'Silver Linings Playbook' Star Robert De Niro on Acting, Directors, Awards and Fame (Video)
The 69-year-old is tipped by many to score an Oscar nomination -- which would be his first in 21 years -- for his "comeback" performance in the acclaimed dramedy.
I recently had the privilege of spending about 10 minutes one-on-one with the man I've always regarded as the greatest actor of his generation, and maybe of all-time: the legendary Robert De Niro.
The 69-year-old looks like a strong bet to score an Oscar nomination -- which would be the seventh of his career, but his first in 21 years -- for his funny and moving supporting performance as Bradley Cooper's father and Jacki Weaver's husband in David O. Russell's acclaimed dramedy Silver Linings Playbook. It's a performance that many are hailing as a "comeback," if only because it's been a while since De Niro has demonstrated such nuance and emotion in a film seen and liked by so many.
He has, of course, given many of the most indelible screen performances of the last 40 years in unforgettable films such as Mean Streets (1973), The Godfather, Part II (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), The Deer Hunter (1978), Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1983) Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Brazil (1985), The Mission (1986), The Untouchables (1987), Midnight Run (1988), Awakenings (1990), GoodFellas (1990), Cape Fear (1991), A Bronx Tale (1993), Jackie Brown (1997), Casino (1995) and Wag the Dog (1997).
In recent years, though, he has focused more on family comedies like Analyze This (1999), Meet the Parents (2000), and their respective sequels, as well as the Tribeca Film Festival, which he co-founded in 2002 to help revive his beloved city of New York after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
During my time with De Niro -- which was brief by most standards, but massive in the sense that he rarely grants interviews at all -- I tried to ask him questions for which I was truly curious to hear his answer. Among the topics that we discussed: how he first developed an interest in acting; the similarities and differences in the teachings of his two legendary acting instructors, Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg; what he regards, in hindsight, as his "big break"; how important it is for an actor to observe people behaving naturally, and how becoming famous impacts an actor's ability to do that; when he last met someone who didn't already know who he is; what he regards as the key to a successful actor-director relationship like the one that he's long had with Martin Scorsese and that he also built with Russell on Silver Linings; what his lowest moment as an actor was, and whether or not being nominated for and winning awards still means anything to him.
I've heard it said that De Niro is one of the most difficult movie stars to interview because he doesn't like being introspective and/or speaking with journalists. (I was told more than once to not ask him a question that could be answered with a "yes" or a "no" because he would give me just that.) However, as you can see for yourself in the video at the top of this post, that was not my experience with him at all. I think he just has a good BS-detector and can tell the difference between someone who is looking for a juicy quote for a nightly tabloid show and someone who is genuinely interested in his career and has informed take on things.
Or maybe I just got lucky.
Strike that -- I did get lucky. If only for a few minutes, I could answer affirmatively that most famous of De Niro lines: "You talkin' to me?!"
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