‘Goodfellas’ actor sues ‘The Simpsons’ for 250 million reasons
To paraphrase Joss Whedon’s Firefly, the days of us not taking the American legal system seriously are firmly in the middle. At least that’s the way it seems, judging by this new, seemingly ridiculous lawsuit that Deadline is reporting. No pun intended with the “judging” thing, by the way.
To understand the lawsuit, you first have to think back to Martin Scorsese’s 1990 mobster classic, Goodfellas. Got it? Cool. Now think back to the characters – but not the main characters like Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill or Robert De Niro’s Jimmy the Gent – think back to the supporting characters, specifically Frank Carbone, played by Frank Sivero.
Don’t remember him? He was the Italian mobster that got whacked. Still don’t remember him? Well don’t worry too much about it, you aren’t alone. According to Sivero though, The Simpsons, and especially producer James L. Brooks, know the character of Carbone well, since they have been ripping it off for nearly a quarter of a century now.
According to the suit brought by Sivero, the character of Louie – one of the henchmen that is frequently seen flanking mob boss Fat Tony (to the right in the picture above) – is based on the character that he originated. And what’s more, Sivero feels that he is owed a significant portion of all The Simpsons’ earnings for the past two and a half decades because of it.
The 12-page suit (which you can read here if you enjoy that sort of thing) claims that Brooks was “highly aware of who Sivero was, the fact that he created the role of Frankie Carbone, and that The Simpsons character Louie would be based on this character.”
Sivero and his lawyers are suing for multiple reasons, starting with a $50 million claim for damages Sivero feels are due to him over the use of his likeness. The next claim, also for $50 million, is for damages incurred over loss for “improper appropriation of Plaintiff’s confidential idea,” while another $50 million is sought for exemplary damages. The whopper though, is a claim for $100 million for “improper interference.” There’s a lot of legalese at work there, but to top it off, the suit goes on to say that Sivero suffered a loss of “prospective economic advantage,” and the character of Louie also led to type-casting.
Furthermore, Sivero believes the $250 million suit is justifiable because he was promised a film of his own.
“Over the years, Sivero was told by Gracie Films that, ‘he [Sivero]would be part of the future in connection to the success of The Simpsons.’ He was promised that they would make a film together; but it never happened,” the lawsuit claims. “On one occasion, at a party in or around 1995/96, Sivero had another conversation with Mr. Brooks where Sivero stated, ‘It’s about time we do something together.’ Mr. Brooks said yes, but this again never materialized.”
At the heart of the issue is the continued use of Sivero’s likeness “without Sivero’s consent and without compensating Sivero.” On the surface that seems somewhat reasonable. Not $250 million reasonable, and not 23 years after the fact reasonable, but it makes a certain sense. But again, the suit is for a quarter of a billion dollars.
There is also the question of whether or not Sivero is even responsible for the character of Carbone. Sivero was an actor working from a script written by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, playing a character created by the writing duo, in a movie the multi-award winning Scorsese directed. On top of that, the character of Louie is arguably a parody of characters like Carbone rather than an actual representation. And that’s always assuming that the character really was knowingly based on Sivero.
It seems like the suit is fairly silly, but weirder lawsuits have succeeded. Once Fox’s Murderer’s Row of attorneys looks the suit over and issues a statement, we’ll update the story.