Exploring Robert De Niro's enigmatic playbook

Thu Nov 6, 2014 5:14am EST
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By Jill Serjeant

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brilliant, taciturn, droll, intimidating - Robert De Niro is regarded as one of the greatest American actors of all-time and among the most private.

U.S. author and film critic Shawn Levy spent four years trying to get a handle on the double Oscar winner while working on his biography entitled, "Robert De Niro: A Life."

Levy spoke with Reuters about what he learned from De Niro's archive of scripts and production notes about the now 71-year-old actor outside of his more than 80 movie roles.

Q: You asked several times to interview De Niro, but got no response. Why do you think he is so reluctant to talk about himself?

A: In his early exposure to the press, he was uncomfortable. He is basically an introverted person who finds great expression in a public form. But in his first encounters (with the media), his ill-preparedness really showed. Once he became a star, stardom gave him the authority to keep a wall between himself and the uncomfortable moments. And then it became who he is.

Q: One of the questions the book poses is why De Niro directed his energy into a few key roles early on, and now pours them 'sloppily into so many paper cups as if it were the cheapest, most indifferently made plonk.' How would you sum up that enigma?

A: He has a tremendous work ethic, he inherited that from his parents, and for a long time he concentrated that work very strenuously in bespoke opportunities. He continues to work, but instead of lifting 200 pounds once, he is lifting 20 pounds ten times. Once you have made that decision, you lose the prerogative of saying I will only do the best with the best, because the best don't work six or eight times a year. I think that he feels if he is not working he feels he is being lazy.   Continued...

Robert De Niro poses on the red carpet upon arriving for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival opening night screening of 'Time Is Illmatic' in New York in this April 16, 2014 file photo.  REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/Files