Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of AwardsLine.
Robert De Niro hit his stride in terms of movie recognition in 1973 when both Bang the Drum Slowly and Mean Streets put him on the map. The latter remains a special favorite because it marks the beginning of his long association with Martin Scorsese. Remarkably, De Niro didn’t come close to peaking after winning his first supporting actor Oscar for 1974’s The Godfather Part II—he’s still going strong nearly four decades later, thought by many to be our greatest living film actor. But effortlessly playing the young Don Corleone and doing it entirely in a Sicilian dialect should have signaled to anyone that this was a talent like no other. A look at the other roles that won him recognition from the Academy an impressive six times overall between 1975 and 1992 only confirms that early promise. There’s Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Awakenings, Cape Fear, and of course, Raging Bull, which brought him a second statuette for best actor in 1980. But consider some of the brilliant performances Oscar didn’t recognize, and you get an idea of the career we are talking about here: The King of Comedy, The Mission, Midnight Run, Awakenings, Once Upon a Time in America, Casino, Heat, and one especially close to his heart, Everybody’s Fine, to name just a few. As a producer, entrepreneur, and founder of the ever-growing Tribeca Film Festival, De Niro is not only a multifaceted actor, he’s a multifaceted person, who might be hitting his stride again in the same year he will turn 70. After waiting 21 years, De Niro now has a richly deserved seventh Oscar nomination for his role as Pat Sr. in Silver Linings Playbook, and he’s back in the supporting actor category for the first time since the Academy started its admiration society for him 40 years ago. Will history repeat itself? For De Niro, he’s just happy to still be in the starting lineup and still getting roles as rich as this one.
AWARDSLINE: How did Silver Linings Playbook come about? The character in the book is markedly different than what Pat Sr. became in the movie.
ROBERT DE NIRO: Yes, a lot different. (David O. Russell) turned the character inside out. (Pat Sr. is) very interesting in the book, but this was another way to do it. There were more colors in a sense and the other was more consistently not communicative, kind of funny in his own way.
AWARDSLINE: How was working with David O. Russell’s directorial style? It’s freewheeling and creative, shooting at 360-degree angles…
DE NIRO: It is different. I have done some things like that, but not really. His style is very unique, specific to him, and I think it’s really great because it adds an immediacy, a spontaneity, an unpredictability. You don’t know where it is really going to go, and it has that energy to it with a lot of the handheld stuff. He will throw lines at you. You already know what you are doing scriptwise, but there are times he is going to throw lines at you that are spontaneous and right. And that’s great.
AWARDSLINE: There is a lot of Oscar buzz again for Silver Linings. Does that mean much to you?
DE NIRO: Of course I am happy about it all, but I don’t want to expect much because I don’t want to be disappointed: You expect, and you think, and it never happens. So all I try to do is be even-keel about stuff.
AWARDSLINE: Are the movies you received the Oscars for the ones you think you should have won for or are there others where you thought you should have won instead?
DE NIRO: I don’t know. There’s so much competition out there. There’s so many good performances, so many good movies I don’t know what I would be. It depends on the alignment of the stars sometimes for certain things. I think for Godfather II, Raging Bull, yes. There were others. Who knows?
AWARDSLINE: Were there any films in the past 20 years that have been really frustrating experiences for you? Looking down the list, I see one: Everybody’s Fine. I thought it was terrific.
DE NIRO: I think it was left flat by Miramax and the parent company (Disney). They said they weren’t going to do that, but of course they did. How you present it is important—I know the director (Kirk Jones) was concerned about it, in America at least. In England, they had an interesting poster which is more right for it. I never say this about myself, but I was proud of that (performance), and Kirk is a terrific director. I certainly worked very hard on that one.
AWARDSLINE: Is it tougher finding scripts you are excited by these days?
DE NIRO: It’s always hard to find good scripts. That’s just the way it is, unless it is a director like David or (Martin) Scorsese or certain directors who you know are smart and whatever they do is going to be interesting. You just have to rely on the director, because it is not always on the page.
AWARDSLINE: You seem to be working all the time—you obviously still love making movies.
DE NIRO: You do a movie, and you don’t know it is going to be received. If Silver Linings Playbook was received in another way, I would say it doesn’t really take away from everything we did. You can’t predict how the public or the audience is going to feel about something. Taxi Driver was the same thing. I just don’t know. I am happy when people like them, but you do your best, and that’s all you can do.
AWARDSLINE: I personally loved Bang the Drum Slowly at the beginning of your career in 1973, but is there one movie that stands out from the rest?
DE NIRO: Mean Streets. I had a great time with Marty, being the first feature we did together. There’s also working on something that is not the most fun, but that could be one that’s received well. You just never know.
AWARDSLINE: Will you be teaming with Scorsese again anytime soon?
DE NIRO: Yes, we are planning on it. We are trying to narrow the time down. Its original title was I Heard You Paint Houses. They have been calling it The Irishman lately—I don’t know what it will be called. But it is me, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, and Marty directing. I never talk about stuff—I don’t like to because it seems whenever you do, it never works out. I’m so careful. But this one I did. I am feeling good about it and hoping it will all work out.