5 Amazing Performances by Actors Who Weren't Acting (Part 4)

#2. Scorsese Casts His Actual Mom to Do Mom Things in Goodfellas

Warner Bros. Pictures

Like almost every Martin Scorsese movie, Goodfellas features a vicious sociopath fueled by drugs and rage who does horrible things to rise to the top of his field, only to realize too late that what he's achieved has cost him everything. In Goodfellas, this role is played by Joe Pesci, because of course it is.

Warner Bros. Pictures
You'd think the mileage problems caused by trunk bodies alone would make him see reason.

After Pesci and his two gangster pals beat a rival criminal to death, as gangsters tend to do, they stuff the body in the truck and head to Pesci's mom's house to borrow her shovel (why a psychopathic career criminal doesn't have his own body-disposing shovel is unexplained, but never mind that now).

Warner Bros. Pictures
Maybe he keeps it at his mother's place. Rent is expensive.

They try to sneak in without waking her up, but she catches them, and they're forced to improvise a story about hitting a deer to explain the blood on their clothes. At this point, hilarity ensues, as a somewhat confused old lady says confused-old-lady things, shows them a painting she made, and makes them eat a spaghetti dinner in the middle of the night -- oblivious to the fact that her son is a violent murderer. It almost feels like the trio of ruthless killers has wandered into a family-friendly sitcom.

The scene rambles on like that because it's almost completely unscripted. The woman playing Pesci's mom is actually Martin Scorsese's mother, Catherine, and she didn't know the context of the scene -- her (real) son simply told her that Joe Pesci had turned up for the first time in a few days at an odd hour, and that she should feed him and his friends and show them her lousy painting. All the dialogue was improvised by the three actors and Catherine, who had no idea that her cinematic offspring had just parked murder evidence in her driveway.

While Catherine must have thought that Martin was directing a very boring movie, she gamely plays the loving mother who dotes on her offspring and sees no problem with Pesci borrowing a huge kitchen knife. After all, he needs to chop up that poor deer. Maybe Marty's making some sort of animal rights movie?

#1. Hollywood Used to Be Horrible to Child Actors

Warner Home Video

For this one, we must take you back to the good old days of Hollywood, before they had frivolous modern inventions like "child labor laws," to an era when traumatizing children was seen as a wholesome pastime.

The Kid was a 1921 film starring Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Coogan as the titular young'un that Chaplin befriends. It's like a black and white, non-terrible version of Big Daddy.

Paramount Pictures
And despite their facial expressions, it's not about a sex offender.

In the film's most emotional scene, the authorities turn up to take the Kid away from Charlie because, well, he's a tramp. We kind of have to side with the authorities on this one. We're all for helping out the homeless, but we draw the line at randomly issuing children to vagrants.

Warner Home Video
"I'm going to eat better than I have in weeks!"

But because Hollywood has a long history of siding against reasonable actions by useful services, the kid being taken away is a sad scene. It called for tears, but there was a problem: Jackie Coogan was such a big goddamn bundle of joy that no one could get him to stop smiling. While a kid looking happy to be taken away from a weird hobo may be the more realistic take on the story, it's not what the movie needed.

Out of ideas, Chaplin asked Jackie's dad, Jack, if he could help. The elder Coogan told Chaplin that he could most definitely make the kid cry, because what father in that era couldn't? So, Jack Coogan took his son away for a short while, and when he brought him back, this happened:

It turns out that Jack Coogan put the absolute fear of God into Jackie with the fatherly method of communication known as "screaming," telling him that if he didn't cry, he'd be taken away to a real workhouse forever. When they filmed the scene, Jackie was so terrified that he was crying real, hysterical tears.

By what we're sure is a total coincidence, Jackie Coogan is the namesake of the Coogan Act, which safeguards the financial earnings and other rights of child actors and came about after an adult Coogan sued his mother and stepfather for squandering all of his money. So Jackie's family wasn't merely terrible -- they were groundbreakingly terrible.


For more funny, check out Laffington.com or Chris on Twitter. Did you know that Aaron is a film student, freelance writer, and Batman? Join him on Twitter here.

Related Reading: Hey, did you know Tom Cruise became an actual Fedex driver to prepare for Collateral? That's not even the craziest story in this article. Some actors didn't need any more preparation than their own insanity, Roddy Piper thinks They Live was a serious documentary. Some actors do weirdly specific things in all their films. Listen to Cracked editors discuss the phenomena here.

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