TRIBECA 2011: BRIAN WILLIAMS TALKS TO ROBERT DE NIRO
One of the hotter tickets of this year’s TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL got attendees into last weekend’s conversation between festival cofounder ROBERT DE NIRO and NBC Nightly News anchor BRIAN WILLIAMS.
The latter acknowledged that he pitched the event to organizers as a unabashed fan of Mr. De Niro. The sprawling subject matter of the hour long chat — from the two time ACADEMY AWARD winner’s school plays to a hilarious anticlimax involving his middle name — yielded more than a few revelations for the journalist and the audience.
Here a few of the highlights…
He’s not an introvert but he knows why you think that.
BRIAN WILLIAMS solicited reasons why actors or other artists might be more withdrawn than the public expects from their work.
“One obvious one is that people more want to express themselves [acting],” Mr. De Niro said.
“There are less limitations than in a typical existence, if you will. Your job as an actor is to do that the best you can. Doesn’t mean you can’t express yourself or that you go crazy when you’re not working. But as an actor, say, or an artist or a painter or a filmmaker, you can go through the lives of other people, stories, experiences that you might not have personally had. You want to go into this story or experience as pure and expressive [as possible]. It’s kind of nice and it’s fun to do if you like doing that sort of thing.”
He only rewatches his older films in part and by accident.
BRIAN WILLIAMS wanted to know when Mr. De Niro last viewed TAXI DRIVER.
“It’s been a long time,” he answered.
“A long time. You know, if I find it on television just by chance, I might look at part of it or some of it with a little more objectivity. But I haven’t watched it in its entirety for a long, long time.”
“What is that like?” Mr. Williams asked.
“You’re sitting at home, you’re going through the circuit: HBO, HBO 1 through nine, HBO West Coast, HBO Southern Washington State. You go through your Starz and your Showtime, and…You know. There’s Raging Bull. What’s that like?”
“I don’t do that, Brian!” Mr. De Niro said to laughter.
“I watch the news. I watch you! I’m very set in my ways. I watch the NBC Nightly News. I watch the Today show.”
He and MARTIN SCORSESE have at least one more project to collaborate on.
Mr. De Niro said he still intends to make THE IRISHMAN, a biopic based on the life of FRANK “THE IRISHMAN” SHEERAN, a hit man and Jimmy Hoffa confederate who came under suspicion following the Teamsters chief’s disappearance in 1975.
“I had always wanted to do I Heard You Paint Houses,” Mr. De Niro stated, citing the title of CHARLES BRANDT’S 2004 nonfiction chronicle of Sheeran.
“I’d talked to people and heard they’d read it and I said, ‘Let me just buy this book and see what it is about.’ After I read it, I said, ‘Hey, Marty, I think we should really consider this.’ It’s more like what we would do. And then he read it and he liked it. We got Steve Zaillian; he wrote a terrific script. And we’re doing it. But [Martin Scorsese] has one other project. We’ve got to figure all that out before we’re not here any more.”
He is not a Method guy, but he is a comedian.
The actor could go either way, depending on the role and the film, but leans away from living in character when the camera’s not rolling.
“Myself, I would keep my mind off it until I’ve got to go out there,” Mr. De Niro remarked.
“It’s like that joke about the actor who’s got a part and can’t remember his lines. The actor’s working in a gas station when a friend who’s directing a Shakespeare play says, ‘Listen, I just want you to do this thing in the third act of Henry V and just walk on and say ‘Hark! I hear the cannon roar.’”
“So he comes to rehearsal. He comes to rehearsal. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. He’s got it written on his mirror in his dressing room. ‘Hark! I hear the cannon roar. Hark! I hear the cannon roar. Hark! I hear the cannon roar.’ Every variation. He had it all down pat. So there’s the first act, second act, third act. He’s in the wings, getting ready after intermission. The stage manager gets him ready: ‘That’s it! All you need to do is ‘Hark! I hear the cannon roar.’ And all of a sudden: ‘You’re on!’ He runs out on the stage and he hears a big boom. He turns around and says, ‘What the fuck was that?’”
His much desired GOOD SHEPHERD sequel remains in limbo.
“I’ve always wanted to do another,” Mr. De Niro said of the delayed possibly doomed follow up to his deeply underrated 2006 CIA epic featuring MATT DAMON and ANGELINA JOLIE.
“Like a sequel to it, from 1961 — The Bay Of Pigs and the Berlin Wall — going up to 1989 when the wall came down. I’m still trying to do that.”
He enjoys hosting SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.
“I felt that people who aren’t actors…not that actors take themselves so seriously. Well, some do. But I felt they do better on Saturday Night Live sometimes than actors [do]. But I had a lot of fun doing it. I think it’s great. Whenever I’m doing a movie and there’s a big dramatic scene, I say to myself, ‘I wonder what they’re going to do with this on Saturday Night Live.‘ But it’s a lot of fun. It’s so fast that you can’t even think.”
“Right,” said Mr. Williams, who himself hosted the show in 2007.
“There’s a woman there who pulls down your pants.”
“Yeah,” Mr. De Niro stated.
“Three people at once. Wardrobe, makeup, hair — throwing wigs on and all that. That’s what makes it easy in some ways, because it’s all going so fast you can’t even think about it.”
He has no regrets.
A few gasps were heard around the auditorium when BRIAN WILLIAMS asked Mr. De Niro point blank: “Is there anything in your career you’d want to take back? Anything you look at now and say, ‘I was busy then. I might have phoned it in. Wish I hadn’t done that’?”
“You know, I think whatever I did, that’s that,” Mr. De Niro replied. “I stand behind it, for better or for worse.”
“A hardcore fatalist.”
“I can’t think like that. I just acted. That’s what I do.”
“You can’t afford the luxury of looking back?”
“I can, but not now,” Mr. De Niro said to a laugh. “Maybe later.”
He’s a hoarder. Sort of.
Asked why he recently supplied THE DE NIRO ARCHIVES to the Harry Ransom Center at The University Of Texas, the actor deadpanned, “They were the only people who would take it.”
“And you know, hanging on to all that stuff after a while gets expensive. You have to store it. You have to take care of it. I did that because I noticed, like, when I did Godfather II, I was in a big costume house in L.A. And they gave me these shoes — I thought they were the shoes that Warren Beatty wore in Bonnie & Clyde. And they were just there.”
“I have my own experience of thing sort of disappearing. Wardrobe, props, other stuff. So I thought I’d just like to hold my stuff — hold as much as I can and put it in my contract. I just had it and eventually The University of Texas wanted to take everything. And they took everything. It’s a good place for it so it’s not dispersed, destroyed, you know…All over the place.”
He’s plugged in. Sort of.
He doesn’t spend a lot of time on the web — “I don’t Twitter” — but he does enjoy his “convenient” iPhone and has quite taken to his iPad as well.
“I read scripts on it. It’s fast. It’s good to read scripts. I force myself to read them more quickly because you’re not [dealing with] pages and all that. It just goes quicker.”
Contemporary politics have him as frustrated as everybody else.
Mr. De Niro was perhaps never more animated and expressive than when asked about the current political climate in the United States.
“I think of the possibility of the government being shut down and I say, ‘How did we get to this point?’” he stated.
“I remember it happened years ago. And I just say, ‘How did we ever get to that point?’ Because the people who suffer are the ones who have jobs where every week, they’ve gotta make these payments. How did we get there? What is this about? This is crazy. And I know Obama was trying to bridge the gap. His intentions are really good. Maybe some things are not as good as we all would like, but his intentions were right. A lot of these guys, their intentions are not even good. They’re just playing the game. And they’re playing with people’s lives.”
“A lot of people believe that this is as far apart as the two ideological sides of our country have been,” BRIAN WILLIAMS remarked.
“We keep saying that and then a month later, they break their own pledge and they get even further apart. Do you ever see it coming together? As I like to put it to people, if 9/11 didn’t do it — if 9/11 didn’t leave us more unified — what would?”
“Well, we’re unified in certain ways in this country and in certain ways we’re not – to me,” Mr. De Niro responded, particularly baffled by certain Republicans in Washington and elsewhere who speak “a lot of nonsense.”
“I won’t mention names, but certain people in the news the last couple weeks, just, what are they doing? It’s crazy. They’re making statements about people that they don’t even back up. Go get the facts before you start saying things about people. It’s like a big hustle. It’s like being a car salesman. Don’t go out there and say things unless you can back them up. How dare you. That’s awful to do. To just go out and speak and say these terrible things? Unless you just wanna get over and get the job. It’s crazy.”
Speaking of which, IMDB needs to make a correction.
Arguably the highlight of the whole discussion occurred in BRIAN WILLAMS’ sign off, which he intended as earnest, succinct praise but was instead thwarted by a certain web resource’s customarily fluid factuality.
“When you go on IMDB,” he began, “their lead sentence — alongside a picture of our guest today and our founder — is: ‘Robert Mario De Niro Jr., who is thought of as one of the greatest actors of all time, was born in New York City.’ That’s all we need to say, along with our thanks to our guest.”
“Wait, wait,” Mr. De Niro said, waving his hands as the audience launched into a swiftly aborted ovation.
“I have something to say: My middle name is Anthony.”
“So why don’t you call the people at IMDB and say, ‘Hey, it’s Bob…’” Mr. Williams dug out his iPad, as if on cue. “I have their app!”
“I talk to people who go, ‘I remember when you did this, you did that, you did that…’ I say, ‘I never did any of those things.’ Or I don’t want to make them feel bad, so I don’t say anything,” Mr. De Niro commented.
“Well, this is one we can rectify,” Mr. Williams stated, pulling up Mr. De Niro’s IMDB page.
“There it is, clear as day. Unbelievable. Wow.”
He showed Mr. De Niro and faced the audience.
“This is like that time I gave him a couple ideas for Goodfellas. I don’t talk about that much.”