Ray Liotta avoids typecasting in art as well as in life. He’s an on-screen maniac who says he can’t imagine hurting someone in real life. He’s won acclaim for playing menacing characters in Goodfellas and Unlawful Entry as well as pop legends in The Rat Pack and Field of Dreams, yet he so enjoyed being in Muppets from Space that he just had to do Muppets Most Wanted. He’s a plain-speaking guy’s guy who says relationships are not his forte, but he is also the devoted dad of a daughter.
Now this rusty Catholic who digs Pope Francis plays a stalwart born-again preacher in The Identical (release date: September 5). It’s the fictional tale of twin boys separated in infancy. Played by spot-on Elvis impersonator Blake Raynne, one of the lads grows up to be a rock star, while the other grapples with his own musical drive versus his preacher dad’s drive to ordain him as his successor.
Ray gives Catholic Digest his thoughts on raising kids and storytelling, and—just as he hopes viewers of The Identical will do, he dialogues freely with us about all kinds of topics about God.
In The Identical one of the twins is given up for adoption because the family can’t afford to keep both. Could you talk about your own adoption?
I found out about it early on. I did a show-and-tell about being adopted in kindergarten. Back then, I didn’t think, Somebody really wanted me. Instead I thought, How can a mother give up their kid? I had a real chip on my shoulder about it. I met my birth mom when I was 44 years old. Then I was glad I was adopted.
In The Identical, even though adoption was shown as difficult, it was still a deeply good choice—that someone trustworthy would raise the child.
Yeah, who better than a preacher?
Your character’s conflicted, though. He’s kind of a good guy/ bad guy. He loves his adopted son, but it’s his way or the highway.
It’s very Old Testament. They were maniacs back then. God was rough!
A lot of parents can relate to your character, whatever line of work they’re in—preacher, doctor, upper class, or whatever. Have you known parents who’ve wanted to turn their kids into some version of themselves?
Oh my gosh—I live in California! You should see these mothers. Parents are more concerned with what their friends are going to say than what’s good for their kids.
You have a beautiful teenage daughter, Karsen, and you are often seen in public with her. Do you think about her all the time, or is that more of a mom thing?
No, that’s sexist. I think about her all the time. It’s not 24/7, but she’s certainly my biggest priority. She takes precedence over everything. I call her every day. I’d stop doing what I was doing in a second if she had a need or wanted to talk to me.
What are your hopes for her as her dad?
Being happy. Being content. Not being stressed, which, of course, is not totally possible—you know, life is life. I think it’s really, really big to let her form her own opinions—exactly the opposite of what I do to my son in The Identical. As a parent, you just want to set your kids up for life because, even if you have all the faith in the world, there will always be challenges. You just want them to have the ability to deal with what comes. As they say, when you pray
you never ask for anything directly you just ask God for the ability to make decisions. You hope
that your kids will make the right decisions and you thank God for the ability to make those decisions. Not: “Gimme. I want.”
So God’s not a vending machine?
The Identical has a strong theme of Providence looking out for people in a very particular way. Is there a story from your own life where you connected with God—where you knew he was aware of you?
Let me answer it this way: I think one of the biggest sins is to not live your life with what God gave you. I thank God that I’m healthy. We’re all created in the image of God, so we’re able to form our opinions and make choices based on what God gave us.
But do you have an awareness that God knows the number of hairs on your head and cares what happens to you?
No, I can’t say that I do right now. I don’t have a sense that he knows that I’m here, that he’s with me. I think God gave me the ability to deal with things, and so I deal with things. And I know that nothing’s going to be perfect. I’m hip to that right from the get-go. I don’t think just because you believe in God you’ll have a blessed life and everything will always be okay.
Just a heads up—Catholics are not “I believe therefore I live happily ever after” kind of people.
If this movie’s going to do more than just entertain, it’s going to open up dialogue. I remember reading somewhere, “Don’t tell me that you believe in God—give me three reasons you believe in God or give me three reasons why you don’t.”
The Identical is fun, family viewing but you’ve made plenty of movies that aren’t appropriate for kids—Narc, for example. There is lots of profanity and violence, but that film has high moral content. There’s truth and redemption. When you choose your movies, do you look for those things?
No, not per se. I look for stories. The better stories are based around human beings, not characters. I want a good story that’s well-written. Things like truth and redemption, however, are part of what makes a good story.
Any final thoughts about The Identical?
I just hope whoever sees it is entertained, and if it resonates with them in a deeper way, so much the better.