At Tribeca: Robert De Niro Talks Scorsese Reunion, SNL Hosting and the GOP's 'Big Hustle'
One of the hotter tickets of this year's Tribeca Film Festival got attendees into today's conversation between festival co-founder Robert De Niro and NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. The latter acknowledged that he pitched the event to organizers as a unabashed De Niro fan, and the sprawling subject matter of the hour-long chat -- from the Oscar-winner's school plays to a hilarious anticlimax involving his middle name -- yielded more than a few revelations for Williams and the rest of us. Here a few of the highlights:
He's not an introvert, but he knows why you think that.
Williams solicited reasons why actors or other certain artists might be more withdrawn than the public expects from their work. "One obvious one is that people more want to express themselves [acting]," De Niro said. "There are less limitations than in a typical existence if you will. Your job as an actor is to do that the best you can. Doesn't mean you can't express yourself or that you go crazy when you're not working. But as an actor, say, or an artist or a painter or a filmmaker, you can go through the lives of other people, stories, experiences that you might not have personally had. You want to go into this story or experience as pure and expressive [as possible]. It's kind of nice, and it's fun to do if you like doing that sort of thing."
He only rewatches his older films in parts and by accident.
Williams wanted to know when De Niro last viewed Taxi Driver. "It's been a long time," he answered. "A long time. You know, if I find it on television just by chance, I might look at part of it or some of it with a little more objectivity. But I haven't watched it in its entirety for a long, long time."
"What is that like?," Williams asked. "You're sitting at home, you're going through the circuit: HBO, HBO 1 through nine, HBO West Coast, HBO Southern Washington State. You go through your Starz and your Showtime, and... You know. There's Raging Bull. What's that like?"
"I don't do that, Brian!" De Niro said to laughter. "I watch the news! I watch you! I'm very set in my ways. I watch the NBC Nightly News, I watch the Today show."
He and Martin Scorsese have at least one more project to collaborate on.
De Niro said he still intends to make The Irishman, a biopic based on the life of Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran, a hit man and Jimmy Hoffa confederate who came under suspicion following the Teamsters chief's disappearance in 1975. "I had always wanted to do I Heard You Paint Houses," De Niro said, citing the title of Charles Brandt's 2004 non-fiction chronicle of Sheeran. "I'd talked to people and heard they'd read it, and I said, 'Let me just buy this book and see what it is about.' After I read it, I said, 'Hey, Marty, I think we should really consider this. It's more like what we would do. And then he read it, and he liked it. We got Steve Zaillian; he wrote a terrific script. And we're doing it. But [Scorsese] has one other project. We've got to figure all that out before we're not here anymore."
He is not a Method guy, but he is a comedian.
De Niro could go either way, depending on the role and the film, but leans away from living in character when the camera's not rolling. "Myself, I would keep my mind off it until I've got to go out there," he said. "It's like that that joke about the actor who's got a part and can't remember his lines. The actor's working in a gas station when a friend who's directing a Shakespeare play says, 'Listen, I just want you to do this thing in the third act of Henry V,' or whatever, 'and just walk on a say 'Hark! I hear the cannon roar.' So he comes to rehearsal, he comes to rehearsal, rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. He's got it written on his mirror in his dressing room. 'Hark! I hear the cannon roar. Hark! I hear the cannon roar. Hark! I hear the cannon roar.' Every variation. He had it all down pat. So there's the first act, second act, third act. He's in the wings, getting ready after intermission. The stage manager gets him ready: 'That's it! All you need to do is 'Hark! I hear the cannon roar.' And all of the sudden: 'You're on!' He runs out on the stage, and he hears a big boom. He turns around and says, 'What the fuck was that?'"
His much-desired Good Shepherd sequel remains in limbo.
"I've always wanted to do another," De Niro said of the delayed, possibly doomed follow-up to his deeply underrated 2006 CIA epic featuring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. "Like a sequel to it, from 1961 -- the Bay of Pigs and the Berlin Wall -- going up to 1989 when the wall came down. I'm still trying to do that."
He enjoys hosting Saturday Night Live.
"I felt that people who aren't 'actors'... not that actors take themselves so seriously. Well, some do. But I felt they do better on Saturday Night Live sometimes than actors [do]. But I had a lot of fun doing it. I think it's great. Whenever I'm doing a movie and there's a big dramatic scene, I say to myself, 'I wonder what they're going to do with this on Saturday Night Live. But it's a lot of fun. It's so fast that you can't even think."
"Right," said Williams, who himself hosted the show in 2007. "There's a woman there who pulls down your pants."
"Yeah," De Niro said. "Three people at once. Wardrobe, makeup, hair -- throwing wigs on and all that. That's what makes it easy in some ways, because it's all going so fast you can't even think about it."
He has no regrets.
A few gasps were heard around the auditorium when Williams asked De Niro point blank: "Is there anything in your career you'd want to take back? Anything you look at now and say, 'I was busy then. I might have phoned it in. Wish I hadn't done that'?"
"You know, I think whatever I did, that's that," De Niro replied. "I stand behind it, for better or for worse."
"A hardcore fatalist."
"I can't think like that. I just acted. That's what I do."
"You can't afford the luxury of looking back?"
"I can, but not now," De Niro said to a laugh. "Maybe later."
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