Robert De Niro Biography
Robert Mario De Niro, Jr. is an American actor, director, and producer.
Robert De Niro is well known for portrayals of conflicted, troubled characters and for his enduring collaboration with director Martin Scorsese. De Niro gained critical acclaim in the early 1970s, culminating in his first Academy Award as best Supporting Actor for The Godfather Part II (1974), followed by a Best Actor Academy Award win for Raging Bull (1980). His film roles include the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, cabbie Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, soldier Michael Vronsky in The Deer Hunter, boxer Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, mobster David Aaronson Once Upon A Time in America, plumber/terrorist Harry Tuttle in Brazil, mobster Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas, Al Capone in The Untouchables, Louis Gara in Jackie Brown, Jack Byrnes in Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers, Max Cady in Cape Fear, Cop. Moe Tilden in Cop Land, Neil McCauley in Heat and Sam Rothstein in Casino.
Robert De Niro was born in New York City, New York, the son of Virginia Admiral, a painter, and Robert De Niro, Sr., an abstract expressionist painter and sculptor. De Niro's father was of Italian and Irish descent, and his mother was of German, French, and Dutch descent. His Italian great-grandparents, Giovanni De Niro and Angelina Mercurio, immigrated from Ferrazzano, in the province of Campobasso, Molise, and his paternal grandmother, Helen O' Reilly, was the granddaughter of Edward O'Reilly, an immigrant from Ireland.
De Niro's parents, who had met at the painting classes of Hans Hofmann in Provincetown, Massachusetts, divorced when he was two years old. De Niro grew up in the Little Italy area of Manhattan. He was raised in New York's Greenwich Village by his mother. Nicknamed "Bobby Milk" for his pallor, the youthful De Niro joined a Little Italy street gang, 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 quit high school at age 16 to pursue acting.
Studying under Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, De Niro first attended the Little Red School House and was then enrolled by his mother at the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art in New York, a division of which (officially named The School of Performing Arts: A Division of the Fiorello H. La Guardia High School of Music and the Arts) was attended by fellow Godfather II actor Al Pacino. De Niro attended the Stella Adler Conservatory as well as Lee Strasberg's Actor's Studio, and used his membership there mostly as a professional advantage. He is considered, by many fans and critics alike, to be one of the greatest film dancers of all time.
Early film career
De Niro's first film role in collaboration with Brian De Palma was in 1963 at the age of 20, when he appeared in The Wedding Party; however, the film was not released until 1969. He spent much of the 1960s working in theater workshops and off-Broadway productions. He was an extra in the French film Three Rooms in Manhattan (1965) and made his official film debut after he reunited with De Palma in Greetings (1968). He later reprised his Greetings role in Hi, Mom (1970).
He gained popular attention with his role as a dying Major League baseball player in Bang the Drum Slowly (1973). The same year, he began his fruitful collaboration with Scorsese when he played a memorable role as the smalltime hood "Johnny Boy" alongside Harvey Keitel's "Charlie" in Mean Streets (1973). In 1974, De Niro played a pivotal role in Francis Coppola's The Godfather, Part II, playing young Don Vito Corleone, having previously auditioned for the roles of Sonny Corleone, Michael Corleone, Carlo Rizzi and Paulie Gatto in The Godfather.
His performance earned him his first Academy Award, for Best Supporting Actor, although Coppola accepted the award, as De Niro was not present at the Oscar ceremony. He became the first actor to win an Academy Award speaking mainly a foreign language, in this case, multiple Sicilian dialects (although he delivered a few lines in English). De Niro and Marlon Brando, who played the older Vito Corleone in the first film, are the only actors to have won leading-role Oscars portraying the same fictional character.
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 and provided their voices for the animated feature Shark Tale.
In many of his films, De Niro has played likable or sympathetic sociopaths. Taxi Driver is particularly important to De Niro's career; his iconic performance as Travis Bickle shot him to stardom and forever linked De Niro's name with Bickle's famous "You talkin' to me?" monologue, which De Niro largely improvised. In 1976, De Niro appeared (along with Gérard Depardieu and Donald Sutherland) in Bernardo Bertolucci's epic biographical exploration of life in Italy before World War II, Novecento (1900), seen through the eyes of two Italian childhood friends at the opposite sides of society's hierarchy.
In 1978, De Niro played "Michael Vronsky" in the acclaimed Vietnam War film The Deer Hunter, for which he was nominated Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Later film career
Praised for his commitment to roles (stemming from his background in method acting), De Niro gained 60 pounds (27 kg) and learned how to box for his portrayal of Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull; ground his teeth for Cape Fear; lived in Sicily for The Godfather, Part II; worked as a cab driver for three months for Taxi Driver; and learned to play the saxophone for New York, New York. He also put on weight and shaved his hairline to play Al Capone in The Untouchables.
De Niro's brand of method acting includes employing whatever extreme tactic he feels is necessary to elicit the best performance from those he is acting with. During the filming of The King of Comedy, for example, he directed a slew of anti-Semitic epithets at costar Jerry Lewis in order to enhance and authenticate the anger demonstrated by his onscreen character. According to People magazine, the technique was successful. Lewis recalled, "I forgot the cameras were there... I was going for Bobby's throat."
Fearing he had become typecast in mob roles, De Niro began expanding into occasional comedic roles in the mid-1980s and has had much success there as well, with such films as Brazil (1985); the hit action-comedy Midnight Run (1988), Showtime (2002), opposite Eddie Murphy; the film-and-sequel pairs Analyze This (1999) and Analyze That (2002), both opposite actor/comedian Billy Crystal, Meet the Parents (2000) and Meet the Fockers (2004), both opposite Ben Stiller.
Other films include Falling in Love (1984), The Mission (1986), Angel Heart (1987), The Untouchables (1987), Goodfellas (1990), Awakenings (1990), Heat (1995), The Fan (1996), Sleepers (1996), Wag the Dog (1997), Jackie Brown and Ronin (1998). In 1997, he reteamed with Harvey Keitel and Ray Liotta along with Sylvester Stallone in the crime drama Cop Land. De Niro played a supporting role, taking a back seat to Stallone, Keitel, and Liotta.
In 1993 he also starred in This Boy's Life, featuring then-rising child actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire. Around this time, he was offered the role of Mitch Leary in In the Line of Fire opposite Clint Eastwood, but he turned the role down in favor of John Malkovich (who received an Academy Award nomination for the role) due to scheduling conflicts with A Bronx Tale. De Niro would later reference In the Line of Fire (along with Dirty Harry and Magnum Force, two more of Eastwood's films) in Righteous Kill.
In 1995, De Niro starred in Michael Mann's police action-thriller Heat, along with fellow actor and long-time friend, Al Pacino. The duo drew much attention from fans, as both have generally been compared throughout their careers. Though both Pacino and De Niro starred in The Godfather, Part II, they shared no screen time. De Niro and Pacino once again appeared in a film together, in the crime thriller Righteous Kill.
In 2004, De Niro provided the voice of Don Lino, the antagonist in the animated film Shark Tale, opposite Will Smith. He also reprised his role as Jack Byrnes in Meet the Fockers, and was featured in Stardust. All films were successful at the box office but received mixed reviews. When promoting Shark Tale, De Niro said that was his first experience with voice acting, which he commented was an enjoyable time.
De Niro had to turn down a role in The Departed (Martin Sheen taking the role instead) due to commitments with preparing The Good Shepherd. He said "I wanted to. I wish I could've been able to, but I was preparing The Good Shepherd so much that I couldn't take the time to. I was trying to figure a way to do it while I was preparing. It just didn't seem possible."
He directed The Good Shepherd (2006), and costarred with Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. The movie also reunited him onscreen with Joe Pesci, with whom De Niro had starred in Raging Bull, Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale, Once Upon A Time In America and Casino.
In June 2006, it was announced that De Niro had donated his film archive — including scripts, costumes, and props — to the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin. On April 27, 2009, it was announced that the De Niro collection at the Ransom Center was open to researchers and the public. De Niro has said that he is working with Martin Scorsese on a new project. "I'm trying to actually work... [screenwriter] Eric Roth and myself and Marty are working on a script now, trying to get it done."
De Niro has won two Academy Awards: Best Actor for his role in Raging Bull, and Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather, Part II.
De Niro and Marlon Brando are the only actors who won Academy Awards for portraying the same character: Brando won for playing the elderly Don Vito Corleone (though he declined the award) in The Godfather, while De Niro later won the award for playing the young Vito in The Godfather, Part II. Brando and De Niro came together onscreen for the only time in The Score (2001). De Niro actually auditioned for the role of Sonny in the first Godfather film, but the role was given to James Caan. When The Godfather, Part II was in preproduction, the director, Francis Ford Coppola, remembered De Niro's audition and cast him to play the young Vito Corleone. De Niro is one of only five people to win an Academy Award for working in a foreign language, as he almost exclusively spoke Italian, with very few phrases in English.
De Niro is acting in the role of a mobster in Paramount Pictures' upcoming movie, Frankie Machine. He announced that he would appear in Martin Campbell's film version of the classic BBC crime series Edge of Darkness in 2010 alongside Mel Gibson, but, just after he arrived to begin shooting, De Niro walked from the set due to creative differences. He was then replaced by Ray Winstone.
In 1993, De Niro made his directorial debut with A Bronx Tale. The film, written by Chazz Palminteri, was about Palminteri's turbulent childhood in the Bronx. De Niro agreed to direct the film after seeing Palminteri's one-man off-Broadway play. De Niro also played Lorenzo, the bus driver who struggles to keep his son away from local mobster Sonny, played by Palminteri.
De Niro hadn't directed another film until 2006's The Good Shepherd, which starred Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. The Good Shepherd depicts the origins of the CIA, with Damon portraying one of the top counter-intelligence agents during World War II and the Cold War. De Niro has a small role as General Bill Donovan, who recruits Damon's character into the world of counter-intelligence.
De Niro, who lives in New York City, has been investing in the TriBeCa neighborhood in lower Manhattan since 1989. His capital ventures have included cofounding the film studio TriBeCa Productions; the popular TriBeCa Film Festival; Nobu and TriBeCa Grill, which he co-owns with Paul Wallace and Broadway producer Stewart F. Lane, The Greenwich Hotel, located in Tribeca, and the restaurant inside the hotel, Locanda Verde, formally known as Ago, which is run by executive chef and co-owner, Andrew Carmellini.
In 1997, De Niro married his second wife, Grace Hightower (a former flight attendant), at their estate near Marbletown in upstate New York (De Niro also has residences on the east and west sides of Manhattan). Their son Elliot was born in 1998.
In addition to Elliot, De Niro has a son, Raphael, a former actor who now works in New York real estate with first wife Diahnne Abbott. He also adopted Abbott's daughter (from a previous relationship), Drena. In addition, he has twin sons, Julian Henry and Aaron Kendrick (conceived by in vitro fertilization and delivered by a surrogate mother in 1995), from a long-term live-in relationship with former model Toukie Smith. All of De Niro's partners have been African Americans.
In February 1998, during a film shoot in France, he was taken in for questioning by French police for nine hours and was then questioned by a magistrate over a prostitution ring. De Niro denied any involvement, saying that he had never paid for sex, "...and even if I had, it wouldn't have been a crime." The magistrate wanted to speak to him after his name was mentioned by one of the call girls. In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, he said, "I will never return to France. I will advise my friends against going to France," and he would "send your Legion of Honor back to the ambassador, as soon as possible." French judicial sources say the actor is regarded as a potential witness, not a suspect.
De Niro was due to be granted with Italian citizenship at the Venice Film Festival in September 2004. However, the Sons of Italy lodged a protest with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, claiming De Niro had damaged the image of Italians and Italian-Americans by frequently portraying them in criminal roles. Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani dismissed the objections, and the ceremony was rescheduled to go forward in Rome in October. Controversy flared again when De Niro failed to show for two media appearances in Italy that month, which De Niro blamed on "serious communication problems" that weren't "handled properly" on his end, stating, "The last thing I would want to do is offend anyone. I love Italy." The citizenship was conferred on De Niro on October 21, 2006, during the finale of the Rome Film Festival. De Niro is registered in the electoral district of Molise, the Italian homeland of his great-grandparents.
De Niro is a supporter of the Democratic Party, and vocally supported Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election. De Niro publicly supported John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election. In 1998, he lobbied Congress against impeaching President Bill Clinton. De Niro also narrated 9/11, a documentary about the September 11, 2001 attacks, shown on CBS and centering on video footage made by Jules and Gedeon Naudet that focused on the role of firefighters following the attacks. While promoting his movie The Good Shepherd with co-star Matt Damon on the December 8, 2006 episode of Hardball with Chris Matthews at George Mason University, De Niro was asked whom he would like to see as President of the United States. De Niro responded, "Well, I think of two people: Hillary Clinton and Obama." On February 4, 2008, De Niro supported Obama at a rally at the Izod Center in New Jersey before Super Tuesday.