“He may be a psychopathic killer, but he’s still her son”: Martin Scorsese’s Late Mother Didn’t Need a Script to Nail the Iconic Goodfellas Scene With Robert De Niro

Despite being masterfully written, Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas features a cute memorable scene that were largely improvised!

Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Harald Krichel


  • The Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese has directed multiple films featuring his mother, Catherine Scorsese.
  • Take, for instance, the role of Mrs. DeVito, which was played by Scorsese’s late mother in the Robert De Niro starrer film Goodfellas.
  • Although the film is well-made, one memorable scene was largely improvised by Catherine Scorsese.
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Filmmaking was the domain of Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese before Joe and Anthony Russo turned it into a family affair. How? The director of Taxi Driver, 81, has worked on almost every movie in which his family was involved. Catherine Scorsese, his late mother, was one of his closest collaborators and made appearances in several of her son’s films. 


Her most famous role, however, is that of Mrs. DeVito (Tommy’s mother) in the Robert De Niro starrer film Goodfellas. And Scorsese once shared a cute little fact about this cameo. Having said that, even though it is unquestionably a superbly made film, one of its most memorable scenes was still largely improvised.

Martin Scorsese at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival | image: Wikimedia Commons
Martin Scorsese at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival | image: Wikimedia Commons/Siebb

Indeed, the dinner scene with Catherine Scorsese is unquestionably hilarious in this biographical crime drama film, and to make the scene even better, she improvised most part of it. 


A Look Back at the Special Moment When Martin Scorsese’s Mother Appeared in Goodfellas

A scene from the legendary Martin Scorsese film, Goodfellas, is particularly noteworthy for its sincerity and heartwarming touch. And it is all thanks to a special cameo by the director’s mother, Catherine Scorsese. 

In this scene, Joe Pesci’s character, Tommy DeVito, brings his fellow mobsters to his home to grab a shovel for a grim task, only to unexpectedly run into his mother (Catherine Scorsese). What follows is a beautifully improvised moment that captures the essence of family, even in the midst of the dark nature of the film.

Scorsese himself has revealed that the entire scene was mostly unscripted, with only one line of dialogue given to his mother. The rest was left up to the actors to react and respond naturally, creating a sense of warmth and familiarity that resonates with audiences to this day.

The role of Mrs. DeVito was played by Scorsese’s late mother in the Robert De Niro starrer film Goodfellas.
Catherine Scorsese in Goodfellas

As stated by Scorsese in an EW interview:

“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.”

Even though Scorsese’s gangster films are known for their violence (Mean Streets, The Departed), they often contain subtle, lovely moments that steal the show.

Well, note that Goodfellas was a highly acclaimed flick; most Rotten Tomatoes reviewers concur that it is “arguably the high point of Martin Scorsese’s career”. After all, his mother made such a significant impact with her creativity!


An Ode to Creativity: Martin Scorsese’s Shared Mother’s ‘Improvisation’ in Great Detail

Moments like these highlight Martin Scorsese’s genius as a director, allowing his actors to explore their characters and relationships in a way that feels veritable and genuine. And the presence of his mother as Mrs. DeVito in Goodfellas adds a personal touch to the scene, taking it to a new level of emotional depth.

Although the film is well-made, one memorable scene was largely improvised by Catherine Scorsese.
Joe Pesci in Goodfellas

In the same interview with Entertainment Weekly, Scorsese went into further detail about his mother’s improvisation in that iconic scene, also featuring Robert De Niro as Jimmy:

“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….Joe answered her, Bob [De Niro] did what he did, Ray [Liotta] did what he did.. and I think the only written line was about a painting that she did.”

While most newcomers would find it intimidating to be on screen in a Martin Scorsese film, especially with De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Ray Liotta, the former’s mother was not. And with such a beautiful cameo, it proves that sometimes the best performances are the ones that come straight from the heart!


With Goodfellas standing tall in the annals of gangster films, isn’t it intriguing to discover how one of cinema’s greatest directors infused his work with the spirit of improvisation and familial charm?

Goodfellas can be rented on Apple TV.


Written by Siddhika Prajapati

Articles Published: 1509

Between everyday normalities and supernatural abnormalities, Siddhika Prajapati finds the story in everything. Literature Honors Graduate and Post-Graduated in Journalism (from Delhi University), her undying need to deduce the extraordinary out of simplicity makes her a vibrant storyteller.

Serving as a Senior Entertainment Writer at Fandom Wire and having written over 1500 pieces, Siddhika has also worked with multiple clients and projects over the years, including Indian Express, India Today, and Outlook Group.

Who knows, maybe your next favorite persona on the screen will be crafted by her.