Robert De Niro
- Aug 17, 1943
- New York City, New York
Considered one of the best actors of his generation, Robert De Niro built a durable star career out of his formidable ability to disappear into a character. The son of artists, De Niro was raised in New York's Greenwich Village. The young man made his stage debut at age 10, playing the Cowardly Lion in his school's production of The Wizard of Oz. Along… More Bio:
Considered one of the best actors of his generation, Robert De Niro built a durable star career out of his formidable ability to disappear into a character. The son of artists, De Niro was raised in New York's Greenwich Village. The young man made his stage debut at age 10, 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 learned how to immerse himself in a character emotionally and physically. After laboring in off-off-Broadway productions in the early '60s, De Niro was cast alongside fellow novice Jill Clayburgh in film-school graduate Brian De Palma's The Wedding Party (1969). He followed this with small movies like Greetings, Hi, Mom!, Sam's Song, and Bloody Mama.
De Niro's professional life took an auspicious turn, however, when he was re-introduced to former Little Italy acquaintance Martin Scorsese at a party in 1972. Sharing a love of movies as well as their neighborhood background, De Niro and Scorsese hit it off. De Niro was immediately interested when Scorsese asked him about appearing in his new film, Mean Streets, conceived as a grittier, more authentic portrait of the Mafia than The Godfather. De Niro's appearance in the film made waves with critics, as did his completely different performance as a dying simple-minded catcher in the quiet baseball drama Bang the Drum Slowly (1973). Francis Ford Coppola was impressed enough by Mean Streets to cast De Niro as the young Vito Corleone in the early 1900s portion of The Godfather Part II. Closely studying Brando's Oscar-winning performance as Don Corleone in The Godfather, and perfecting his accent for speaking his lines in subtitled Sicilian, De Niro was so effective as the lethally ambitious and lovingly paternal Corleone that he took home a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role.
De Niro next headed to Europe to star in Bernardo Bertolucci's opus, 1900 (1976) before returning to the U.S. to collaborate with Scorsese on the far leaner (and meaner) production, Taxi Driver. After working for two weeks as a Manhattan cabbie and losing weight, De Niro transformed himself into disturbed "God's lonely man" Travis Bickle. One of the definitive films of the decade, Taxi Driver earned the Cannes Film Festival's top prize and several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and De Niro's first nod for Best Actor. Controversy erupted about the film's violence, however, when would-be presidential assassin John W. Hinckley cited Taxi Driver as a formative influence in 1981.
De Niro and Scorsese would reteam for the lavish musical New York, New York (1977), and though the film was a complete flop, De Niro quickly recovered with another risky and ambitious project, Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter (1978). One of the first wave of Vietnam movies, The Deer Hunter starred De Niro as one of three Pennsylvania steel-town friends thrown into the war's inferno who emerged as profoundly changed men. Though the film provoked an uproar over its portrayal of Viet Cong violence as (literally) Russian roulette, The Deer Hunter won several Oscars.
Returning to the realm of more personal violence, De Niro followed The Deer Hunter with his and Scorsese's masterpiece, Raging Bull, a tragic portrait of boxer [%Ray La Motta]. Along with his notorious 60-pound weight gain that rendered him unrecognizable as the middle-aged Jake, De Niro also trained so intensely for the outstanding fight scenes that La Motta himself stated that De Niro could have boxed professionally. Along with his physical dedication, De Niro won over critics with his ability to humanize La Motta without softening him. Raging Bull received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.
Though he was well suited to star in Sergio Leo
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