In The Iceman, hitman Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) puts up a facade for his wife (Winona Ryder) and children. He tries to keep them away from the shadier part of his life controlled by Demeo (Ray Liotta). He bounces between two worlds which inevitably collide with each other. ScreenCrave recently spoke with Liotta and Ryder about making the film and working with Shannon.

On Richard Kuklinski’s life:

Ray Liotta:  I read about him. There are biographies on A&E on a bunch of mafia guys. They have stuff so you can get it on the computer. I read books. His son wrote a book about him which was fascinating. There are some other books that have parts. The whole book was on all different kinds of people. It wasn’t just focused on him. So I did that. You know what your job is, and what the director and the story ask of you, and you just do it. I knew Kuklinski. I only knew him though because I watched that HBO documentary (The Iceman: Confessions of a Mafia Hitman). HBO used to do a lot of America Undercover. There seemed to be more documentaries. I think they’re coming back. I had seen that and I was really fascinated with the guy, because he was so reserved and wouldn’t allow himself to laugh or cry or anything. He was a really interesting dude.

On what it was like to work with Michael Shannon:

Ray Liotta: He didn’t take it home. You’d see him at dinner. We’d go to dinner sometimes, and he’d be telling stories. He wasn’t staring down people. He was very social. It’s nice to work with people who are really committed to playing pretend, whether they’re a good guy or bad guy.

Winona Ryder: When they wrapped me, I went in to say goodbye and he was still working and he was in the make-up trailer. I went in and I was like, “I just want to say goodbye” and he said muffled, “I can’t talk because I have the facial hair on.” And I realized all this time I thought he was kind of glaring at me, but he actually couldn’t talk because of the facial hair. It’s apparently very restrictive. He’s a very focused guy and very intense. Yes, they’re all true. I loved what it brings out in the actors, particularly me, was you have to be present. It doesn’t matter what you have prepared goes out the window unless you’re totally present, and the spontaneity and all of that. Also he doesn’t eat at all during the day but at the end of the day he goes out to dinner and it’s like very social. It was really funny. It just didn’t cross my mind until that and then I was like, “Oh wow, okay. That makes sense.”

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On working with director Ariel Vromen on set:

Winona Ryder: I feel like with Tim [Burton] I have this weird telepathic relationship with… I don’t know how this is going to translate for you guys but it’s like he’s like [hand motions] “Can you just do that thing?” and I’m like, “Oh yeah, I can!” And then I get it. It’s really wonderful. It wasn’t so much like that with Ariel, and I’m not in any way complaining. There wasn’t a lot of time. This was, like I said, not a lot of money, not a lot of time and this was really Michael’s film. There wasn’t a lot of time to sit around, analyze and talk about her in depth because of just the way that it was shot. He was great in respecting my vision of it to which I think he may have had. He was a little bit flexible.

On whether or not the wife knew about the double life:

Winona Ryder: There’s no way to be in a relationship for that long, to have kids and also this is the 70s, this is the era of offices and secretaries and like he doesn’t have either. She’s doing his laundry and he’s shooting people in the face and there’s clearly going to be some blood there. There’s just too many things. I just think that like the level of denial was so deep. For her to even get to a place to acknowledge it would have meant she would have had to take some responsibility and then also leave and raise these kids on her own which she should have done, and many women do. But there was a real sort of greed. There was an ugliness that I tried getting in there in the scene in the bedroom where I say that thing about God, which is a horrible thing to say. I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to get those things in there.

I really saw her like someone who was flourishing from this blood money and chose not to look at it. You look at the wives of dictators who are just claiming they just knew nothing but really? Really? Okay. But at the same time, this is all just my own personal feeling so it’s a slippery slope. There’s a quote by Josephine Hart, “Damaged people are more dangerous because they know how to survive.” There’s this other quote, a James Baldwin quote, “We pay for our sins by the lives we lead.” I sort of thought of that when we were making this because I do think that, certainly watching the film, Michael’s so good but he’s paying. He’s miserable. I don’t think he’s sleeping peacefully at all. What’s scary to me about, this isn’t really true, but there’s what he did but what’s really scary is the people who are like so fascinated with him, like obsessed with him or obsessed with Dahmer. That I’ve always found so creepy… However big your role is, you have to think of it from your perspective to be any good.

The Iceman is out in limited theaters May 3.