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Robert De Niro: The "All In" Actor

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

Robert De Niro was very clear about the direction of his career. He knew what he wanted and he knew what he didn’t want. During a seminar that I hosted at Sherwood Oaks Experimental College, he said it was a trip to Europe that put things into focus for him. He hitchhiked from Ireland to Italy and when he came back to the USA he knew the kind of acting career he wanted to have. He was not interested in commercials or being a television actor. It was movie acting that made his heart beat. He had just finished shooting Taxi Driver when I interviewed him. He said he had not watched the film yet. I asked him what his biggest acting takeaway was. He took a moment before answering. “I have to take more time,” he said, simply. I smiled, thinking of how many times I had said those words to actors over the years. “Take more time, breath; let it land on you, let it happen.”

We spoke about some of the directors that he worked with. He spoke about Martin Scorsese and the verbal shorthand they had developed. “Scorsese was open to ideas and willing to experiment.” He also spoke about working with Elia Kazan. “Kazan puts you on a track; it’s structured but he gives you lots of room to improvise.” Kazan, in an interview he gave to Newsweek’s Jack Kroll, talked about De Niro.

“He’s a number of things. He’s a street person and yet he’s a highly sensitive man. There are many people in him. He finds release and fulfillment in becoming other people. That is his pleasure, his joy. He’s found a solution for living- in work. I have never seen a guy who worked as hard. He’s the only actor I’ve ever known to phone me on Friday and say let’s work all weekend together.”

One of my favorite De Niro movies is Raging Bull. I’m told that he never broke character when he worked. There are actors that are all in. He’s one of them.

I do not have many movie posters in my apartment, but I do have one of Raging Bull. I look at it occasionally to remind myself of excellence. Excellence is what we are all striving for, isn’t it?

See you next time.

Bob McAndrew

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