Robert De Niro on Playing Bernie Madoff and Why His Amazon Drama "Will Be a Ride"

Craig Blankenhorn/HBO
Robert De Niro in 'The Wizard of Lies'

The two-time Oscar winner and Emmy nominee, who will next star in David O. Russell’s as-yet untitled mafia series, didn’t meet with the Ponzi schemer Madoff before playing him in HBO's "Wizard of Lies."

More than 50 years into his storied career, Robert De Niro just added a new title to his résumé: Emmy nominee. The two-time Oscar winner recently earned his first nomination, for best actor in a limited series or movie, for his turn as Ponzi scheme mastermind Bernie Madoff in the acclaimed HBO film The Wizard of Lies.

And it could just be the beginning for De Niro. While he's only previously appeared in bit TV parts, such as when he played himself on 30 Rock and Extras, the actor will next star opposite Julianne Moore in David O. Russell's mafia drama, which netted a two-season commitment at Amazon.

While De Niro was hesitant to spill any details on the top-secret project, he talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the "ride" ahead on the as-yet untitled series, his continued interest in TV projects and why he opted not to meet with Madoff for the movie.

This is your first Emmy nomination, so how does it feel?

It feels good. It doesn't feel bad. (Laughs.)

What would you say is the biggest misconception about the Madoff saga?

Well, maybe one misconception I thought was that the kids were involved. I don't think the kids were at all, and I don't think the wife was. I don't think they knew about it at all. I always felt that even before I was involved in the project.

A lot of people know the story of Madoff, but after the movie actually premiered on HBO, were there any surprising reactions? Anything that stands out?

No, I mean, there was a lot of positive feedback on it. But I'm not going to hear negative things except through critics, which is fine. I don't think that we were answering any technical questions, if you want to call it that; it was more about a family tragedy with the kids and so on. And I don't remember ever having a talk with [director and writer] Barry Levinson and [writer] Sam [Levinson], his son, much about … we might have talked a little bit about what it is I liked that they had written, that he and Sam had worked on, so it wasn't like we all agreed that kids were not aware and the wife wasn't aware. I think that was sort of a given between all of us, the way the story is.

Was there anything about playing Madoff that really surprised you?

No, I wish there was. I didn't meet him. We were talking about it, but it might have been difficult, I understood, because other people that met with him had real limited access to him, so I didn't know how productive it would be. It's always productive for me to meet the person I'm playing, there's no doubt about that. But we didn't get to that point. I met relatives, family, read books, talked to people who knew him and so on, and in-laws.

You've mentioned that you were originally thinking about this as a theatrical film before ultimately opted to go to HBO. What do you think was the biggest benefit of doing this on HBO instead of as a theatrical movie?

Well, I guess HBO has kind of a more assured audience, a built-in audience. And so that would have been a plus, just to make it's seen. In the movies, especially these days, people will see it, but it doesn’t quite have the staying power that it does on, like, HBO, where it can be shown again and again. You can get it on the internet and so on and so forth.

You're doing another TV project now, this David O. Russell series for Amazon. What made you want to sign on for another TV role?

With Amazon and David O. Russell, there's a larger, more immediate audience. I don't know if you call it a drawback, but as far as the [big] screen is what you want. We always like it to be in a movie theater per se, but it can be seen in that way, too, I think, but it's also produced by Amazon and has more of another kind of benefit. Television today is not like it was when I was younger, so it's a different thing.

What appealed to you particularly about this character? How does this stand out from what you've done before?

He's infamously known for what he's done — I don't know if that’s a standout. Jane Rosenthal and I have been working on it and it finally came to the ultimate fruition with Barry Levinson and his son Sam. And that was a good thing. Barry and I have worked together, know each other, respect each other, like each other, so that was all good. The only thing I was worried about was whether I could do it because of the timing and everything else, but it all worked out.

How do you think this next role in the Russell series will stand out from what you've done before?

Who knows? We're still working on it. (Laughs.)

How has it been working with Russell so far?

David is great. It will be a ride, that's for sure. But it will be worth it.

comments powered by Disqus