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Before Joe and Anthony Russo made filmmaking a family affair, it was Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese's territory. Practically every film Scorsese has done involved his family in some way. One of his greatest collaborators was his late mother Catherine Scorsese, who appeared in multiple films made by her son. But her most well-known role was that of Tommy’s mother in the 1990 film Goodfellas. Recently, the director revealed a sweet fact about her cameo.
For many Martin Scorsese fans, Goodfellas is considered one of the best gangster/mafia films. Viewers still quote entire scenes from the Scorsese classic, but a loyal fan will know of his mother’s cameo in the film. Decades after the Oscar-nominated film was released, Scorsese said the following about his late mother’s small, but memorable appearance:
There was some violence, and the aftermath of it was they have to stop off at Joe Pesci's house, his mother's house, to pick up a shovel so they can bury the guy. They enter the house around three in the morning, and they're met by Joe Pesci's mother, Tommy's mother, and that's played by my mother. All we told her to do was just welcome her son home; she hasn't seen him in a while.
Martin Scorsese’s gangster films are known for their violence, but oftentimes, it’s hidden sweet moments in his films that steal the show. The interaction between Scorsese’s mother, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta served as a sweet mother-son moment amidst the chaos. The fact she improvised most of the scene made it even better. Sometimes, even a tough guy needs his mother, as evident by that scene.
During his Entertainment Weekly interview, Martin Scorsese delved more into his mother’s improvisation in the memorable scene. All the actors followed Mrs. Scorsese’s lead, according to the Oscar winner. The director said this about the feeling and timing of the beloved Goodfellas scene:
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.
Being on-screen with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta in a Martin Scorsese film would intimidate most novices but not Mrs. Scorsese. She held her own in the scene while dictating the direction and flow. Knowing the entire scene was improvised made it even more memorable. While she’s no longer with us, it’s nice to know her cameo will last forever on film thanks to her prolific son. To watch this memorable moment, you can stream Goodfellas on HBO Max (which you can sign up for with this link) and Prime Video.