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Why Jay From Marriage Story Looks So Familiar

"Marriage Story," the critically acclaimed 2019 drama from writer-director Noah Baumbach, is available to stream on Netflix as one of the streaming service's prestige offerings. So far, it's the only Netflix movie to earn an acting Oscar; Laura Dern won Best Supporting Actress for her performance as divorce attorney Nora Fanshaw.

The film chronicles the divorce of theatrical director Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) and actress Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). It's a searing, funny, and emotionally complex story wherein both main characters are fundamentally decent but very flawed and act out in ways that hurt the other.

"Marriage Story" features strong performances from its two leads, who were both nominated for Academy Awards, and its impressive supporting cast — which, in addition to Dern, includes venerated actors Alan Alda, Merritt Wever, and Wallace Shawn. As a bonus, the film also co-stars an actor renowned for his ability to be very menacing, which he uses to great effect as Charlie's uncomfortably intense lawyer Jay Marotta. 

He's Ray Liotta, whom you may recognize from his one truly legendary role and his dozens of other TV and movie roles.

Ray Liotta swung for the fences in Field of Dreams

Ray Liotta's most notable early career role came in 1989's classic sports fantasy drama "Field of Dreams," in which he played historically significant baseball player "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, a great hitter for the Chicago White Sox whose legacy was tarnished by his alleged involvement in the 1919 World Series fixing scandal. Liotta plays him with decency and a bit of danger. 

In the film, Jackson magically appears in Ray Kinsella's (Kevin Costner) cornfield. Kinsella turns part of his farm into a baseball field because a voice tells him, "If you build it, he will come." Eventually, Jackson and the other blacklisted Black Sox players appear in the field and play. It is Jackson who reveals that the "he" in "if you build it, he will come" is Ray's father, who died while he and Ray were estranged, and they make peace with each other. 

"Field of Dreams" is a movie beloved by many, and was added to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress in 2017.

He became a gangster in Goodfellas

Perhaps Ray Liotta's most famous role is mobster Henry Hill from Martin Scorsese's 1990 mafia epic "Goodfellas." The film documents Hill's rise and fall as a mafia associate across the years between 1955 and 1980, showing the glamour and excitement of the mafia lifestyle while also displaying its abject ugliness and misery. Liotta is absolutely unforgettable as the smiling but violent and ruthless Hill.

The all-time classic film is what Liotta will be remembered for. "Almost every day, it seems like somebody's saying something about it," Liotta told the New York Daily News on the occasion of the film's 30th anniversary in 2020. "Younger kids are seeing it as if it had come out for the first time, and people have seen it lots of times. I'd like to think it's just because we did our jobs in telling an interesting, compelling story."

Like "Field of Dreams," "Goodfellas" is also in the National Film Registry.

Ray Liotta got paid for Operation Dumbo Drop

Most '90s kids will know Ray Liotta for his work in the 1995 Disney live-action comedy-drama "Operation Dumbo Drop." In the film, he plays Captain T.C. Doyle, a U.S. Army Green Beret serving in Vietnam in 1968 in a village where the residents are helping the Army observe enemy movements. An act of carelessness on Doyle's part leads to the North Vietnamese Army killing the villagers' elephant, so Doyle has to help find a replacement elephant, which can only be delivered to the village via airdrop.

"Operation Dumbo Drop" was a difficult production, according to Liotta's co-star Denis Leary. "[Making] the movie was so painstakingly terrible — because it took a long time to shoot — that all of us actually had pictures of the things that we were gonna buy with our money to keep us going," Leary told Entertainment Weekly. "I had a picture of this property in Connecticut. Ray Liotta had a picture of a house that he was building outside L.A., and Danny Glover had a picture of a property in San Francisco he was gonna buy. That's how we would get through it."

He played Ol' Blue Eyes in The Rat Pack

Ray Liotta is a blue-eyed, culturally Italian American (he was adopted and is actually of mostly Scottish descent, he explained to the Newark Star-Ledger) native of northern New Jersey — so it was probably a great honor when he got to play Frank Sinatra, the world's most famous blue-eyed Italian American northern New Jersey native, in the 1998 TV movie "The Rat Pack." 

However, Liotta originally didn't want to do take on the role, he told GQ in a 2019 video interview. "Everyone knew Sinatra. I don't sound like him, I don't look like him," the actor said. "The only thing we have in common is we're both from Jersey and we both say the F-word a lot." Eventually, Liotta realized that the reason he didn't want to do it was because he was afraid of judgement, which he can't be as an actor. So he did it, and "The Rat Pack" ended up winning three Emmys.

Plus, a tuxedo Liotta wore in the film sold for $400 on the reality series "Pawn Stars."

Ray Liotta was a very bad guy in The Place Beyond the Pines

Arguably the most underrated film of Ray Liotta's career is the heavyweight 2012 indie crime drama "The Place Beyond the Pines." In it, Liotta plays a corrupt Schenectady, New York police officer named Deluca, who pressures another officer, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), to commit crimes with him. It's yet another great use of Liotta's extraordinary ability to appear jocular on the surface with a barely concealed threat of harm just below it. Deluca is an absolutely despicable character, using his position of power to prey on a vulnerable young Latina woman (played by Eva Mendes) and rob her house because he knows she has a stash of cash in there.

"I guess those are what people remember," Liotta said to GQ. "There's something about the bad guy. Even other actors who have played intense people, they've done other types of movies, but there's just something about those kinds of roles that stick in people's minds."

Heading to TV for Shades of Blue

Ray Liotta's biggest series regular TV role in his career to date was the NBC crime drama "Shades of Blue," in which he starred opposite Jennifer Lopez. He played another corrupt cop, NYPD lieutenant Matt Wozniak. Lopez played his mentee and surrogate daughter, a fellow corrupt cop named Harlee Santos, who becomes an undercover FBI informant against Wozniak after she's caught in an anti-corruption sting. The show ran for three seasons between 2016 and 2018.

At the ATX Television Festival in 2018, Liotta said that earlier in his career, he wouldn't have taken a TV role like "Shades of Blue" because back then, when a film actor took a TV part, it meant their career was declining. But that's not the case anymore — and Liotta has also learned that as actors get older, they don't want to travel so much, and TV shows are mostly in one place. He'd love to do another TV show. 

Liotta also said he took the part on "Shades of Blue" because his character was bisexual, which he found interesting. "That's a very different kind of thing to do for television," he said. "I'm not on that team, but it was fun."