Robert De Niro Talks Getting Joe Pesci to Unretire for 'The Irishman'

Robert De Niro attends the  Premiere Of Netflix's "The Irishman" - Getty-H 2019
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The legendary actor also talked about what it was like to see the de-aged version of himself in the Netflix film, while castmembers Ray Romano and Sebastian Maniscalco discussed the movie's three-and-a-half-hour running time.

Prior to starring alongside Robert De Niro and Al Pacino in The Irishman, Joe Pesci had not appeared onscreen for nearly a decade, having gone into an unofficial retirement that he was very hesitant to come out of. Pesci was asked 40 times to join the Martin Scorsese project before eventually giving in, with De Niro doing most of the convincing in trying to reteam the Raging Bull and Goodfellas trio. 

"We're friends and he loves Marty and I said, 'Come on, this is it, let's do it, let's try and do it,' De Niro told The Hollywood Reporter at the film's Los Angeles premiere Thursday. "He understood, he loves Marty and wanted the experience of working with him again and me and Al." 

The Irishman follows hitman Frank Sheeran (De Niro) through his life of crime and complicated relationships with labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino) and mobster Russell Bufalino (Pesci). With a reported budget of $159 million, the Netflix film uses innovative de-aging technology on several of its actors to follow them in their younger form, rather than simply casting younger actors to play the stars. 

De Niro said that when he first saw the young version of himself, "I thought it was good, I was happy to see it. I joke that it helps to enhance my career for another 30 years."  

Ray Romano, who plays mob-tied attorney Bill Bufalino in the film, added that, "I knew they were going to make them younger but they're still a little weathered, it wasn't pure and clean and like a Ken doll kind of thing. I thought they did a really great job with it," joking that he wished "they would've de-aged me a little bit but they didn't have the budget. They said out of $200 million, that's it." 

The budget proved to be a major hurdle for the film while in development, which bounced around for years without a home before Netflix signed on. The film will have a four-week run in select theaters starting Nov. 1, before going on the streaming service Nov. 27.   

Romano added that Netflix gives the film the best of both worlds, "because if ever there's an argument to continue to be able to watch a movie in a theater, it's this movie. It's so grand and so epic and it should be seen on a huge screen, with people, with strangers in a room so they can experience the same thing. And I like that it's on Netflix because Netflix is going to allow that, and then people who don't have the opportunity to see it can see it — everybody can see it."  

With a Hollywood Boulevard takeover rivaling those of Marvel films — which Scorsese has so vocally opposed in recent weeks — Netflix is taking its entrance into big-budget filmmaking seriously, with its first-ever premiere at the iconic TCL Chinese Theatre transforming the street with classic cars, newspaper stands and Italian restaurant storefronts from the film. Also up for discussion on the elaborate red carpet was the film's three-and-half-hour running time, which has divided critics and early viewers.

"It can be too long, depending on who is making the movie and what it's about, but this is the type of movie that I think you couldn't cut a minute from it," Romano said. "There are movies that play at three hours, there are movies that are too long at two hours," he joked, referencing one of his own past projects. 

Comedian Sebastian Maniscalco, who takes on a more serious co-starring role in the film, added, "I think it's worth the length of gives it a nice runway and gives it time to breathe and for those who don't like long movies, you can watch it over the course of five nights [on Netflix]," while executive producer Randall Emmett said he had some hesitations when hearing about the initial length, but "I walked out like, 'I want more!' And I don't say that a lot." 

The star-studded cast was joined by high-profile guests including Snoop Dogg, Edgar Ramirez, Billy Idol, Jesse Williams, Ed Begley Jr., Juliette Lewis, Rosanna Arquette and Kendrick Sampson.