Being Ray Liotta

Being Ray Liotta

Ray Liotta's list of characters has run the gamut, from tarnished baseball immortal Shoeless Joe Jackson to mobster-in-hiding Henry Hill to, well, whoever he was in Operation Dumbo Drop (didn't see it, sorry). He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance in Jonathan Demme's Something Wild and remains beloved by the hausfrau for his stint on the soap Another World. Now, he's a hero to the PlayStation 2 set: Last month, Liotta made his video-game debut as the voice of Grand Theft Auto Vice City "star" Tommy Vercetti, a drug dealer run amok in 1980s Miami, or close to it. Liotta was in town last week to discuss his performance in the forthcoming film Narc--in which he plays the kinda cop who'd bust Tommy in the head, then shoot him, then kick him again.

Have you played Grand Theft Auto Vice City yet?

Naw. Never even seen it. I hear it's great, a pretty fun game.

It's cool, if a bit disconcerting, being you.

I have a feeling I'm gonna get more attention from this than anything, and I think it's because people spend hours with it, and they spend hours as me. It doesn't look like me, but if you wanna say, "Fuck you," it's gonna come out in my voice. I just wanted to get under the radar with it. They asked me to do it, and I like taking on different challenges, trying something like this. That's why I did Major League Baseball's Memorable Moments at the World Series a few weeks ago--just something different. They could show I could say a sentence without cursing. "And here's Ted fuckin' Williams." No.

But that would have been funny.

Yeah, right, that would have been. But, no, I have not played Vice City. But it just came out, and it's unbelievable how many people come up and ask me about it. That's it--they're me. It's really weird.

You weren't familiar with the earlier incarnations of Grand Theft Auto?

Not a thing. I didn't know anything. I heard it was really popular before, and I heard it was violent. I said, "Well, if it's violent, I dunno," and they said, "No, no, no, no. It's the same thing as a movie. It's rated. You can't buy it unless you're of a certain age." So I figured, "You know what, let those people have it." Actually, I kinda made it more cartoony with my voice. It wasn't as nasty. I never saw what they were doing, because what they do is have a bunch of actors running around in blue-screen stuff, and the guy who did [me] was, like, the worst actor I've ever seen. And I said, "This is such an extreme thing, let me do it with a certain sense of fun, like overdo it--like what Bob [De Niro] does in Analyze This, where you're making it extreme as opposed to real." And it was a blast. I just had no idea it was as big as it is, and it's gonna be huge.

A cultural phenomenon.

It's unbelievable. It's unbelievable. I've gotten more reaction from this than the scene I did with Miss Piggy in Muppets from Space. --Robert Wilonsky

Finding Himself

Amber had really had it with Mario. There was his Camry, parked on a snowy night in Chicago outside some skank's house. Amber scrawled big angry words on a scrap of paper and jammed it under the windshield. "Mario, I fucking hate you," she wrote. "You said you have to work then whys [sic] your car HERE at HER place?? You're a fucking LIAR. I hate you, I fucking hate you. Amber... P.S. Page me later."

The note fell into the hands of Davy Rothbart, a part-time ticket scalper and occasional This American Life radio essayist whose Toyota was mistaken for the philandering Mario's. For Rothbart, Amber's bitter message with its touchingly hopeful coda was a jolt of inspiration. "I thought, wow, I want to share this," Rothbart says.

A lifelong collector of lost love letters, diaries, snapshots, to-do lists, office e-mail and other ephemera, Rothbart, who says he's never had a real job since graduating from the University of Michigan, included Amber's screed, along with other items from his catalog of accumulated scribbles, in his first self-published issue of Found magazine. He started with 800 handmade copies. Demand for Found grew so fast, he ended up printing 16,000. The little anthology of litter-lit has been written about in The Washington Post, The New Yorker, GQ and London's Independent on Sunday.

With the second issue of Found just out, Rothbart is on a 50-city tour to promote the 'zine and collect items for future issues. Turns out lots of people are obsessed with other people's throwaways. At Found parties in Pittsburgh, Boston and Brooklyn, Rothbart has been handed piles of kids' notes ("meet me down by the big bush--from the kid with the green backpack"), de-Dumpstered journals and, oddly, a small eel preserved in a jar with a Post-It note attached saying "flaky and self-conscious." By mail he's gotten "finds" from as far away as Hawaii and Bangladesh. (Found is on the Net, too, at

In the rented Mitsubishi he's driven across the Midwest and down the East Coast, Rothbart, 27, arrives in Dallas on November 20, when he'll host a Found gathering on the SMU campus.

Here's what Rothbart had to say about Americans' fascination with their neighbors' trash when we caught him on his cell phone, navigating the interstate somewhere in New England.

Are you surprised so many other people share your love for found stuff?

We're all curious about the people around us. It's a voyeuristic instinct. With these notes and things we're getting a peek into the hearts and minds of strangers. What's incredible is the economy of language on some notes. You get to know someone so deeply and not all the pieces of the story are there. As finders and readers, we get to supply our own story. Each one's a little mystery.

You seem to have a "Spidey sense" for good scraps. Where's the best place to look?

Schoolyards, where stuff blows up against the fence. Just on the street. Anywhere, really.

Who are the best scavengers?

The best things for Found come from school custodians, teachers, mail carriers and librarians. They're the great finders. In Michigan, some police officers came to the Found party with a huge wooden Santa they picked up in an alley. I had a 7-year-old send something from San Diego. A 96-year-old in Florida sent something. Everyone can play.

Has anyone seen Found and recognized something they lost?

It's happened a couple of times. In issue No. 1, I printed an e-mail from this girl about going out with a guy and borrowing an ID. She got in touch recently, and she wasn't mad. She said she was honored and mystified that people all over the world would be interested in her love life.

Get many naked pictures?

Lots of pictures of people's genitals. I didn't realize how common it was for people to take these kinds of pictures. They're not only taking the pictures, but losing them. And people are finding them and sending them to me. My friend Mike says he wants to start a magazine called Dirty Found.

Any favorite recent finds?

Some great ones. Novel-length. Entire journals and notebooks. You wonder how people could part with those things. Something that meant so much to someone just sitting by the road, pages blowing in the wind. In Madison, Wisconsin, this woman found a kid's journal from November 1963 talking about JFK's assassination and how everyone was crying "except the Republicans." Then it talks about the brat she has to baby-sit for. I've been reading that at all the stops.

Ever lost anything you wish someone would find and return to you?

A red T-shirt I used to have that said "Justice for janitors." If someone found that, it would be pretty cool. --Elaine Liner

Davy Rothbart hosts a Found magazine party at 7 p.m., November 20, in Room 131, Dedman Life Sciences Building on the northeast corner of the SMU campus. It's free and everyone is encouraged to bring "finds" to share. Call 214-284-5889 for directions or more info.