SAG Awards: Robert De Niro Calls Out "Dire" Political Situation in Life Achievement Award Speech

The honor was presented to the actor by Leonardo DiCaprio, who spoke of being influenced by De Niro's "fearless pursuit of authenticity."

Robert De Niro accepted the life achievement award at the 26th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday night.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who first acted alongside De Niro in 1993's This Boy's Life, presented the statuette to the actor, noting that his performances have transformed audiences for almost 50 years. "His characters have echoed through our culture," said DiCaprio, referencing such films as Goodfellas, Casino, Raging Bull and The Godfather II.

Continuing his introduction, DiCaprio spoke of being influenced by De Niro because of his "fearless pursuit of authenticity." Calling him "elemental," DiCaprio added, "It feels as if he's always been here and always will be here."

He then shared a memory from his childhood, when his father took him to see Midnight Run in the theater. "As the lights went down, he turned to me and said, 'If you really want to be an actor and get into this profession, if you want to understand what great acting is, you watch that man on screen.'"

De Niro, who was most recently seen playing mob boss Frank Sheeran in Martin Scorsese's crime drama The Irishman, took the podium after a series of clips was shown from his long and prolific career.

"Thank you," he said as the crowd erupted in applause. "As actors, we don't take victory laps, we're too worried about what our next job will be." De Niro then joked that he was puzzled over what to say. "We as actors don't do it all alone, we can't," he began. "We depend on each other for collaboration, both onscreen and off."

De Niro went on to thank SAG-AFTRA, especially in the current era where there is "hostility" toward unions. He then listed a series of issues that political leaders who support unions are more likely to get behind, such as "the Affordable Care Act, equitable taxes, humane immigration regulation, a safe environment, a diverse citizenry, reproductive rights, sensible gun control, and fair wages and benefits." The actor then noted that "we owe them our support and we owe them our vote."

De Niro labeled the current political climate "dire," adding, "There's right and there's wrong, there's common sense and there's abuse of power. And as a citizen, I have as much right as anybody ― an actor, an athlete, a musician, anybody else ― to voice my opinion." He emphasized, "If I have a bigger voice because of my situation, I am going to use it whenever I see a blatant abuse of power." He then said, "That's all I'm going to say about that tonight."

Concluding his acceptance speech, De Niro thanked his "beautiful" family and the acting community.

Among his upcoming projects is the crime drama Killers of the Flower Moon, in which he will reunite with Scorsese and DiCaprio.

The 2020 SAG Awards, which had no host, took place at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles and were simulcast live on TNT and TBS.