Talk: Exploring Robert De Niro's enigmatic playbook
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[November 06, 2014]
By Jill Serjeant
NEW YORK (Reuters) -
Brilliant, taciturn, droll, intimidating - Robert De
Niro is regarded as one of the greatest American actors
of all-time and among the most private.
U.S. author and film critic Shawn Levy spent four years
trying to get a handle on the double Oscar winner while working
on his biography entitled, "Robert De Niro: A Life."
Levy spoke with Reuters about what he learned from De Niro's
archive of scripts and production notes about the now
71-year-old actor outside of his more than 80 movie roles.
Q: You asked several times to interview De Niro, but got
no response. Why do you think he is so reluctant to talk about
A: In his early exposure to the press, he was
uncomfortable. He is basically an introverted person who finds
great expression in a public form. But in his first encounters
(with the media), his ill-preparedness really showed. Once he
became a star, stardom gave him the authority to keep a wall
between himself and the uncomfortable moments. And then it
became who he is.
Q: One of the questions the book poses is why De Niro
directed his energy into a few key roles early on, and now pours
them 'sloppily into so many paper cups as if it were the
cheapest, most indifferently made plonk.' How would you sum up
A: He has a tremendous work ethic, he inherited that from
his parents, and for a long time he concentrated that work very
strenuously in bespoke opportunities. He continues to work, but
instead of lifting 200 pounds once, he is lifting 20 pounds ten
times. Once you have made that decision, you lose the
prerogative of saying I will only do the best with the best,
because the best don't work six or eight times a year. I think
that he feels if he is not working he feels he is being lazy.
Q: Will the dubious choices, the flops, tarnish his
reputation in the long term?
A: I don't think so. If you are listing the 50 greatest
movie performances, there are five or six De Niro performances
that would have to be on the table. And then there are 15 or 20
that everyone enjoys and can quote and return to.
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In 'American Hustle,' he is in one scene and he changes the movie
and he didn't even get up out of his chair. He has that kind of
power as an actor still. He will not be remembered for having made
terrible movies with Eddie Murphy and Dakota Fanning. He will be
remembered for 'Raging Bull' and 'Taxi Driver' - that caliber of
film. You can't take that away from him.
Q: What surprised you most about De Niro while you were
working on this biography?
A: The workaholism and the pack-rat quality of him. He
donated his archives, production materials, costumes and props to
the University of Texas at Austin in 2005 and it took two 18-wheel
trucks to get them there. When he was choosing to work hard, the
amount of work he did just staggered me. He was tireless.
Q: Having written the book, do you like him more or less?
A: I do admire him. He doesn't pretend to be what he is not.
He doesn't try to pass himself off as an intellectual. He knows what
his range is an actor - he has hardly ever made a film set before
1900. I admire his sense of duty and loyalty to family. He has a
patchwork family, and yet it is completely intact. And I still want
to see new good films with Robert De Niro. Nothing would please me
more than to see him win a third Oscar.
Q: Do you have a favorite De Niro film?
A: I am standing in my office now that has the one-sheet
(movie poster) of 'Taxi Driver' that I acquired in 1976, hanging on
the wall. I had such a good time watching all the movies again, but
I've got to go with 'Taxi Driver.' It came out when I was 14 or 15
years old and it just blew my mind and opened me up to movies and
acting in a way I have never seen before.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; editing by Patricia Reaney and G
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