Goodfellas (1990) tells such a wonderful tale that how much of it is real is easy to forget. The character played by Ray Liotta, Henry Hill, was indeed a New York Mafia middleman.
And he was one of the crews that the Air France and Lufthansa heists pulled off.
When Hill was arrested for drug trafficking by narcotics officers, he went nuts and ratted out his boss, Paul Vario (Paul Cicero, played by Paul Sorvino) and Jimmy Burke (Jimmy Conway, played by Robert De Niro).
Mad Tommy DeSimone (Tommy DeVito, played by Joe Pesci) was already toast by this time.
Considering all this, you can understand why Martin Scorsese referred to Goodfellas as a “documentary” during shooting. It was definitely published as pure nonfiction by Nicholas Pileggi, the seasoned crime writer who wrote the sourcebook, Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family (1985).
Scorsese brought his documentary approach to the next stage by casting U.S. attorney Edward McDonald – he had McDonald play himself.
McDonald expressed surprise during filming at the actions of Lorraine Bracco towards him on set.
US. U.S. Attorney Edward McDonald remembers the animosity of Lorraine Bracco on the ‘Goodfellas’ set,
‘Goodfellas’: Why did the federal prosecutor not play Brian Dennehy or another pro actor?
In ‘Goodfellas’ there is a great scene where the Hills ask for the safety of witnesses when McDonald tells them not to demand special treatment. When Karen (Bracco) says that McDonald has a great reaction to defend only Henry (Liotta) – and not them.
“That’s right,” says McDonald. “And frankly, I don’t care if you go or not.” So Karen considers dropping out of the program for a moment. She hints that she is innocent, too. “Don’t give me the ‘babe in the woods’ routine.” McDonald chuckles.
McDonald informs author Glenn Kenny in Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas that the scene reminded him of his actual discussions with Karen. He says, “I listen to the same bullshit I heard from her then,”
And when playing the scene with Bracco, he used that experience.
In the meantime, as she communicated with McDonald on set, Bracco did not fall out of character. He says in Made Guys, “She was really hostile,” “Which was confusing to me […] because she was so nice to me [in pre-shoot conversations].”
Bracco channeled McDonald’s “total hatred” of Karen Hill through their filming time together.
McDonald expected an equally good actor on set after having a few fun talks with Bracco on the phone. He got Bracco instead after she dressed up as Karen Hill. In Made Guys, McDonald says, “We’re on set and she’s staring at me with this death stare, even between takes,”
The real Karen Hill spoke to Pileggi at Wiseguy and did not mince words about her experiences of McDonald’s. “Then McDonald started his little shakedown,”Then McDonald began his little shakedown. “He said there was enough evidence to charge me in the narcotics case. […] I had no other choice.”
Indeed, if she goes into exile with her husband and son, the already angry mob wife would be even angrier.
Bracco was aware of this and used it on the Goodfellas set. (McDonald described it as “total hatred.”) But when they finished shooting, Bracco became nice again.
“After the scene was done, she put her arms around me and kissed me,” McDonald says in Made Men. “She just had to stay in that mode to keep her consistency.”