(Warning: Cocaine Bear spoilers follow, especially about the Ray Liotta character.)
Cocaine Bear director Elizabeth Banks and her husband/producer Max Handelman say they made some changes to the rather gory death scene of the Ray Liotta character after the actor sadly passed for real last May.
The Goodfellas, Field of Dreams, and The Many Saints of Newark actor died in his sleep at the age of 67, while he was filming a movie called Dangerous Waters in the Dominican Republic. Cocaine Bear was filmed the previous year during the summer of 2021.
Banks and Handelman say they were keenly aware of how the context of Liotta’s character’s final scene in Cocaine Bear — which, spoiler alert, involves being disemboweled and mauled — might be viewed in a different light after his death.
Ray Liotta Shot His Scenes ‘Joyfully’
In the film, Ray Liotta plays Syd, a drug kingpin who is on the hook for quite of bit of cocaine that goes missing and is, sadly, ingested by a bear.
“We were mindful of the goriness of that scene before we even shot it, and after the events that happened, we did reel it in,” Handelman told MovieMaker.
“He bought fully into the entire disembowelment and goriness of it, so his performance was tied to that reality. So you don’t want to change the reality too much in post because it just doesn’t fit his performance, but we didn’t want it to feel exploitative or unnecessary. And so we did modify it a bit.”
One of the most fun aspects of Liotta’s casting in Cocaine Bear is how it winks at his past roles in movies where cocaine very much comes into play. In 1990’s Goodfellas, drugs are the downfall of Liotta’s Henry Hill as he looks for ways to make a quick buck — in violation of mafia rules — by making side deals involving white powder.
And in 2001’s Blow, Liotta played the financially struggling father of drug smuggler George Jung (Johnny Depp) who urges his son not to focus so much on money. George doesn’t listen to his dad, and that decision costs him everything.
Banks said she and the rest of the Cocaine Bear team were very careful to make sure Liotta’s final performance in the movie felt right given the context of the scene. She also said that Liotta was all-in on the tone of the scene when he performed it.
“It was really difficult because of course, it’s the performance that he gave and he did it all, like I say, joyfully. We did pull back on some of it for sure,” Banks says.
She said that ultimately, she sought to strike a balance between taste and celebrating Liotta’s commitment to what turned out to be one of his final roles.
“So at a certain point, it was all about the calibration of it, right? Like, let’s make sure that he really was the villain that deserved what he got by the end, which is what he and I spoke about in terms of the film — him thinking he’s a good guy, but he wants that golden chalice, right?”
She also said the film looked to an unlikely point of inspiration — the opening of the Ark of the Covenant.
“We talked about the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and how… if you just want the glory, then your hubris is going to get the best of you.”
Cocaine Bear is now playing in theaters.
Main Image: (from left) Eddie (Alden Ehrenreich) and Syd (Ray Liotta) in Cocaine Bear, directed by Elizabeth Banks. Courtesy of Universal Studios.