NEW YORK -- If things had gone his way, John Gotti might have had an offer even he couldn't refuse.
And it wouldn't be from the district attorney's office, either.
"Let me tell ya, honey, if Gotti were cleared [of murder and racketeering charges], Paramount, Universal -- all the big companies -- would be after him," says veteran casting director Sylvia Fay. "And I can assure you," adds Ms. Fay, who cast "GoodFellas" and "Billy Bathgate," "he'd like to be in the movies. I got instinct. I know this."
Besides, "he's a natural at it." A real ham, she says.
Ms. Fay would cast Ray Liotta as the mob boss. "I'd go Ray Liotta, absolutely, but Joe Pesci might as well [play Gotti] because he's doing everything else," she says.
Ms. Fay also says much of the hype about Mr. Gotti imitating movie mobsters is nonsense -- specifically,references about Mr. Gotti's behavior being similar to Marlon Brando's portrayal of Mafia patriarch Don Corleone in "The Godfather."
"Sure, Brando is good and all, but Gotti's the real thing. Movies and real life don't feed off each other. Absolutely not. If anything, movies get [ideas] from him," she says.
Then again, it's hard not to make comparisons, "since gangster movies probably make up 93 percent of all the movies made in the country," says Nicholas Pileggi, author of "Wiseguy" (the 1985 best seller about Henry Hill, a low-level hood turned government informer) and co-screenwriter of the movie version, "GoodFellas."
But he, too, believes the mob-movie connection is pretty weak.
Mr. Pileggi has heard the story about Mafia kingpin Joey Gallo getting kicks out of mimicking Richard Widmark's "horrible laugh" in the 1947 gangster saga "Kiss of Death." He even recalls that actor George Raft, a Bugsy Siegel pal, may have picked up a couple of the mobster's traits for his gangster parts.
"The truth is, it's a class thing," says Mr. Pileggi, explaining why some mobsters go for the "sharkskin look." What's more, he says, "We're all influenced by what we see. If I go to a Cary Grant movie, I immediately look for a nice blue suit, where there are other guys who see Robert De Niro in "GoodFellas" and say, 'Man, I like his style,' and go out and buy clothes that give them that look. It's not that they want to be gangsters; that's the last thing from their minds. It's just that these guys come from a certain part of the world, a certain culture, and wiseguys often come from that same socioeconomic background."
Fashion tips aside, Mr. Pileggi believes movies don't influence how a mobster acts. And he feels most gangster movies don't glorify the Mafia, either: "There are people who think that just by making a movie
about somebody, you're glorifying that person," he says. "And some of these movies paint these characters as pretty horrible, loathsome and despicable people. . . . That's their definition of glorification."
In the meantime, HBO and CBS plan on making movies about the Gotti trial, though both are still in preproduction. And neither would comment on who would be cast as the Mafia chieftain.