Imagine Gooodfellas starring Tom Cruise and Madonna.
The producers initially wanted Tom Cruise and Madonna in the lead roles of Henry Hill and his wife, Karen. Madonna's ex-husband Sean Penn was also considered for Henry. Hill is the real life gangster whose story inspired the book Wiseguy, which inspired the movie. Hill was kicked out of the FBI's Witness Protection Program. After the release of Goodfellas, he enjoyed the spotlight, releasing a cookbook and making regular call-in appearances to The Howard Stern Show. Hill passed away from heart related complications in Los Angeles in 2012.
Ray Liotta didn't know Paul Sorvino was going to slap him.
Paulie tells Henry to stay away from drug dealing and punctuates the advice with a slap. Ray Liotta had no idea Paul Sorvino was going to slap him. Sorvino improvised.
Al Pacino said no to playing Jimmy.
Jimmy Burke, aka Jimmy "The Gent" or "The Big Irishman," was a bricklayer turned gangster who authorities believe was behind the $6 million airline heist at the center of the movie and the subsequent murders of many of the people involved. Al Pacino was offered the part of Jimmy, renamed Jimmy Conway in the movie, but passed. At the time, he was said to be concerned about being typecast as a wiseguy.
The steadicam scene wasn't planned.
The Steadicam shot that takes the audience through the nightclub kitchen is probably the most famous moment in Goodfellas for cinephiles. But it wasn't part of the original plan. The idea came up when the venue refused to let them shoot the entrance. The scene was reshot several times, but only because comedian Henry Youngman kept screwing up his lines, which ruined the end of the long single shot.
Martin Scorsese didn't direct the wig commercial.
The commercial for Morrie's Wigs was the first thing shot for Goodfellas and it wasn't directed by Marty. In order to capture the low-budget feel of local TV commercials, the filmmaker reached out to Stephen R. Pacca, a real-life businessman who'd made those kinds of ads, and had him write and direct the Morrie's Wigs spot.
Joe Pesci wrote the 'Funny How?' Scene.
Joe Pesci won the only Goodfellas Oscar for his portrayal of Tommy DeVito, a character based on Tommy "Two-Gun" DeSimone. The real Henry Hill has said the actor's performance was "90 to 99 percent accurate," save for the real Tommy's imposing 6' 2" stature. Pesci suggested the "Funny How?" scene, based on a real life conversation the actor had once witnessed two intoxicated gangsters having in Chicago. Scorsese liked the anecdote and tasked the actor with writing the scene.
The Dinner with Tommy's mother was mostly improvised.
Pesci and DeNiro improvised most of their conversation at the dinner table with Tommy's mother (played by Martin Scorsese's real life mother) including the bits about a deer's hoof and Tommy asking to borrow the butcher knife. Liotta's Henry, of course, is famously silent for most of it.
The scene where Tommy kills Spider was mostly improvised.
The only line of dialog that was in the script was the insult Spider finally throws at Tommy. The rest of the conversation between all of the characters was improvised.
That scene actually sent an actor to the hospital.
Michael Imperioli cut his hand on broken glass while filming the scene where Spider, his character, is shot by Tommy. Emergency room doctors first assumed he was at the hospital because of the wounds all over his chest. Once they learned those were fake, they made him wait three hours to get treated. Scorsese told Imperioli that he'd probably get to tell that story on The Tonight Show someday and sure enough, years later, while promoting his star making turn on The Sopranos, he did.
The Sopranos connections.
The Sopranos tops the list of Greatest Television Shows of All Time for Rolling Stone and numerous other outlets and rightly so, as it kick started a Golden Age of TV. Creator David Chase has been vocal about his complete adoration of Goodfellas and there are many homages and connections. There are more than 20 Goodfellas cast members in The Sopranos, including Lorriane Bracco, Michael Imperioli, and the late Frank Vincent. Goodfellas comes up in conversation in several episodes. Perhaps most notably, there's the Season One scene where Christopher shoots a baker in the foot. As he leaves the bakery, Christopher says dismissively, "It happens."