Hollywood Flashback: 'Raging Bull' Was Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci's First Film Together in 1980

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Martin Scorsese (left) and Robert De Niro on the set of 1980’s 'Raging Bull.'

While the prospects for a black-and-white movie about a washed-up boxer who beats his wife seemed bleak, the gem earned eight Oscar nominations, with De Niro winning for best actor and Thelma Schoonmaker for editing.

Almost four decades before Netflix's The Irishman, the trio of Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci first came together to make 1980's Raging Bull.

It was an intense time for Scorsese. The director and De Niro were coming off the musical drama New York, New York, which flopped. They were making Raging Bull for United Artists, which was stressed from the over-budget Heaven's Gate in production. Scorsese had been deathly ill the year before. And the prospects for a black-and-white film about a washed-up boxer who beats his wife seemed bleak.

The Hollywood Reporter said the film was "probably the most unromanticized movie biography ever produced in Hollywood." Yet Raging Bull got eight Academy Award nominations, with De Niro winning for actor and Thelma Schoonmaker for editing.

One person who owes her career to the trio was Cathy Moriarty, who received an Oscar nom for supporting actress. "I can't say enough about how much they helped me," she says.

Moriarty was 17, living in the Bronx and completely unaware that a bicoastal search was going on for an actress who "must be blonde and have excellent figure. No regional accents except New York."

Moriarty says the best advice she received was from De Niro. "He said the most important thing for an actor was to listen. That really stuck with me." She still regrets taking off for Europe the day the Oscar nominations were announced. "I was 17. What did I know?" 

This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.