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Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro, Jr. (born August 17, 1943) is an American actor, director and producer. Nicknamed “Bobby Milk” for his pallor, the youthful De Niro hung out with a group of street kids in Little Italy, some of whom have remained lifelong friends of his. But the direction of his future had already been determined by his stage debut at age ten, playing the Cowardly Lion in his school’s production of The Wizard of Oz. Along with finding relief from shyness through performing, De Niro was also entranced by the movies, and he dropped out of high school at age 16 to pursue acting. De Niro studied acting at the Stella Adler Conservatory and Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio.

De Niro’s first film role in collaboration with Brian De Palma was in 1963 at the age of 20, when he appeared opposite his friend Jill Clayburgh in ‘The Wedding Party’; however, the film was not released until 1969. He then played Lloyd Barker as a spaced-out drug addict in Roger Corman’s ‘Bloody Mama’ (1970). It starred Shelly Winters as Machine gun totin’ Ma Barker who led her family gang (her sons) on a crime spree in the Depression era.

He than gained popular attention, and won the New York Film Society’s Award for Best Supporting Actor with his role as a dying Baseball player in ‘Bang the Drum Slowly’ (1973). That same year, he began his fruitful collaboration with Martin Scorsese when he played a memorable role as the small time crook Johnny Boy, alongside Harvey Keitel’s Charlie in ‘Mean Streets’ (1973).

That role brought him to the attention of Francis Ford Coppola, who cast him as the young Vito Corleone, the director having remembered his previous auditions for the roles of Sonny & Michael Corleone, Carlo Rizzi and Paulie Gatto in the original ‘The Godfather’. His performance earned him his first Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actor. De Niro and his hero, Marlon Brando, who played the older Vito Corleone in the first film, are the only actors to have won Oscars portraying the same fictional character. Brando and De Niro came together onscreen for the only time in ‘The Score’ (2001).

After working with Scorsese in Mean Streets, he had a very successful working relationship with the director in films such as ‘Taxi Driver’ (1976), ‘New York, New York’ (1977), ‘Raging Bull’ (1980), ‘The King of Comedy’ (1983), ‘Goodfellas’ (1990), ‘Cape Fear’ (1991), and ‘Casino’ (1995). They also acted together in ‘Guilty by Suspicion’ (1991) and provided their voices for the animated feature ‘Shark Tale’ (2004). I’ve covered Taxi Driver in a separate article.

In 1976, De Niro appeared, along with Gerard Depardieu and Donald Sutherland, in Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic biographical exploration of life in Italy before World War II, ‘Novecento’ or ‘1900’, seen through the eyes of two Italian childhood friends at the opposite sides of society’s hierarchy. In a busy year for De Niro he also starred in ‘The Last Tycoon’, directed by Elia Kazan for from Harold Pinter’s screenplay of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

In 1978, De Niro played Michael Vronsky in the acclaimed Vietnam War film ‘The Deer Hunter’, for which he was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role, losing to Jon Voight for that years other Vietnam movie, Coming Home. Producer Deeley pursued De Niro for The Deer Hunter because he felt that he needed De Niro’s star power to sell a film with a “gruesome-sounding storyline and a barely known director”. “I liked the script, and [Cimino] had done a lot of prep,” said De Niro. “I was impressed.” Well known for his love of method acting De Niro prepared by socializing with steelworkers in local bars and by visiting their homes, he would take his love of the method to extremes with Raging Bull:

‘True Confessions’ (1981) and ‘The King of Comedy’ (1983) were slightly different characters for De Niro, however he returned to the mob movie with Sergio Leone’s epic, ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ (1984) with James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, William Forsythe, Treat Williams, Burt Young and regular on-screen partner Joe Pesci. At over 4 hours long the film explores themes of childhood friendships, love, lust, greed, betrayal, loss, broken relationships, and the rise of mobsters in American society. The film is done in non-linear order. While this plot states the film from the 20’s to the 60’s the film is largely told through flashbacks from the 60’s.

Fearing he had become typecast in  gangster roles, De Niro began expanding into more varied and occasional comedic roles in the mid-1980s and has had much success there as well, with such films as ‘Falling in Love’ (1984), ‘Brazil’ (1985), ‘The Mission’ (1986), the hit action-comedy ‘Midnight Run’ (1988), ‘Analyze This’ (1999) opposite actor/comedian Billy Crystal, ‘Meet the Parents’ (2000), ‘Meet the Fockers’ (2004) and the awful ‘Little Fockers’ last year.

De Niro returned to the mobsters movie with Brian De Palma’s ‘The Untouchables’ (1987) and Scorsese’s ‘Goodfellas’ (1990). Both modern classics of the gangster genre. De Niro has really ramped up his output over the last few decades, the best being ‘Awakenings’ (1991), ‘Night and the City’ (1992), ‘A Bronx Tale’ (1993) which he also directed, ‘Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’ (1994), the excellent ‘Casino’ and ‘Heat’ (both 1995), ‘Cop Land’, ‘Jackie Brown’ and ‘Wag the Dog’ (all 1997) and ‘Ronin’ (1998).

13 responses

  1. Gary

    Angel Heart is another great cameo. The thing I like about De Niro is that you’re always sure to get a performance with impact, good or bad.

    August 17, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    • I agree, throughout the 80’s and 90’s he was vitually peerless… then he started making way too many dodgy movies over the last 20 years. There are still the odd good one in there, he hasd a good year in 1997 with ‘Cop Land’, ‘Jackie Brown’ and ‘Wag the Dog’ but they are few and far between now.

      August 18, 2011 at 11:27 am

  2. Gary

    Money talks…

    August 20, 2011 at 1:26 am

  3. Sherman

    I enjoyed that post, really very intesting.

    October 10, 2011 at 6:16 pm

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