What do some of the mothers, daughters, mobsters, and prosecutors in the movie Goodfellas have in common? They weren’t acting. These ten actors didn’t have to stretch very far at all to play their roles and here’s why:
John "Cha Cha" Ciarcia as Billy Batts Crew
Cha Cha was affectionately known as “The Mayor of Little Italy” to his friends and family in New York and was known for his amazing story telling.
While it’s never been totally clear just how connected Cha Cha was, we can confirm that among his many real life jobs were: boxing manager to a young Tony Danza as well as owner of Cha Cha’s in Little Italy and a bar in Coney Island.
Comic Henny Youngman as The King of The One-liner
“Take my wife… please.” “I take my wife everywhere but she always finds her way home.” In the famous Copa scene, Henny Youngman is on stage performing as himself, the King of the One-liner.
Edward McDonald as the Prosecutor for New York
No acting needed—Edward McDonald was in fact the prosecutor that relocated the Hills into the witness protection program after getting Hill to testify about point-shaving in basketball among many other crimes, eventually taking down half of the Lucchese crime family.
Stella Keitel As the Daughter of Karen and Henry Hill
Though Stella wasn’t the real daughter of Lorraine Bracco’s character Karen Hill, she was the real daughter of Lorraine Bracco, making the role a natural fit for her.
Louis Eppolito as Fat Andy
Eppolito played the role of mobster Moe Black’s brother Fat Andy in Goodfellas, but in real life he was an NYPD officer who was on the Mafia’s payroll.
He was eventually charged with numerous crimes, including using an unmarked police car to pull over a Gambino family Captain and assassinate him on the side of the road.
Chuck Low as Morrie
No, Chuck Low was not the King of Wigs in real life. But just like Morrie and Jimmy (De Niro's character) had a working relationship in the movie, in real life Low was De Niro’s real estate agent.
We’re guessing that De Niro never choked Low with a phone cord over a real estate deal like he did in the movie over money Morrie owed him.
Tony Darrow as Sonny, Owner of the Bamboo Lounge
Apparently, it wasn’t much of a stretch for Darrow to act like a guy with ties to the Mafia. This East New York native was charged with extortion in 2004 along with Gambino family soldier Joseph “Joey Boy” Orlando for allegedly ordering the “maiming” of a Monticello man who owed the wrong person money.
Michael Imperioli as Spider
This one has a weird twist—it should actually read Spider as Michael Imperioli. During the filming of the infamous scene in which Spider gets shot, Imperioli cut his hand.
When the scene wrapped, they took Imperioli to the ER to get his hand stitched up but forgot that he was still in full make-up from the scene. Doctors initially rushed Imperioli into the back to treat the gunshot wound in his chest.
When they realized it was make-up and that Imperioli only needed stitches in his hand, they moved him to the bottom of the list.
Tony Sirico as Tony Stacks
Sirico had been arrested 28 times by 1971… and Goodfellas didn’t start filming until 1991. Among his crimes were robbing an after hours club in Brooklyn and felony weapons possession.
This cohort of various Colombo family captains may have been drawing on experience when his character famously stuffed a mailman’s head into a pizza oven.
The Man With Two Dogs Painting
This painting is not actually a character in the movie but there’s so many real and unusual aspects surrounding it and the scene it's in that we had to include it.
First of all, the character holding the painting in this classic scene is Tommy’s mother. However, in real life, the woman playing Tommy’s mother is actually Director Martin Scorsese’s mom.
In the movie, this painting is accredited to Tommy’s mother but in real life, co-writer Nicholas Pileggi’s Mom, Susan Pileggi, made this painting. She based the painting on a photograph from the November 1978 issue of National Geographic (pictured below).
Director Martin Scorsese is known for his ability to create a fully immersive and authentic experience in his movies and his casting is a major component in achieving this cinematic magic.
This list really only scratches the surface of how many details he put into the movie Goodfellas in order to give the story the real-life essence it so effortlessly exudes.