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Tribeca 2011: Fitfully, Robert De Niro talks about his acting past and future (and Donald Trump)

April 24, 2011 | 10:38 am


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.

Tribeca film festivalFive 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."


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-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from New York


Photo: Brian Williams and Robert De Niro onstage at the Tribeca Film Festival. Credit: Andy Kropa/Getty Images

Comments () | Archives (12)

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The man is odd and that's ok. In fact, in my book, it's a compliment.

How long and varied and successful has his career been? And how many times has he been the subject of tabloid fodder? It's because he wants to work and that's it. He doesn't want to talk about his work, doesn't want to talk about himself.

How unbelievably refreshing in this world of no-talent personalities (any number of 'reality tv' folks who don't know when to stop talking and go away). A man with legendary talent and guess what? He doesn't preen, he doesn't prance, doesn't try to drum up interest with "edgy" quotes.

Thank you Mr. DeNiro. Actually, bless you!

He is an introvert. Socially. Which has always made DeNiro such a fascinating paradox, because how great of an actor he is.

In spite of all I've read, I still don't get what's going on with Obama's birth certificate. Does he have one or not? Aren't these public records? Why can't we get to the bottom of this and be done with it once and for all?

Here is one for you left winged "Thespians" to use as a base for a movie.

Trump is part of a right wing conspiracy!

What if this is simply an arrangement by Trump and his preferred Republican candidate? Trump is the bully that puts out the venom which the "moderate" republican cannot say. After it has been internalized (Birther) by the idiots (masses) due to it being repeated constantly, it will become a reality in some people’s minds until the believe it.

Reminds me of a book I read years ago called "Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds". It can get really ugly if some crazy/crazies decide to take action because we have a dubious commander in chief.

Most worry about a left wing revolution but in the USA, the one to worry about is coming from the right and all else will follow, get out of the way and look the other way when people are persecuted and exterminated. Why? Because some on both sides will take the opportunity to turn it into a racial conflict and that is what some are hoping for. Sell your NFL box tickets!

After all smart guys, Northrop, Remington, Boeing, and ALL the arms companies are in the hands of WHITE RIGHT WINGERS AND WILL NOT CHANGE! BECAUSE THEY ARE THE BRAIN POWER!

And while you are community organizing and think yourselves invincible because you just got a brand new AK47 some are working to annihilate you in mass and will not fail. That is what they were schooled and trained to do, you will be running to organize and incinerated whilst you stand. Going back to the days of COINTELPRO. Your "hoods" will become dust in seconds.

“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, man can achieve”


Trump hit Robert De Niro back on Fox and Friends this morning:

Another Hollywood person who thinks he knows it all. Trump may or may not run but at least he is bringing up topics (not just the birthier issue, by the way where is the birth certificate and why has millions of dollars been spent by the democrats trying to get this subject killed. It would seem the most expedious way would be to produce it. I have had to produce mine and my childrens for things such as sports) that should be heavily discussed by americans, especially the ones who are in Washington and are supposed to represent the people who elected them. Perhaps they went to a different school than me, representing means following their wishes not their own.

DeNiro is an accomplished actor but could use some public speaking training. In my speech courses at Daytona State College I teach students to think about their audience. Whether it's a commencement speech or a television interview it's all about your audience. It appears that Brian Williams utilized his questioning skills to make the interview a success.

I find actors talking politics mostly exhausting. Why? They bring nothing to the conversation. They don't make strong arguments. They dabble in ideology but don't enlighten.

Trump is an easy target, and I can understand De Niro being flustered by the whole birther issue. But why can't the actor speak more eloquently about his passions? Did he convince anyone with what he said?

Whatever is said is done. Whether it has been intentionally said or not, the word is out. If you are really a wise guy, just let it go. You don't fire back just to get even. Just move on and consider the matter as an accident.
If you have an intention of leading the country, focus on how you would attain your goals, instead of taking small things too personally. That could only cross your path and could hamper your motives.

Being a Hollywood writer, I completely understand Robert (Bobby) being an introvert. The world is a big scary place when all you know is your craft. I'm far more familiar with my bare white walls and my brother's Wake Apnea than I am with Starbucks or Del Taco.

After my brother and I finish a screenplay, it takes us weeks (sometimes months depending on the project) to gather the courage to face the outside world. The page doesn't expect me to tell it about my day or visit it in the nursing home.

After we finished our last film, "Alone by Myself" we couldn't even talk to the pizza guy. We'd order online and then leave a note on the door for him to ring the buzzer and leave the pizza when we slide the money under the door.

Robert is an artist, just like us. He can act any way he wants. He doesn't owe anyone anything other than greatness.

As far as the Trump thing goes... he's not an artist. He should behave like an adult.

-Steve Tornowski (Of Tornowski Twin fame)

Donald Trump is a complete idiota end stupid man

Who is Robert de N? Never heard of....however I know super rich, successful man Donald Trump.


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