Tribeca 2011: Fitfully, Robert De Niro talks about his acting past and future (and Donald Trump)
Robert De Niro isn't known for his flowery public speaking, which might make an interview with Brian Williams in front of hundreds of people a tricky proposition.
Indeed, the actor-director encountered some bumps Saturday afternoon when he sat, for the first time at the Tribeca Film Festival he co-founded, for a one-on-one public interview with the NBC News anchor.
Five minutes into the chat, held at Tribeca's flagship venue at Borough of Manhattan Community College, Williams asked the Oscar winner if he would define himself as an introvert, always a dangerous question that can prove its own point. Wriggling for a second, De Niro came back with, "In some ways I am and in other ways I'm not. So."
A pause followed, and Williams cut the tension with an "I want to thank Bob De Niro," pretending to get up and end the interview then and there.
De Niro, who's had his share of challenges on the talk-show circuit -- after years of reluctance, he sat a few months ago for this awkward chat with David Letterman -- had other moments Saturday when he seemed unsure of what to say. A quizzical reaction from Williams, and some audience laughter, followed when the anchor asked De Niro to talk about his parents, and the actor came back with "My father was an artist; my mother was an artist who started a typing business to support us." He fumbled for a second. "That's it."
Williams described the interview as something he initiated as a De Niro fan, though it couldn't be overlooked that the festival could benefit from the star's presence as much as possible, especially this year without any of the big Hollywood premieres that have defined past installments. (De Niro also seems to be trying some kind of talk show shock therapy; his Letterman interview was his first ever with the late-night host.)
The actor did open up when it came to more specific career and craft questions. Though he demurred on the question of acting roles he should have taken ("Whatever I did, that's it; I stand by it, for better or worse. What am I going to do?") he offered more elaborate answers about his acting technique and also said that he was disappointed by the public reception to "Casino." "Not as many people as we would have liked went to go see it," he said. "We thought it would have been received in a wider way."
The 67-year-old actor, whose upcoming film is a dramedy based on Nick Flynn's novel "Another Bull@#$ Night in Suck City," provoked big applause when he said he wanted to continue his breakneck working pace and had seven to 10 projects in active development. He also said he'd like to make a follow-up to his 2006 world directorial effort "The Good Shepherd." "I always wanted to do a sequel from '61, the Bay of Pigs, to '89, when the [Berlin] Wall came down. I'm still trying to do that," he said.
But his moment of greatest passion seemed to come during a moment about politics. After saying that he couldn't believe how the government got to the brink of a shutdown and that he indeed believed Obama had good intentions, he went on to say that "some other people, their intentions aren't even good; they're just playing a game."
Then, in an apparent allusion to Donald Trump's recent "birther" tear, De Niro said that some are "making statements about people they don't even back up," he said. "It's a big hustle." Williams interjected to ask whether it was a person who had a show on his network. De Niro continued to get worked up about Trump. "How dare you? That's awful. Just to go out there and say things you can't back up," he said. "That's crazy."
-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from New York
Photo: Brian Williams and Robert De Niro onstage at the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Andy Kropa/Getty Images