Îòïðàâëåíî: 23.06.10 20:34. Çàãîëîâîê: ïðîäîëæåíèå PLAYBOY..
PLAYBOY: New York, New York didn't do very well at the box office. Can you tell when a film is good? For instance, crew members working on The Deer Hunter said that it wasn't going to be a good picture. Does anybody really know?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I always felt that The Deer Hunter was going to be a good movie; otherwise, I wouldn't have done it. It had its flaws, but there was something very special about it.
It was in the wake of Apocalypse Now, so everybody who was going to Thailand was worrying about that. They heard about the monsoons and the jungle and being forced to shut down the filming. Subconsciously, it affected people. I know it did me. I said, "I'm going to get stuck there." It was the rainy season, we were going to be there for three months—around Bangkok, the River Kwai—and we did have some pretty hairy moments in the shooting.
PLAYBOY: Like having to drop from a helicopter into the River Kwai?
ROBERT DE NIRO: A few times. We spent a month in that river, shooting all the prison stuff.
PLAYBOY: Didn't you narrowly escape death when the helicopter came into contact with the bridge?
ROBERT DE NIRO: The helicopter pilot didn't want to go too low, because there were rocks on two sides and a narrow passage where the water rushed through. The runners underneath the helicopter caught under the bridge's cable and, without knowing it, the pilot lifted the whole bridge and twisted it around while John Savage and I were hanging from it. It was dangerous. I looked down and shouted "Drop!" and we just dropped. We came up out of the water and saw one of the stunt guys standing on the bridge and lifting the cable off the runner of the helicopter. I thought that was it.
PLAYBOY: You thought you would die?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Yeah. I thought the helicopter would drop down on us. That happens in movies; you have to be very, very careful. Nobody plans an accident, and the thing is, sometimes the stunts don't even look like anything on film. Or the shot isn't even used. You could die doing one of those stunts, and when people look at it, they don't even know how dangerous it was.
PLAYBOY: Aside from the occasional brush with death, did you have any hesitations about The Deer Hunter?
ROBERT DE NIRO: No. The only thing that I felt was that the Russian-roulette stuff with the Viet Cong shouldn't have been played for money. To play for money in Saigon is one thing, but out in the field, the stakes should have been something else. The money sort of cheapened their reason for being out there. They were fighting for what they believed was right. While we were shooting the scene, I said to Mike Cimino, "The money thing there is not right. It should be for their idea, what they believe in. And it would be stronger, more powerful, more accurate than money."
PLAYBOY: Did you ever say that that was your best performance up to that time?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I never said that. I never said that about any movie. [Stands to leave] Well, I'd say we've accomplished quite a bit.
PLAYBOY: The Deer Hunter has never been shown on network TV, and when it is shown on independent stations, there are often deaths caused by Russian roulette—an estimated 28 people killed themselves, according to one finding. Can movies kill?
ROBERT DE NIRO: [Sitting down again] I don't know. I heard that, too. Again, can you tie it to the film? Did they need The Deer Hunter to set that off? I know one thing if I know anything: Those people who shot themselves or others would be predisposed to finding another outlet if they hadn't found it in that film.
PLAYBOY: When you were in Thailand, did you smoke opium?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Yeah, I did that in upper Thailand. I can't remember how I felt.
PLAYBOY: During the Sixties, were you involved much in that lifestyle?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Not too much. I was sympathetic, but I wasn't an activist in any sense.
PLAYBOY: Did you ever take LSD?
ROBERT DE NIRO: No.
PLAYBOY: Your name was linked with drugs in Wired, Bob Woodward's book about John Belushi. In the book, Woodward says you had used cocaine with Belushi and were with him the night before he was found dead. How did you feel—— [De Niro turns off the tape recorder, communicates that he hasn't read the book, doesn't know what it says, doesn't want to know and doesn't want to talk about it.
We just want to straighten out what has already been published. For the record.
ROBERT DE NIRO: I'd rather not. I think it's exploiting something that shouldn't be talked about.
PLAYBOY: You've never talked about it. We're not trying to exploit, just to clarify.
ROBERT DE NIRO: If you say you don't want to exploit it, I think it's something you shouldn't talk about. Maybe later in life I'll talk about it, in a book or something, if I ever even do that. But it's not something I want to talk about now. It's horrible enough what happened to him.
PLAYBOY: Have you considered writing a book?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I don't know about that. [Very definitely wants to leave]
PLAYBOY: We can understand your reluctance to talk about this, but——
ROBERT DE NIRO: You just got to. For the record. Yeah?
PLAYBOY: Woodward claimed that there was a scene in a movie Belushi wanted to make that called for him to shoot up heroin. He supposedly went to you to ask you about it, and you thought it was a good idea for him to do it. Any truth to that?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I would never tell anybody to take heroin—or any drug—to see what it's like. Especially heroin. I would never, ever, ever. I don't know where they got that idea. Those are the kind of things that people hear and they get retold.
PLAYBOY: Do you think about Belushi?
ROBERT DE NIRO: He was great. Great. I admired him so much and I'm so sad, to say the least. Such a wasted situation. Terrible.
PLAYBOY: Were you close friends?
ROBERT DE NIRO: We weren't. We knew each other, respected and liked each other. It wasn't that we hung out so much. People thought we did, but we didn't. His friends were [Dan] Aykroyd and others. Although there were times we spent together.
PLAYBOY: Is it wrong to make a film about his life?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Look, they can do it. I would never say it's wrong. I don't know what it's about or what the slant is. But I find it hard to believe. Maybe it's a very positive film.
PLAYBOY: Could they feature you in it without your permission?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I don't know about that. If there was something that I felt was wrong, I might do something about it. People prey on other people; they have no respect. [Looks at his watch, says he has to go]
PLAYBOY: OK, let's change the subject. Scorsese said there was no one who could surprise him on the screen as you can. Who surprises you?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Comedians I love, like Belushi, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd. They're all terrific. They surprise me. They do some crazy stuff.
PLAYBOY: Moving back to Raging Bull, Molly Haskell said that La Motta was the meanest, most mystifying, unmotivated antihero ever to grace the screen.
ROBERT DE NIRO: Sometimes the movie critic is not sympathetic enough. I never felt that La Motta was an extremely evil person, but these people who don't know enough about him see enough to know that they don't like him. It's like anything. You learn about the Russians, you hear they're the Evil Empire, but then you go there and see that they're people. And that they're terrified of the Americans.
PLAYBOY: Still, with La Motta, even at the end, he's spilling a drink over a politician's wife, he's crude, barbaric. There isn't too much to like about him. It's a brutal portrait, yet audiences are won over by it. Why do you suppose that is?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I don't know. There's a certain redemption there, in his relationship with the brother and what they've done to each other. A lot of people go through those experiences. That's nothing compared to the horrible, unmentionable things we read about in the paper every day that people do to others. So unbelievably monstrous. Raging Bull is like a little domestic spat compared to what people can really do to one another.
PLAYBOY: It's more than a spat when Jake nearly kills his brother and his wife with his fists.
ROBERT DE NIRO: He thinks the brother is screwing his wife—that's a betrayal. He lives in a more violent, primitive world.
PLAYBOY: Did you talk much with Jake about that incident?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I tried to ask him every kind of question, but it's hard to get somebody to be straight and honest about himself, because he is not even sure himself. Eventually, it's up to you to say, "OK, we've got what we can. Now make the movie."
PLAYBOY: Sort of like what we're up against with you.
ROBERT DE NIRO: Exactly. That's why I'd rather not do interviews! I'm only going to say some things. I'm not going to go into my life—that would be ridiculous. What am I going to open up and reveal myself for? Impart certain wisdom in a certain way and you make your own deductions out of that.
PLAYBOY: Well, you've talked about wanting to do movies that are seen in 50 years. But what you say about yourself and your movies may become key reference points. If all that's available is books full of speculations and misquotes, you won't be fairly represented. Wouldn't you like to know more about Kean or Shakespeare?
ROBERT DE NIRO: You didn't read the Playboy Interview with Shakespeare?
PLAYBOY: You know what we're saying. You don't have to do a lot of interviews, but since you are doing this one, at least it could be an answer to the lies and rumors.
ROBERT DE NIRO: There's a time and place for it. What you're doing is good, that I see——
PLAYBOY: Hold the compliments; we have a way to go yet. Getting back to La Motta, he thought he was a pretty bad guy and that you helped him change his opinion of himself. What did you tell him?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I just kept repeating in his ear, "You're not so bad, you're not so bad." [Laughs] People did not like him. Jake had done some low-life things that were supposed to be bad, but I felt that the drama in his life—with the brother and all that stuff—was real. He had to face a lot of problems, problems that a lot of people faced coming out of the Sixties and Seventies—when you weren't supposed to be feeling jealous or obsessive about someone, and then you realized, "Wait a minute, it is a natural feeling, so why fight it?" Not that you should nourish those feelings, but there was a very primitive, basic way of showing them. The guy was a fighter—you go from here to there, you don't circumvent. He had a real direct way of dealing with things.
PLAYBOY: During the making of the movie, did you ever reflect on why men become boxers?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I did. Some of it may be from abuse as a child. Then they have a lot of street fights and they're good at them and they're smart enough to capitalize on them by getting into fighting.
PLAYBOY: Do you admire Mike Tyson?
ROBERT DE NIRO: He's a great fighter. I just hope that he's born in the right time so he can find opponents. He could be unlucky, born in the wrong time, literally.
PLAYBOY: What about all the turmoil in his life?
ROBERT DE NIRO: It's good that his money is being looked after.
PLAYBOY: Are you in control of your finances?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I don't even have a quarter in my pocket. You got any money you can lend me? [Opens a small fancy jar of strawberry preserves that came with his toast and coffee, notices a small indentation in the jam] This is what they send! I always send it back when somebody else has used it. I got that the other day on the plane. It's like at boy-scout camp—after you've finished eating, they say, "Hand back everything." What wasn't eaten was put back.
PLAYBOY: You were a boy scout?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Once. Anything you didn't eat they took back and re-served. I was about ten or 11.
PLAYBOY: Hard to picture De Niro as a boy scout.
ROBERT DE NIRO: Don't picture me; I wasn't in it too long. It was just a camp I went to for a short period of time.
PLAYBOY: When you were growing up, what movies and which actors caught your attention?
ROBERT DE NIRO: A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront, East of Eden, the Kazan films, A Place in the Sun, Splendor in the Grass—the ending was so good. Dean was terrific. Brando, Montgomery Clift, Geraldine Page, Kim Stanley, Spencer Tracy—he didn't vary a lot, but he had a great sense of truth. And Walter Huston—he was great in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
PLAYBOY: What about Bogart in that film?
ROBERT DE NIRO: That's another kind of thing. Walter Huston was the one who was spectacular. Bogart was something else. [Turns off tape. He is not crazy about Bogart.]
PLAYBOY: Why go off the record about an actor who died more than 30 years ago?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I don't like saying anything bad about actors.
PLAYBOY: OK, then, let's go back 30 years to your childhood. Legend has it that you played the Cowardly Lion in a school production of The Wizard of Oz and that's what made you want to be an actor.
ROBERT DE NIRO: I was ten when I did that and I was very nervous. It was very exciting. I was a kid.
PLAYBOY: Were you in a lot of school plays?
ROBERT DE NIRO: No. My mother did some work—typing and proofreading manuscripts—for Maria Ley Piscator, the wife of Erwin Piscator, who founded the Dramatic Workshop. She knew I wanted to go to acting school, so in exchange for my mother's work, I began going on Saturdays. It was the biggest acting school in the city at that time. Stella Adler taught there.
PLAYBOY: Was acting class easy for you?
ROBERT DE NIRO: They had so many students in the class, it was hard to get up; you had to try to overcome that. An actor is sensitive as it is—shy—and the whole point of your doing this is that you want to express yourself. There's a kind of thread there as to why people become actors, and if you're intimidated by the situation and not encouraged, it's not helpful.
PLAYBOY: How did Stella Adler, who also taught Marlon Brando, help you overcome your shyness as a teenager?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Stella Adler had a very good script-breakdown-and-analysis class that no one else was teaching. A lot of people I know took the class; it was just a way of making people aware of character, style, period, and so on. People could sit down in a classroom as opposed to having to get up and demonstrate it.
PLAYBOY: Did you learn a lot from it?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Oh, yeah. In fact, that's a class I'd want to take again. It taught me that if you have a very balanced script, you can take from the script without putting anything into something that isn't there. That's what she would call fictionalizing—which is not real, there's no substance to it, it's not concrete. [Turns off the tape recorder and makes a funny observation about his former teacher]
PLAYBOY: Why give us the setup, then turn the tape recorder off for the punch lines?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I don't want to say something against anyone. That bothers people. I don't like it when someone says something negative about me.
PLAYBOY: It was funny, not negative, but we'll let it pass.
Stella Adler's father, Lou Adler, once told Brando that actors should never give 100 percent, they should always give a little less than they have. Can you relate to that?
ROBERT DE NIRO: You can't give what you don't have or what you're not able to give. Once you give up more than what you have, you're lying, you're forcing something. You have to trust yourself and do it as simply as you can. Don't try to bring something that's not there. Some actors do a lot more, and right away, you see it; you see they're trying very hard and it's not credible. Simple is hard.
PLAYBOY: Bruce Willis, who knew we were talking with you, had one question for you about just that: He wanted to know how you keep it fresh and simple.
ROBERT DE NIRO: When I'm working, I believe in rhythms of things. One thing complements another; it's a complete arc—a beginning, a middle and an end that comes about nicely. Make the point and move on.
PLAYBOY: And what about the transition within a character, such as your murderer turned Jesuit priest in The Mission——
ROBERT DE NIRO: That anybody could do anything, that there are all kinds of contradictions in life—that's not a problem. It's like the prostitute who becomes a nun.
PLAYBOY: Interesting analogy. You once said that you wanted to feel that you've earned the right to play a character. What did you mean?
ROBERT DE NIRO: To have done enough research on the character to feel that you have the right to play that character the way you see it—bringing what you've experienced, what you've learned, making it your own.
An actor hears these words all the time: "Make it your own, make it your own." Stella Adler would say, "Your talent lies in your choice." It's one thing to know that, it sounds great; it's another thing to really feel it. And then you have the right to do it.
PLAYBOY: You've been known to go pretty far in making characters your own. For example, early in your career, you appeared as one of Shelley Winters' boys in Bloody Mama, when, according to Winters, you lay in an open grave after your character was dead, even though you couldn't be seen on camera. Why go so far?
ROBERT DE NIRO: What happened was, people broke for lunch and I was just lying in that state without getting up. It seemed like an easy thing to do and I wanted to help the actors, because once they saw me like that, they were forced to deal with it.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever surprised yourself when you've been working?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Sometimes, and that's a good feeling. When you get that, you've got to really ride with it. Sometimes, when I do something that I think is really funny, I break up and start laughing, because it feels so good. Then I get so mad at myself for breaking up, because the rhythm felt so right—I was right there—and if I'd held out just a little longer and not broken up, I wouldn't have ruined the take. That happened during Midnight Run, between me and Charles Grodin. I knew it was perfect, just perfect.
PLAYBOY: Do you remember your first experience before the cameras?
ROBERT DE NIRO: There was some little thing I did that I don't know whatever happened to. Some walk-on for an independent film: I walked in and ordered a drink at a bar.
I remember a bunch of other young actors hanging around, moaning and bitching, all made up, with pieces of tissue in their collars; it was the kind of thing you always hear about actors—where they're just silly or vain, complaining back and forth, walking around primping, not wanting to get the make-up on their shirts.
PLAYBOY: So you didn't exactly feel as if you had found a home.
ROBERT DE NIRO: No, I didn't want to be around those people at all. I just walked in and walked out. I was nervous, though, just to say the line "Gimme a drink." It makes me think of that joke: "Hark! I hear the cannon roar!" You know that joke?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I'm surprised you never heard it; it's a famous actor's joke.
This guy hasn't acted in about 15 years, because he always forgets his lines, so finally he has to give it up. He's working in a gas station and gets a phone call from someone saying that they want him for a Shakespearean play—all he has to do is say, "Hark! I hear the cannon roar!" He says, "Well, God, I don't know." The director says, "Look, it'll be OK. You'll get paid and everything." So he says, "OK, I'll do it." The play has five acts and he has to go on in the third act and say, "Hark! I hear the cannon roar!" That's all he has to do. So he rehearses it when he's in his apartment: "Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar!" Every variation, every possible emphasis. They're into rehearsal, and he's got it written on his mirror: "Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar!" And so on. Finally, comes opening night, first act, no problem. Second act, things go fine. Audience applauds. Stage manager says, "You have five minutes for the third act." He tells him to get backstage. His time comes, he runs out, muttering to himself, "Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar! Hark! I hear the cannon roar!" And as he runs out, he hears a big brrrooooom!! Turns around and says, "What the fuck was that?"
PLAYBOY: We knew if you gave this enough time, you'd loosen up.
Moving on: In 1981, you and Harvey Keitel were put up against a wall in Rome as the police aimed machine guns at you, then threw you into jail. Want to explain?
ROBERT DE NIRO: We weren't thrown into jail. The paparazzi in Italy are the worst. They're so bad, you have to laugh at them. They were chasing us in a cab and we couldn't get away from them. It was then that I learned something: It's hard to escape, especially in Rome, where people drive up one-way streets the wrong way and don't care about lights. Finally, the police came by and the cabdriver told them to stop those people behind us, that they had been following us. Then we made a U-turn and drove away. A couple of minutes later, the cops were behind us with their sirens and lights going. They stopped us, got us out, they had machine guns on us, put us up against the wall, and the paparazzi were right behind them, taking pictures of the whole thing. So I said to them, "You got what you want, right?" Then the chief of police came over to me and said, "I take all the cameras; put them over there. Don't worry, no problem." And I said, "Yeah, this I'll believe." They took us to the station. They didn't put us in jail, we just sat around and talked. One or two of the cops were so stupid and belligerent, saying, "Ah, so you were in this movie, acting like a bully," talking about Taxi Driver. They finally let us go.
In the station, we were arguing with the paparazzi, saying they had no right to bother us. They were saying they had a right to take a picture. Those guys were actually arguing that—they're the slimiest people who ever lived.
PLAYBOY: Did the pictures ever appear in the newspapers?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Yeah, two days later, in a London paper. There we were, up against the wall. And the cop had told me no problem. The paparazzi know every angle. They show you a phony roll of film and pocket the real one; it's an art with them.
PLAYBOY: Do you think you could ever play a paparazzo?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I thought of it. See, it's one thing to take pictures. I say, "Go ahead, take." But in Italy, they don't know when to stop. They have no respect. No respect. You feel battered. You say, "Boys, enough." But it's an incessant barrage of flashbulbs. They're just vultures.
PLAYBOY: Have you ever gotten violent with a photographer?
ROBERT DE NIRO: A couple of times. I took a camera away from one. It's a very distressing feeling. They're like jackals, they prey on you. It makes you feel very bad about people. Can't they find a better occupation? It's fascinating to me to think what would make people want to do that for a living.
PLAYBOY: Compare autograph hounds and groupies—which you studied for King of Comedy—with paparazzi.
ROBERT DE NIRO: Some of the people I used to run into before I did King of Comedy I used in the film. It was funny. I'd see them and say, "Wait, give me your name, we'll call you." These people are fascinated with celebrities, famous people. Some of them who do that when they're younger become professional photographers or gossip columnists when they're older.
Sometimes there's an anger or rage or hostility there. Like in the scene with Jerry Lewis, when the woman says, "Jerry, can you just say hello to my son on the phone?" He tries to say no and she says, "You should get cancer!" That was from an actual story that he had told us. He was about to go on in Las Vegas and a woman was at a pay phone and asked him that, and he said, "I'm going on, I can't." So she turned a whole different color, did an about-face and said that to him, which is sort of funny, in a way, but still....
PLAYBOY: There's a story that you got Lewis angry for a scene by saying anti-Semitic things to him, just to push his buttons.
ROBERT DE NIRO: I don't know if I said anything anti-Semitic. I might have said something to really bust his balls.
PLAYBOY: Lewis also supposedly invited you to dinner once, but you didn't want to go, because you didn't think he would invite Rupert Pupkin to dinner.
ROBERT DE NIRO: It would make sense not to have dinner with the kind of intensity and relationship we'd built—which you don't want to soften.
PLAYBOY: Did you like Rupert Pupkin?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I had fun doing him. I always had a spindly image of him with those white shoes, like a cartoon. I can't explain; it's an image I had in my head.
PLAYBOY: An animal image?
ROBERT DE NIRO: He was some kind of bird. Gawky. A bird whose neck goes out as he walks.
PLAYBOY: A chicken?
ROBERT DE NIRO: A chicken! Exactly.
PLAYBOY: Did you want Meryl Streep for Masha, the role Sandra Bernhard played?
ROBERT DE NIRO: They asked Meryl, yeah. I thought she'd be terrific, because she is very funny. She's wonderful and she does funny stuff like pratfalls. She's got a great sense of humor. In fact, later on, when we were doing Falling in Love, we used to make fun of the script—well, not make fun of it, but read it in a different way, soap-opera it up.
Anyway, Meryl went up and talked with Marty, but she wasn't interested, wasn't disposed to it. And Sandra was terrific.
PLAYBOY: Perhaps Sandra worked so well partly because she was a complete unknown. It seems that with you, Brando and Pacino, your best films are often ones in which your co-stars aren't as well known as you are. Do you have any thoughts on that?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I could say what I think it is. I know what it is, but it's something I should talk about later in life, not now. [Gives a look: Enough, already! Wants to go]
PLAYBOY: A number of your films have been severely edited because the studios thought they weren't working. Once upon a Time in America was shown in two versions, because the flashbacks in the longer one seemed too confusing for U.S. audiences and it was changed accordingly.
ROBERT DE NIRO: They tried to make it a linear picture, which never worked. I understand why [director] Sergio [Leone] didn't come back to the U.S. and deal with it, confront them, fight for it, say, "Listen, this is the way it has to be. I'll give you this, but I want to take that." That's really what you have to do. It's like having a child: You don't want somebody to come in and fool with it.
PLAYBOY: Some consider the film almost a Jewish version of The Godfather.
ROBERT DE NIRO: It might have been. It was about gangsters and it was a saga. Sergio told me the story in two installments over seven hours.
PLAYBOY: He got you to sit still for seven hours?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I sat and listened through a translator. He told the story almost shot by shot, with the flashbacks, and it was beautiful. I said, "This is something that I'd like to be part of."
PLAYBOY: What did you know about Jewish gangsters before you made the film?
ROBERT DE NIRO: This and that. I talked with a lot of people and got a picture of it. I realized there were a lot more Jewish gangsters than we'd heard of. We hear the names Legs Diamond and Bugsy Siegel, but there's actually a long list of Jewish gangsters—as many famous Jewish gangsters as there are Italian.
PLAYBOY: Leone felt that the director came first, before the writer. Do you agree?
ROBERT DE NIRO: In movies, it's basically true. The director has to construct the house. He's the architect and he also has to be the builder. He has to realize it in real terms, to make it exist. But if you follow a blueprint literally, it's impossible—you're not allowing for weather, you're not allowing for a tilt in the earth. So you have to compensate for all those things. Otherwise, you're not allowing it to live and breathe on its journey. If it's too locked in by the writer, it's impossible. You have to have that freedom. You have to be able to make adjustments.
PLAYBOY: You taught Leone a lesson in collaboration: He said that for the first time, he had to follow an actor's ideas without destroying his own. How much of a collaboration was it?
ROBERT DE NIRO: We had a good understanding. For a director, he gave me a lot of freedom, in his own way. Sometimes I would say something like, "You can't have this kind of telephone booth in America at that time," and he'd listen to what I thought.
But ultimately, he had his own vision of America, and there are certain things that were off, that were askew. It all added up eventually and the American audience started getting a little glassy-eyed and lost interest. That was one concern of mine: that it was going to have an alien feeling, even though it was supposed to be shot in America. A lay audience can't put their finger on it, but they know something is not right and that distances them from it.
PLAYBOY: How did Leone work differently from other directors?
ROBERT DE NIRO: European or Italian directors sometimes tell you how to do it. They say, "You go over there and you do this or that." American actors don't like that, they want to find it for themselves, they don't want to be told where to go.
But Sergio was very smart and clever and respectful enough not to do that in my case. As I got to know him better, I could see he had a style in his head and began to realize what kind of movie he was making, so I'd ask him to demonstrate a way, a movement, a reaction—because he had the style. Nobody knew it better than he did.
PLAYBOY: When Leone was asked to compare you with his spaghetti Western star, Clint Eastwood, he said you didn't belong in the same profession with Eastwood. He said you put on a personality the way someone else might put on a coat—naturally and with elegance. He said you were an actor, Eastwood was a star; you suffered, Eastwood yawned.
ROBERT DE NIRO: You can't ask me a question about that, because I'm not going to say anything. [Turns off tape recorder, looks at his watch]
PLAYBOY: Leone said that actors are like children: trusting, narcissistic, capricious. Do you agree with that?
ROBERT DE NIRO: That could be true in some situations. When I work with a director, it does become sort of a parental thing. But at the same time, it's an equal, collaborative effort. You respect them and you're loyal. I don't like to waste time bickering, arguing, playing games. It's a waste of energy and it takes too long to make a movie.
PLAYBOY: Is it that way with you often: arguing, bickering, no respect?
ROBERT DE NIRO: No, not at all. I avoid it, I know who I work with, try to get a feeling about their work, who they are, and I'll trust somebody more because of what he gives, even if there are things he's done that I'm not too crazy about. I'll think, This time is really the one that they're gonna do it. I always want to think that it's going to be their moment of greatness and I'm going to be part of it. And that I like.
PLAYBOY: Is Once upon a Time in America one of those films that will be remembered in 50 years?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I don't know. It's the kind of movie that maybe I'll look at one day and say, "Well, it wasn't bad."
PLAYBOY: Do you feel that way about Brazil?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I liked the script and I wanted to be part of it. That will be remembered in years to come, no matter what you think of it. It's a movie from someplace—something that's said in [director] Terry Gilliam's own eccentric way, something that I responded to.
PLAYBOY: Your part as a manic heating engineer was a small role. You and Jack Nicholson seem to be the only major stars who will take such parts without worrying about losing your big-star appeal.
ROBERT DE NIRO: I'll do a cameo if I like it and I don't have to carry the whole movie. I can concentrate on just that, it's more fun and I don't have the pressure.
PLAYBOY: Is that what interested you about playing Louis Cyphre, the Devil, in Alan Parker's Angel Heart?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I just wanted to do it; it was more like an exercise. I thought it would be fun and I wouldn't have to carry the whole movie. I liked [director] Alan Parker. He offered me the other part, but I felt there was something wrong with the script.
PLAYBOY: You're not alone. John Huston thought the first four fifths of Angel Heart was one of the best films he had ever seen but that it fell apart in the end.
ROBERT DE NIRO: That's what I felt. There was a very, very strong texture to it—what you hoped for—but if some things aren't there structurally, they've got to be worked out. It has to have a certain kind of payoff that comes together, and if it's not there, it's not easy to come up with an idea to fix it.
PLAYBOY: Then there was your ten-minute portrayal of Al Capone in The Untouchables. You had a certain fascination with that role, didn't you?
ROBERT DE NIRO: He's a bigger-than-life character and I liked the way it was written in the film. I had told Brian De Palma that I would consider doing Capone if it was ever written right. I'd seen it done other times and I didn't particularly care for the way it was done.
PLAYBOY: You didn't like Paul Muni's original Scarface?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I thought it was awful. He's the biggest ham. It was so hammy. You could see he was possibly a great stage actor, but a lot of his movies were over the top. Like I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang.
PLAYBOY: What about Pacino's Scarface?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Well, that's a different thing. In fact, I wanted to do a remake of Scarface with Marty, then Pacino told me that he was thinking of doing it. I said to him, "If you don't do it, I'm gonna do it." But I would have done it the way it was written, not the way they did it.
PLAYBOY: Bob Hoskins was signed to play Capone, but you took over the role instead. What happened?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I felt I had gone through a lot of aggravation, too, so that as long as they had paid him and it hadn't gone too far, I felt it was OK to take the role.
PLAYBOY: How much weight did you put on for Capone?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Twenty-three to 25 pounds. I couldn't gain any more weight, like the other time I would never do that again.
PLAYBOY: Did you have any animal in mind for him?
ROBERT DE NIRO: [David] Mamet wrote him so well—the rhythm was so strong and consistent—that a lot of it was already there in the writing. For me, the most important physical thing was my face. I could always put a body suit on, but I didn't want to put appliances on my face, taking six hours to put them on and just look funny. I wanted to get as much weight onto my face as I could first and then make adjustments with the body suit and recede my hairline to round out the face some more. The only thing I didn't get was a recording—there's none of his voice, as far as I know. Getting the voice is the most difficult thing.
PLAYBOY: Who was a tougher guy—Capone or La Motta?
ROBERT DE NIRO: La Motta was tougher, without question; he was a fighter. Capone might have been ruthless, but he was more of a politician, more able to deal with people; he had to run an empire. And yet he instilled a lot of fear so people wouldn't double-cross him.
PLAYBOY: Speaking of empires, you've met a number of world leaders. What was your impression of Mikhail Gorbachev?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I met him at the Russian embassy in Washington. There were 80 to 100 people there. I would have liked to have said something, but I didn't.
In Russia, they get up and make toasts, get a little drunk on vodka—it's very nice and very warm, they say beautiful things, everybody brings out the best in everybody. It would have been nice to do that, but it was a more formal kind of thing. I felt like we were in school. You don't want to get up and make a schmuck of yourself, say a stupid thing. A couple of people said things—people from all walks of life, famous scientists, philosophers, writers, actors, politicians. I was listening. [Laughs]
PLAYBOY: Do any people give off an aura?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Yeah, Presidents. It's a thing that comes with age, years of experience, that sort of situation. There are people who become so well known that they become part of another layer of your consciousness.
PLAYBOY: So whom would you be fascinated to meet. Garbo, for instance?
ROBERT DE NIRO: No, but she was a wonderful actress. I'd meet her if she wanted to. [Pauses] I've got to go.
PLAYBOY: Do people get nervous around you when they first meet you?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I don't know. Sometimes people can hide the way they are and you don't notice it. It's like with my daughter: She was always screaming, ranting and raving about this particular person, and I would tell her to shut up and stop bothering me about him. So one day, she met him and she was so cool, I couldn't believe the way she acted. But it taught me something. If I didn't know how she had acted before, I never would have known at all what was going on inside her head.
ROBERT DE NIRO: No.
PLAYBOY: Does your daughter live with you or her mother?
ROBERT DE NIRO: My daughter lives alone. She's 20.
PLAYBOY: And who takes care of your 11 year-old son, Raphael?
ROBERT DE NIRO: His mother. He might live with me. I spend a lot of time with him. I took him to New Zealand when we were shooting Midnight Run.
PLAYBOY: Do you let him see all of your films—Raging Bull, Taxi Driver?
ROBERT DE NIRO: They see them anyway, they see them on cable. Kids have a whole other culture. He goes into a toy store and starts talking like an expert about a bunch of toys—the skate boards, the bikes, the GI Joes, the Nintendos—they know all that stuff. [Taps watch]
PLAYBOY: What TV series did you grow up with?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I didn't like Howdy Doody or Mickey Mouse. I liked The Three Stooges.
PLAYBOY: Thinking that your son may read this one day, what can you say about his mother, Diahnne Abbott, that's positive?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Something positive? How come you asked that question? That's OK, I'm just curious about why you asked it.
PLAYBOY: Because if we ask it any other way, you're not going to answer it.
ROBERT DE NIRO: [Laughs, nods] What happens is that people distort things and it goes back to the kids in school and what are you gonna do? People who create those kinds of situations have no fucking shame, no guilt. I don't know what makes those people do it. Money? You can do a lot of things for money. But to feed off the worst kind of negative shit, propagate it—that's awful.
PLAYBOY: So, you were about to say about Diahnne ...? [De Niro goes to turn off the tape recorder.]
Leave it on!
ROBERT DE NIRO: No, I've got to go.
PLAYBOY: You've been going ever since you started this interview. Let's just finish and be done with it.
ROBERT DE NIRO: Well...she and I are friends.... She's very perceptive about people...almost psychically perceptive...and a good friend....
PLAYBOY: Where does she live?
ROBERT DE NIRO: In New York. I really gotta go.
PLAYBOY: Hang in there, we're almost through. Weren't you once kicked out of The Beverly Hills Hotel because you sneaked in four cats?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Yeah, I had cats in there and they had this policy.... The manager was.... I've heard they have hookers running all around the pool, and yet when you have cats.... I was told not to have cats, but I did and they locked us out. They put a padlock on the door and put the cats outside. I was furious. The manager threatened to call the police in front of me. We had to put the cats in a cat house.
PLAYBOY: What were you doing traveling with four cats?
ROBERT DE NIRO: I was with my wife at the time and she had cats. We were going out there to work on a film, so I had the cats with me. It was totally uncalled for, that type of behavior. You have somebody say, "Listen, we'd like you to do something with the cats, we can't have them." But this was at night, we got home at midnight and they had locked us out. I wanted to sue—he was a pig. It looked like he enjoyed being a son of a bitch. I don't think he's there anymore.
PLAYBOY: We haven't asked you about your father, who's an established avant-garde painter. Are you two close?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Yeah...we're close.... [Looks at watch] What else?
PLAYBOY: It is true that you gave Francis Ford Coppola two of your father's paintings for his birthday?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Yeah; he's very, very touchy about that stuff, so I have to convince him that the person I'm giving them to is worthy. It's about as nice a gift as you can give. [Rises to leave]
PLAYBOY: Martin Scorsese originally wanted you for Christ in his controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ. Any regrets for not having done it?
ROBERT DE NIRO: No.
PLAYBOY: There's talk about you and Quincy Jones codirecting a musical movie starting Whitney Houston.
ROBERT DE NIRO: That's a good question. [Turns off tape recorder. Communicates his discomfort at talking about these things; wrong mood] I know that the Directors Guild has a problem with that. We had to go before the D.G.A. and explain our reasoning. They weren't for it, but I thought it was interesting, because then they could ask us questions that would make us think about why we wanted to do it together.
But I can't answer that now—my mind is not focused. I've really got to go. I have things I want to say to balance what I've said already, but I'm late. I'm very late. God, I'm late.
PLAYBOY: For what?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Some people are coming over; I don't want to be late.
PLAYBOY: What people?
ROBERT DE NIRO: Friends.
PLAYBOY: Friends will understand if you're late. You're always late.
ROBERT DE NIRO: Not if nobody's at the door.
PLAYBOY: It seems odd: Here you are at the pinnacle of your career, yet you are always on the move; you don't seem to have control of your life.
ROBERT DE NIRO: [Practically out the door] You're right, I should take more control of my life! I haven't any time to relax, for myself. Geez, it's already 7:15!
PLAYBOY: No, it's not. It's only seven. Why is your watch 15 minutes fast?
ROBERT DE NIRO: That way I won't be late. [We laugh. He leaves.]