Sergio Leone’s jaw-dropping direction and Ennio Morricone’s heart-pounding score have already placed “Once Upon a Time in America” in the pantheon of gangster movies. Although the film’s original studio cut was a disappointment when it was first released by Warner Bros. in 1984, the restored “European” cut is repeatedly listed as one of the greatest films ever made. Every great crime saga needs a torture scene, a task that was left to Williams. In a gleeful interview for People, Williams shared how he almost thought Leone’s masterpiece might end up being his last movie if things went wrong. He said:
“In one scene, Richie Bright is the actor and he douses me with gasoline. I’m tied up in a trash can in a horrible place, then he starts asking me questions and he lights matches. But what I don’t didn’t realize is that I said, “Why don’t you put some seltzer water in it so that I get an uncomfortable feeling when it goes over my face and my nose. But then I realized that the hose they were using had recently had a lot of gasoline in it. I got really nervous and Richie was lighting the matches because I thought there was so much gas in this thing it could ignite. So I was like, ‘Don’t throw the matches at me just in case!'”
It’s no wonder Williams remembers that day so well. Thankfully, he went on to appear in over 100 movies and TV shows, but the prolific actor always held “Once Upon a Time in America” in high regard. “It’s funny because people say, ‘What are your favorite movies?’ and although I played a small role in it, it’s still one of the top three movies I talk about and proud to be a part of,” he said.
He will be greatly missed.