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Martin Scorsese: My Mother Was ‘Really Improvising’ Her Entire ‘Goodfellas’ Scene

"All we told her to do was just welcome her son home," Scorsese said about the direction he gave his mother.

Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Catherine Scorsese, Robert De Niro,

Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Catherine Scorsese, and Robert De Niro in “Goodfellas”

Everett Collection

Martin Scorsese’s late mother Catherine played a special role throughout his career, most famously in a cameo during one of the most memorable sequences of “Goodfellas.” Catherine appears in one scene as the mother of Joe Pesci’s psychopathic mobster Tommy DeVito. Tommy brings his fellow mobsters Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) back home to pick up a shovel so they can bury a dead body, only to run into Tommy’s mother when they enter the house. Scorsese reveals in an introduction for the virtual 2021 TCM Film Festival (via EW) that his mother’s appearance was entirely unscripted except for one line of dialogue.

“All we told her to do was just welcome her son home; she hasn’t seen him in a while,” Scorsese said. “The key there is ultimately the warmth between all of them and particularly my mother playing his mother; he may be a psychopathic killer, but he’s still her son. When people talk about improvisation, this really was improvisation. We had a few ideas on set we played…but basically once we started shooting, she picked up on something and started speaking. Joe answered her, Bob [De Niro] did what he did, Ray [Liotta] did what he did, I had two cameras, we’re in a small house in Queens, and I think the only written line was about a painting that she did.”

Scorsese added, “My mother treated Pesci and particularly Bob De Niro as family members, real family members, because we know each other for so long and to her, it was my son’s friends were making a movie.”

Both “Goodfellas” and Scorsese’s feature directorial debut “Mean Streets” are screening as part of the virtual TCM Film Festival this year. Scorsese is participating in the event via filmed introductions to both movies. “Goodfellas” is streaming at the festival through HBO Max starting May 6, while “Mean Streets” is set to air May 6 on at 11:15pm ET.

The 2021 TCM Film Festival is set to air on TCM and HBO Max from May 6 to May 9. Head over to Entertainment Weekly’s website to read more from Scorsese’s contribution to the virtual event.

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