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22 January 2017

Imported from the USA: Robert De Niro

Legendary American actor Robert De Niro (1943) has starred in such classic films as Taxi Driver (1976), Novecento/1900 (1978), The Deer Hunter (1978), Awakenings (1990) and GoodFellas (1990). His role in The Godfather: Part II (1974) brought him his first Academy Award, and he scored his second Oscar for his portrayal of Jake La Motta in Raging Bull (1980). De Niro worked with many acclaimed film directors, including Brian DePalma, Francis Coppola, Elia Kazan, Bernardo Bertolucci and, most importantly, Martin Scorsese. He also appeared in French, British and Italian films.

Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver (1976)
French postcard in the Collection Cinema Couleur by Edition La Malibran, Paris, no. MC 33, 1990. Photo: publicity still for Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976).

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver (1976)
Belgian promotion card by Tasschen Gallery for the exhibition 'Taxi Driver - unseen photographs from Scorsese's Masterpiece'. Photo: Steve Schapiro. Publicity still for Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976).


The most chilling performance of his career


Robert Anthony De Niro was born in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan, New York City in 1943. His mother, Virginia Admiral, was a cerebral and gifted painter, and his father, Robert De Niro Sr., was a painter, sculptor and poet whose work received high critical acclaim. They split ways in 1945, when young Robert was only 2 years old, after his father announced that he was gay.

De Niro was raised primarily by his mother, who took on work as a typesetter and printer in order to support her son. A bright and energetic child, Robert De Niro was incredibly fond of attending films with his father when they spent time together. De Niro's mother worked part-time as a typist and copy editor for Maria Picator's Dramatic Workshop, and as part of her compensation, De Niro was allowed to take children's acting classes for free. At the age of 10, De Niro made his stage debut as the Cowardly Lion in a school production of The Wizard of Oz.

De Niro proved to be uninterested in school altogether and, as a teenager, joined a rather tame street gang in Little Italy that gave him the nickname Bobby Milk, in reference to his pale complexion. While De Niro was by all accounts only a very modest troublemaker, the gang provided him with experience to skilfully portray Italian mobsters as an actor.

He left school at age 16 to study acting Stella Adler Conservatory. Adler, who had taught Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger, was a strong proponent of the Stanislavski method of acting, involving deep psychological character investigation. He studied briefly with Lee Strasberg at the Actor's Studio in New York City, and then began auditioning.

After a momentary cameo in the French film Trois chambres à Manhattan/Three Rooms in Manhattan (Marcel Carné, 1965), De Niro's real film debut came in Greetings (Brian De Palma, 1968). However, De Niro's first film role already came at the age of 20, when he appeared credited as Robert Denero in De Palma’s The Wedding Party (Brian De Palma, Wilford Leach, 1963), but the film was not released until 1969.

He then appeared in Roger Corman's film Bloody Mama (1970), featuring Shelley Winters. His breakthrough performances came a few years later in two highly acclaimed films: the sports drama Bang the Drum Slowly (John D. Hancock, 1973), in which he played a terminally ill catcher on a baseball team, and the crime film Mean Streets (1973), his first of many collaborations with director Martin Scorsese, in which he played street thug Johnny Boy opposite Harvey Keitel.

De Niro and Martin Scorsese worked successfully together on eight films: Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), New York, New York (1977), Raging Bull (1980), The King of Comedy (1983), Goodfellas (1990), Cape Fear (1991), and Casino (1995).

In 1974, De Niro established himself as one America’s finest actors with his Academy Award-winning portrayal of the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974), a role for which he learned to speak Sicilian.

Two years later, De Niro delivered perhaps the most chilling performance of his career, playing vengeful cabbie Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) alongside Jodie Foster. His iconic performance as Travis Bickle catapulted him to stardom and forever linked his name with Bickle's famous 'You talkin' to me?' monologue, which De Niro largely improvised.

In Italy, De Niro appeared opposite Gérard Dépardieu in the epic historical drama Novecento/1900 (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1976). The film is an exploration of life in Italy in the first half of the 20th century, seen through the eyes of two Italian childhood friends at the opposite sides of society's hierarchy.

He also starred in The Last Tycoon (1976), the last film directed by Elia Kazan. The Hollywood drama is based upon Harold Pinter's screenplay adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon, De Niro continued to show his tremendous skill as a dramatic actor in the Vietnam war drama The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978). The film follows a group of friends haunted by their Vietnam experiences.

De Niro later portrayed middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta in the commercially unsuccessful but critically adored film Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980). The previously skinny De Niro had put on 60 pounds of muscle for his riveting turn as LaMotta and was rewarded for his dedication with the 1981 Academy Award for best actor.

Robert de Niro
French postcard by Editions F. Nugeron, no. STAR 66. Photo: J. Ritchie / Classico, San Francisco.

Robert de Niro in Raging Bull (1980)
British postcard by Classic. Photo: publicity still for Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980).

Reunited in a terrifying way


In the 1980s, Robert De Niro first roles were a worldly ambitious Catholic priest in True Confessions (Ulu Grosbard, 1981), an aspiring stand-up comedian in Scorsese's The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1983) and as a Jewish mobster in the sprawling historical epic Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984).

Other notable projects included Sci-fi art film Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985) and the British drama The Mission (Roland Joffé, 1986), about the experiences of a Jesuit missionary in 18th century South America, which won the Golden Palm at the Cannes Film Festival. It was followed by fare like the crime drama The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1987), in which De Niro portrayed gangster Al Capone opposite Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness, the mysterious thriller Angel Heart (Alan Parker, 1987) and the action comedy Midnight Run (Martin Brest, 1988).

De Niro opened the 1990s with Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990), yet another acclaimed gangster film from Scorsese that saw the actor teaming up with Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci. De Niro next starred in a project that earned him another Oscar nomination, portraying a catatonic patient brought back to awareness in Awakenings (Penny Marshall, 1990), co-starring Robin Williams as a character based on physician Oliver Sacks.

Dramas continued to be the genre of choice for De Niro, as he played a blacklisted director in Guilty by Suspicion (Irwin Winkler, 1991) and a fire chief in Backdraft (Ron Howard, 1991).

Soon afterwards, the actor was once again front and centre and reunited with Scorsese in a terrifying way, bulking up to become a tattooed rapist who stalks a family in Cape Fear (Martin Scorsese, 1991). The film was a remake of the 1962 thriller starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. Peck and Mitchum made appearances in the remake as well. De Niro received his sixth Academy Award nomination for Cape Fear, with the film becoming the highest grossing collaboration between the actor and Scorsese, earning more than $182 million worldwide.

After somewhat edgy, comedic outings like Night and the City (Irwin Winkler, 1992) and Mad Dog and Glory (John McNaughton, 1993), another drama followed in the form of This Boy's Life (Michael Caton-Jones, 1993), in which De Niro portrayed the abusive stepfather of a young Leonardo DiCaprio.

That same year, De Niro made his directorial debut with A Bronx Tale (Robert De Niro, 1993), a film adaptation of a one-man play written and performed by Chazz Palminteri. In 1994, De Niro was practically unrecognisable as the monster in actor-director Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of the Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein (Kenneth Branagh, 1994).

It was followed by another Scorsese telling of mob life, this time in Las Vegas. De Niro portrayed a character based on real-life figure Frank ‘Lefty’ Rosenthal in Casino (Martin Scorsese, 1995), co-starring Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci. In Heat (Michael Mann, 1995), De Niro re-teamed with fellow Godfather star Al Pacino in a well-received outing about a bank robber contemplating getting out of the business and the police detective aiming to bring him down.

Robert De Niro in Midnight Run (1988)
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin. Photo: publicity still for Midnight Run (Martin Brest, 1988).

Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown (1997)
French postcard, no. 654. Photo: publicity still for Jackie Brown. (Quentin Tarantino, 1997) with Robert De Niro as Louis Gara.

Robert de Niro in Machete (2010)
German postcard by CTMG, 2010. Photo: publicity still for Machete (Ethan Maniquis, Robert Rodriguez, 2010) with Robert De Niro as Senator McLaughlin.

Striking out into decidedly different territory


For the rest of the 1990s and into the new millennium, Robert De Niro featured yearly in a big screen project as either a lead or supporting figure. His films include the legal crime drama Sleepers (Barry Levinson, 1996), the black comedy Wag the Dog (Barry Levinson, 1997), the crime drama Cop Land (James Mangold, 1997), the crime thriller Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997), the spy action-thriller Ronin (John Frankenheimer, 1998) and the crime comedy-drama Flawless (Joel Schumacher, 1999).

At the turn of the century, De Niro struck out into decidedly different territory with Analyze This (Harold Ramis, 1999), a hilarious and highly popular spoof of the mob movies that had garnered him fame. Analyze This earned more than a $100 million domestically, with De Niro playing a Mafioso who seeks help from a psychiatrist (Billy Crystal).

De Niro took on another comedy, Meet the Parents (Jay Roach, 2000), as Ben Stiller's future father-in-law. The smash hit spawned two sequels: Meet the Fockers (Jay Roach, 2004) and Little Fockers (Paul Weitz, 2011), both of which were also box-office successes.

De Niro continued to switch between comedic and serious roles over the next few years, reuniting with Billy Crystal for Analyze That (Harold Ramis, 2002), and starring in the spy thriller The Good Shepherd (Robert De Niro, 2006) with Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie.

The following year De Niro was featured as a secretive cross-dressing pirate with a heart of gold in the fantasy flick Stardust (Matthew Vaughn, 2007), while 2009 saw a return to dramatic fare with Everybody's Fine (Kirk Jones, 2009). In Italy, De Niro starred in the romantic comedy Manuale d'amore 3/The Ages of Love (Giovanni Veronesi, 2011).

De Niro earned yet another Academy Award nomination for his turn in David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook (2012), playing the father of a mentally troubled son (Bradley Cooper). De Niro teamed up again with Silver Linings Playbook director Russell and stars Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence for the biopic Joy (David O. Russell, 2015), based on the life of Miracle Mop inventor Joy Mangano.

Later that year, De Niro starred as a widower who returns to the workforce in The Intern (Nancy Meyers, 2015), with Anne Hathaway. In 2016, he starred in another biopic, Hands of Stone (Jonathan Jakubowicz, 2016), playing Ray Arcel, the trainer of Panamanian boxer Roberto Durán. That same year De Niro received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama for his contribution to the arts.

De Niro, who has long resided in New York City, has been investing in Manhattan's Tribeca neighbourhood since 1989. His capital ventures there included co-founding the film studio TriBeCa Productions in 1998 and the Tribeca Film Festival (since 2002). De Niro married actress Diahnne Abbott in 1976. The couple had one son, Raphael, before divorcing 12 years later, in 1988. De Niro then had a long relationship with model Toukie Smith that produced twin sons, Aaron Kendrick and Julian Henry, in 1995. Then in 1997, De Niro married Grace Hightower, with whom he has also two children.


Trailer Novecento/1900 (1976). Source: Eurekaentertainment (YouTube).


Trailer Raging Bull (1980). Source: Movieclips Trailer Vault (YouTube).


Trailer The Mission (1986). Source: Warner Bros. (YouTube).


Trailer for Analyze This (1999). Source: Movieclips Trailer Vault (YouTube).

Sources: Biography.com, Wikipedia, and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

Wonderful post. I always liked DeNiro's performance in The Bridge at San Luis Rey. Not a good movie but he is good in it. Playing a priest yet again. Ironic that an actor who excels at dark textures would also be so great as a priest.