This much I know Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro, ac­tor, 75

The Observer Magazine - - Contents - In­ter­view FRANCINE WHITE

I am a per­fec­tion­ist. I al­ways try to do as much re­search as pos­si­ble for a role. For Taxi Driver I did ac­tu­ally drive a cab for a few weeks. It prob­a­bly wasn’t re­ally nec­es­sary, but it was some­thing I wanted to do.

I’ve re­alised how im­por­tant it is to ap­pre­ci­ate the things your par­ents leave be­hind. My fa­ther, Robert De Niro Snr, was an artist and since he died in 1993, I’ve kept his stu­dio in­tact, just the way he left it. I thought about get­ting rid of it, but my fam­ily and I gath­ered there af­ter his death and re­alised the re­al­ity is dif­fer­ent to see­ing it in pic­tures, so it stayed.

There is much more op­por­tu­nity now than when I was start­ing out. There re­ally was only TV and films made in Cal­i­for­nia. Now TV and the in­ter­net has cre­ated so many more op­por­tu­ni­ties for ac­tors.

I learned a lot about be­ing a fa­ther from my fa­ther. I knew he loved me. It was im­por­tant for me to know that, so I know it’s im­por­tant for my kids to know it, too. I give my kids space, but we do spend a lot of time to­gether. I guess I can be firm when nec­es­sary. Now that I’m a grand­fa­ther, I get to have good times with­out the di­rect re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that par­ents have. I have four grand­chil­dren and six chil­dren so I know what I’m talk­ing about.

Some­times the phys­i­cal can por­tray the psy­cho­log­i­cal. That’s why I put on 60lb when I played Jake LaMotta in Rag­ing Bull . I had this fas­ci­na­tion with the graphic de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of his char­ac­ter, which to me was sym­bol­ised by his phys­i­cal de­cline. I didn’t think us­ing pros­thet­ics would do the same thing.

I un­der­stand why peo­ple use so­cial me­dia, but I don’t. No way! I don’t watch much TV or go to the movies ei­ther. To me, they’re just an­other dis­trac­tion. And I have enough of those to worry about with­out all that stuff as well.

Fame is not an is­sue for me th­ese days. When I was younger, I found the at­ten­tion dif­fi­cult to deal with, but I’m mostly OK with it now. I go around quite freely and peo­ple may say “hello” or want a photo and that’s fine by me.

I pre­fer movies to the­atre. I sup­pose I’d do a play if I could find a re­ally great new mod­ern one. But I love movies. You can do so much more with film and you can cre­ate an il­lu­sion. Films last, they are there for­ever, like a lit­tle piece of his­tory.

I’ve no idea what my epi­taph will be, but I am very cu­ri­ous to see what my obit­u­ary says. I met some­one once at a din­ner who wrote obit­u­ar­ies for the New York Times and they told me the main peo­ple they have writ­ten obit­u­ar­ies for in ad­vance – and that I was one of them. Ap­par­ently it’s all ready to go and they just fill it in with last minute stuff. ■

An Ex­pe­ri­ence With Robert De Niro is on 26 and 27 Novem­ber at Leeds and Birm­ing­ham (an­ex­pe­ri­ence­

Pho­to­graph ART STREIBER

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