in attendance.
Before the screening, which began with a montage of clips from Liotta’s career, Vromen recalled the New Jersey native’s bold sense of humour, with Eastwood adding Liotta made him laugh daily.
“He was brash, funny and incredibly dry!” Eastwood, 36, told us. “There was no bullsh** with Ray and I liked that. He had a very fun way of making sure there was no bullsh**, but in a way that kept it fun and kept people laughing.”
Gibson added Liotta, who also left behind a daughter (Karsen Liotta), was “extremely focused,” while Vromen commended his frankness.
“He was a 100 percent honest person and you don’t find that anymore,” said Vromen, who first directed Liotta in 2012’s “The Iceman”. “People are often trying to make you feel good or avoiding confrontation, but Ray was eager to confront you at any given moment you worked with him and that’s unique.”
Shooting wrapped in December and Vromen, 49, was working on post-production when he received the devastating call about Liotta’s passing.
Gibson said the loss was particularly gut-wrenching given he previously worked on Fast & Furious 7 when Paul Walker passed away.
“This is the second time this has happened for me,” the 43-year-old musician and actor said. “We lost Paul in the middle of filming and we lost Ray, so it’s very traumatizing.”
As for what can fans can expect from the role that fulfilled Liotta’s wish for a character allowing him to get “down and dirty,” Vromen described his performance as “intense.”
“He plays the dad of Scott Eastwood’s character and thinks it’s just another job, but he turns out to be a monster,” Vromen said. “He’s a really dangerous person.”
READ MORE: Ray Liotta’s Daughter Karsen Pens Heartfelt Tribute To The Late Actor: ‘You Are The Best Dad’
Behind-the-scenes, Eastwood said Liotta was an “incredibly-talented, force to be reckoned with.” Vromen also credited Liotta for having his back when he turned up on the final day of filming with a whole new movie ending.
“I was on the fence about two big decisions and he reminded me, ‘Trust your gut. Don’t listen to anyone. Follow your gut, otherwise you’re going to make a sh** B-movie,” Vromen recounted. “He encouraged me to do what I want.”
“Sometimes an actor can say, ‘I’m not doing it,’ so to have a star of his position standing behind me saying, ‘This is the ending we should shoot,’ was amazing,” he continued. “That’s when you know you have a real creative partner and not someone who has just come in to get a job done.”
Liotta passed away around the 30th anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, which began after a jury acquitted four cops charged with using excessive force in the arrest of Rodney King. Joining the movie was a full-circle moment for Gibson, who was born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, where the unrest began.
“I was there rioting, looting, protesting, and I was a kid but I knew what was going on and it was very uncomfortable,” Gibson said. “No one could have told me that 28 years later, I’d be on-set working on a movie about something I experienced in real life.”
READ MORE: Martin Scorsese Expresses Regret Over Not Working With Ray Liotta Again After ‘Goodfellas’
“And Ariel is a genius filmmaker,” Gibson added. “He made me uncomfortable the whole time because he pushes you to your limit. It was game-changing.”
Gibson’s grateful he got to go head-to-head with Liotta on-screen and said he’s been praying for the actor’s family as they grieve. Vromen, meanwhile, felt mixed emotions about having Liotta’s loved ones watch the film.
“I’m very happy and grateful I had the chance to make his last film, but it’s a mix of happiness and sadness right now because he never saw the film,” he said.
“I hope tonight his family gets to remember him and just have this special moment,” added Eastwood, who along with Gibson also stars in upcoming “Fast X”, teasing the next installment of the franchise is “not what you think.” “And I hope people remember his filmography and the mark he made on film.”