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Ray grows into a much bigger role.

Byline: ROB DRISCOLL

FANS of Ray Liotta will undoubtedly do a double-take when they see him in his latest movie, Narc, as a hefty homicide cop in Detroit's seedy underworld - a role for which he gained nearly two stone in weight.

The hair is also thinning and his usually clean-shaven features are totally altered by a chunky, not-so-designer goatee.

All in all, a very different look from his turbo-charged debut as the slim-line, fresh-faced anti-hero of Something Wild, or the smart trainee gangster of Goodfellas.

But then again, Narc - an edgy, low-budget thriller which has received rave reviews in America - has been a labour of love for 47-year-old Liotta, who discovered the script and produced the pounds 2.5m picture himself.

And the last thing he was going to do was stint on his own preparation for the role of hard-bitten cop Henry Oak, a man who will stop at nothing to avenge the death of his former partner who was murdered on duty.

``Our director Joe Carnahan was for some reason fixating on a goatee, and he just wanted me bigger - but when I broke the story down and was doing the homework, I was able to make it more specific. You know, a guy who loses his wife after 16 years. He lives on fast foods.

``Someone close to him has died, that gives him a world-weary quality. So I put more grey in my hair than I actually have and shaved my hair back. I put about three or four inch lifts on so I was taller.

``It was just to make sure I felt right for it. I never wanted to look different for the sake of it; all the decisions came from the story and what the story gave me.

``On the one hand, it's a thriller, a whodunnit, but it's also an interesting character study.''

So how did he put on all the weight?

``It's pretty much all about stopping working out - which if you work out as much as I do is a pleasure, but you kind of feel guilty after a while,'' grins Liotta. ``And you just eat and you eat . . .

``But I also wore fat pads. And when you start putting on the pads, you start putting on the eye make-up to make your eyes look baggy and line them, and it all kind of helps you to get into character really fast.

``When it was over I was ready to move on to something different and lose the weight - which is tough to do. I'm in my 40s now, and no matter how much you do it's not as easy as when you're in your 20s. So getting back in shape took a good month, or a month-and-a-half.''

Narc is the kind of gritty, downand-dirty street thriller which probably won't lend itself well to the awards season, despite rave notices for the performances of both Liotta and his co-star, Jason Patric.

But it is that grittiness that specifically drew Liotta to the project; it certainly wasn't the money. Cash was so tight for Narc - which was shot in just 27 days in snowbound Toronto last winter - that production was constantly on the verge of shutting down, and all the principal actors deferred being paid. However, Liotta knows such hardships have been worth it. Nominated for the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Narc has been praised not just for Liotta and Patric's mesmerising performances, but for Joe Carnahan's direction which is a homage to crime classics like Serpico and The French Connection. The film is the first fruit of Liotta's own production company, Tiara Blu Films, formed with his actress wife Michelle Grace and producer Diane Nabatoff.

The difficulties of getting Narc to the screen haven't put him off.

``I wanted to go out on my own in terms of producing and finding projects for myself and get a bit more pro-active,'' says Liotta. ``I changed agents because I wasn't happy. ``I told them that I had a production company and I wanted to see material that no-one was attached to - and along came Narc. It was the first script they gave me and I really responded to it.''

What was going against Narc was that its writer and director Joe Carnahan was a relative newcomer, who had made just one film.

``So I was a little sceptical. I didn't want to go back again, I didn't want to do a movie that was just OK.''

Yet as soon as Liotta sat down with Carnahan, their sensibilities clicked and the actor knew it was a project he couldn't pass along.

``Joe was the one who coined the phrase that he wanted to make a French Connection kind of movie, that was done in a John Cassavetes kind of naturalistic hand-held style and that's what I was thinking when I read it.

``What made it more difficult was a couple of weeks into the movie the money started drying up.''

However, what looked like being an indie movie has become something of a mini-blockbuster, thanks to the intervention of Tom Cruise, who takes an executive producer credit.

``We were lucky to be getting through the movie at all, and then all of a sudden big people start seeing it, we are in competition in Sundance. ``Pretty soon Paramount becomes interested and Tom Cruise is interested and Paramount buys it with his help and here we are!'' grins Liotta.

# Narc opens today.

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UNDERWORLD: Ray Liotta plays a hefty homicide cop in Detroit's seedy underworld in Narc - a role for which he gained nearly two stone in weight
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Feb 7, 2003
Words:940
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