Robert De Niro Opens Up a Little

By Riley, Jenelle | Variety, January 15, 2020 | Go to article overview

Robert De Niro Opens Up a Little


Riley, Jenelle, Variety


ROBERT DE NIRO is a big winner. It's the afternoon of the AFI Luncheon, honoring the best in film and television, and De Niro has just left the ceremony with three certificates. "There they are, yeah," he gestures to a table in his hotel room at the Four Seasons when asked, as if it's no big deal. Because De Niro, widely considered one of the Greatest of All Time, makes it look easy

The three awards are actually for his producing work: for the Netflix miniseries "When They See Us" and two films he also appears in, "Joker" and "The Irishman." Accolades are nothing new to De Niro; he's a multiple Oscar nominee (and two-time winner for "The Godfather, Part II" and "Raging Bull"), a nine-time Golden Globe nominee (he won for "Raging Bull" and received the Cecil B. DeMille Award in 2011), and a five-time SAG Award nominee, including this year for his work in the "Irishman" ensemble.

"The Irishman" is De Niro's passion project. Based on the 2004 book "I Heard You Paint Houses," the film reunites him with his longtime collaborator Martin Scorsese for the first time since 1995's "Casino." De Niro plays hitman Frank Sheeran, leading a spectacular cast that includes Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa.

But even if "The Irishman" isn't called at the SAG Awards ceremony Jan. 19, De Niro can relax knowing he's not going home empty-handed; he is receiving the SAG Life Achievement Award for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment.

"It's a nice thing," De Niro says in his typically understated way. But rather than focus on himself, he quickly shifts the attention to his peers. "I was so happy about the ensemble nomination for 'Irishman.' It's great."

De Niro is famous for being low-key in person; he's polite, thoughtful and chooses his words carefully. It's a strange juxtaposition with the man who brought to life such powerhouses as Jake LaMotta, Vito Corleone, Travis Bickle and Max Cady But that's part of what makes the actor so fascinating - we literally have no idea how he does what he does. And while much is known about his career and collaborations, here are a few things that you might not know.

He's not sure when he got his SAG card.

De Niro got his start in the world of low-budget filmmaking, working with the likes of Roger Corman and Brian De Palma. (His love for indie film continues to this day with the Tribeca Film Festival, which he founded in 2002 with Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff.) His first role was in De Palma's "The Wedding Party," shot in 1963 and released in 1969.

"I think it was around the time I did 'Greetings' and 'Hi, Mom' with Brian De Palma," he says of his SAG card. By the time he did the studio film "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" in 1971, he was definitely a member.

He's aware that he can be intimidating to others.

Perhaps because of the roles he plays or because of his towering reputation, De Niro can cut an intimidating figure. And he recognizes that when he shows up to a set, some people are going to be in awe. "I'm aware of it to a point," he admits. "But not to where people have behaved differently - you get word people feel this way I just say 'Well, they'll get over that soon enough.' We're just all there to get it done."

Ray Romano, who plays Sheeran's lawyer in the film, confesses to being one of those people. The first scene they were in together, they were sitting in a booth with a group and when Scorsese yelled cut, Romano didn't want to get up to leave until De Niro did. "In my head I'm like, 'I can't get up until he does, it seems that would be disrespectful!'" Romano recalls. "Five, six, seven minutes went by He was friendly and warm, but I didn't know what to do or say. " Finally, much to Romano's relief, "He got up, and I got up."

Two days later, when they shot their big oneon-one scene, Romano says his insecurities really kicked in. "I'm ad-libbing a little and adding little things and it was going on for hours with Martin Scorsese right there, not in video village, watching," he recalls. …

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