Robert De Niro was born in 1943 in Greenwich Village New York. At age two his father left for Europe to paint and as a result De Niro was raised mainly by his mother Virginia Admiral. De Niro. He got the acting bug when he was ten and played the Cowardly Lion in his school production of ‘The Wizard of Oz.’
For a short time De Niro went to the Dramatic Workshop where his mum was employed as a typist but he quit at age 16 and did some running with a street gang. His name in the gang was Bobby Milk. By age 18 he had wised up and started training with actress Shelley Winters
In 1965 he had his first moment on screen in a walk-in part in the 1965 film ‘Trois Chambre A Manhattan.’ At the same time he went around New York City with a composite headshot that featured him as a business executive, old, man, and cab driver so that he did not end up being cast strictly in Italian roles.
He finally broke through when he started to get into feature film parts from director Brian De Palma who offered De Niro $50 for each role he received.
De Niro’s first film with De Palma came in 1967 in the ‘The Wedding Party’ which was basically a comedy about couple having trouble on the way to their nuptials. Although he filmed in 1967, the film did not end up getting released until 1969
The Wedding Party
As a result the first time that De Niro was seen on screen ended up being in 1968 in the film ‘Greetings.’ During 1969 De Niro also landed his first leading role in the indie New York film ‘Sam’s Son’. He shortly thereafter went back to De Palma for a role in ‘Hi Mom!’ which saw him playing a Vietnam Vet for the second time. After that he had roles in three films that were basically just small forgettable footnotes in what became a long life in film.
In the early seventies most of De Niro’s roles were simply about getting on stage, but suddenly he found himself actually receiving feedback from film critics in 1973 for his role as a slow baseball player with Hodgkin’s disease in ‘Bang The Drum Slowly.’ His tear-jerking performance got him noticed and it was only up from here. During the same year he also took on the role of Johnny Boy in ‘Mean Streets’ and if people were not looking at De Niro before they were now. This was the first of many film collaborations with Martin Scorsese and the breakthrough role that made him a household name.
Of course, it was 1974 when De Niro managed to nail the title of the best actor to come out of his generation when he took on the role of young Vito Corleone in ‘The Godfather Part II.’ De Niro went to great lengths to make sure that he fit the role and was rewarded with an Academy Award for his efforts. It is interesting to note that De Niro and Marlon Brando who played the older Vito Corleone are the only actors in the history of the Academy’s to win an Oscar for the same movie role.
The Godfather Part II
He went on from his role in ‘The Godfather Part II’ to another stunning role that possibly scarred many who watched the film ‘Taxi Driver.’ In the film he played a cab driver that kills scumbags but ends up saving a young prostitute.
De Niro perfectly painted the picture of a man about crack on the fringes of society and coined one of the most popular catchphrase’s of all time by accident. At one point in the film De Niro improvised a monologue and spit out the question ‘You Talkin’ to Me’ and from there the rest became history.
‘You Talkin’ to Me’
Working on ‘Mean Streets’ and ‘Taxi Driver’ together bonded De Niro and Scorsese and the pair worked on quite a few additional films together including ‘Raging Bull,’ ; ‘New York, New York,’ ‘Cape Fear,’ ‘Goodfellas,’ and ‘Casino.’ In addition the two also worked together on ‘Shark Tale’ and ‘Guilty By Suspicion.’
De Niro’s next big role came in 1976 when he starred in ‘The Last Tycoon’ and further established the fact that he was willing to do anything to be a top actor. For the role De Niro lost almost forty pounds and rehearsed non-stop. At the time director Elia Kazan commented that he was a meticulous character actor driven to succeed. Whereas other stars would be playing tennis on Sundays Bobby would be going over scenes. The film did poorly at theatres but received critical praise. He followed up this film with ‘The Deer Hunter’ in 1978 earning another Academy nod.
In the eighties De Niro’s film roles took a turn as he started to fear that he was being typecast into mob roles. As a result he took on more comedic roles and some roles that were very much out of the box following his role as a Jewish mobster in ‘Once Upon A Time in America.’ He starred in ‘True Confessions’ at the start of the decade with Robert Duvall and then gave a perfect performance as an obsessive and over eager young comedian in ‘The King of Comedy.’ Although the film was a flop, it is now considered to be an iconic performance by De Niro.
Other odd ball roles in the eighties included the chic flick ‘Falling In Love,’ the one-off cameo in ‘Brazil,’ the lead role of a slave trader in ‘The Mission,’ and as a seedy pimp in ‘Angel Heart.’ A bright spot in the decade was his role as Al Capone in ‘The Untouchables’ proving against his best attempts that he truly did perform at his best when placed in the role of a mobster.
Moving into the nineties De Niro was cast in a series of forgettable films including ‘Stanley and Iris,’ Jacknife,’ ‘Awakenings,’ ‘Guilty By Suspicion,’ ‘Backdraft,’ and ‘We’re No Angels’ but found redemption with his choice to take on ‘Goodfellas’ with his old pal Martin Scorsese. It seemed that no matter how hard De Niro fought it, he was made to play a mobster in Hollywood, but typecast or not he excelled every single time and cast alongside Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci he was engaging and captivating for the entire length of the film.
One of the reasons that De Niro likely took on such a wide assortment of roles in the nineties is because he was simply looking for a quick payday to finance his own TriBeCa Film Center which was home to TriBeCa Films and became the production center of New York. He produced a few films in the early nineties including ‘Mistress’ and ‘Thunderheart’ both in 1992. During the same year he also started in the ‘Night and the City’.
In 1993 De Niro finally tried out his hand at directing making his directorial debut with ‘A Bronx Tale’ the story of a young boy torn between following the life his hard working father modeled for him and the good life modeled by the neighborhood crime boss. The film flopped at the box office but was praised by critics. After a series of modest and disappointing roles in the early nineties De Niro finally managed to win back audiences with his role in ‘Heat’ alongside Al Pacino. He played a master thief being chased by Pacino and created two hours of action packed drama.
De Niro spent the last half of the nineties in odd roles that were a mixture of leads and supporting roles in films such as ‘Marvin’s Room,’ ‘Sleepers,’ ‘The Fan,’ ‘Cop Land,’ ‘Wag The Dog,’ ‘Great Expectations,’ ‘Ronin,’ ‘Flawless.’ In the midst of these mediocre roles De Niro did manage to shine surprisingly in the comedy ‘Analyze This’ opposite Billy Crystal as a mobster looking for help coping with anxiety attacks. As a mobster, De Niro simply always shines with whatever material he is given.
Kicking off the 2000s De Niro chose to stay in comedy playing a CIA agent unhappy with his new son-in-law in the ‘Meet the Parents’ franchise and became a household name for a new generation of fans that perceived him as a comedian. He also took time in the early 2000s for a few psychological thrillers including ‘The Score’ and ‘15 Minutes.’ Although he had a few flops such as ‘Showtime’ and ‘Analyze That’ his main effort was on kicking off the TriBeCa Film Festival. It was worth his time and energy as the first festival was a startling success and over the years has grown to be one of the largest festivals in Hollywood.
Meet the Parents’
He spent the mid-2000s in a series of hit and miss roles and then took another stab at directing with the 2007 film ‘The Good Shepherd’ starring Angelina Jolie and Matt Damon. The film was very detailed and precise but was said to be too paced out turning an alluring film into something that more closely resembled a documentary. De Niro then moved onto a few more odd roles including ‘Stardust,’ ‘Extras’ and ‘Watch Just Happened?’ He rounded out the 2000s with roles in ‘Everybody’s Fine,’ ‘Machete,’ ‘Limitless,’ and ‘Killer Elite.’ His most successful role was likely his reprise as Jack Byrnes in ‘Meet the Fockers.’
In 2011 following ‘Limitless’ De Niro took role in ‘New Year’s Eve’ which was largely a flop and then took on roles in ‘Freelancers’ and ‘Red Lights’ which were both modest thrillers in their own rights. In 2012 he played Jonathan Flynn in the biographic ‘Being Flynn’ and received critical praise once again although the film was not widely seen. He followed up the small film with a larger role in ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ which earned him yet another Academy nod.