In the new movie Cocaine Bear, the late Ray Liotta plays a ruthless drug kingpin trying to recover his stash. In real life, however, he was a big softie, the movie’s director, Elizabeth Banks tells PEOPLE.
“Ray just came so joyfully into it the whole time,” Banks says of his work on the horror-comedy.
Asked her favorite memory of the actor, Banks says it’s “one he wouldn’t even know that I saw.” (Liotta died in his sleep at age 67 last May while he was in the Dominican Republic filming a movie.)
Cocaine Bear filmed in Ireland, and the cast and crew — including Liotta, who was joined by his fiancée Jacy Nittolo — stayed in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin. “It’s beautiful. The main street is called Castle Street because there’s a castle on it, along with pubs and a wine shop. And it was just so charming,” says Banks.
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“And I was sitting in a cafe one night after work, and I saw Ray walking the street with his fiancée, Jacy. They were holding hands. They were clearly coming from dinner. They looked like teenage lovers,” she says.
That sweet moment “is the image that I have of him,” she says. “Not from set or playing the character, but of him just living his best life in Ireland on this beautiful night, walking on this street with a woman that he loved.”
RELATED: Ray Liotta’s Fiancée Jacy Nittolo Posts Tribute 4 Weeks After His Death: ‘I Miss Him Every Second’
On Dec. 18, what would have been Liotta’s 68th birthday, Nittolo paid tribute to his memory with a slideshow of photos featuring the two of them and their kids, set to The Beatles’ “In My Life.”
She started the caption with a Chuck Palahniuk quote: “The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will.”
“Today, Ray would have been 68,” Nittolo, 48, continued. “I believe he created a lot for everyone that will live on forever, especially in the hearts of Ray’s sister Linda, his daughter Karsen and myself. Today we celebrate you.”
The photos included memories of their relationship, as well as some blended family time spent with his daughter Karsen Liotta, 24, whom he shared with ex-wife Michelle Grace, and Nittolo’s four kids Dax, Chazz, Jade and Joey.
The Goodfellas actor will be honored with a posthumous star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this Friday, Feb. 24.
“Ray Liotta’s all-around career made him a triple threat and sadly his passing was devastating to the entertainment world,” Ana Martinez, producer of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, said in a statement.
Added Martinez, “The characters he portrayed will always be etched in Hollywood’s film history.”
Cocaine Bear is in theaters nationwide this Friday, Feb. 24.
For more on Elizabeth Banks, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE.