Also Credited As:Robert DeNiro, Robert Mario De Niro
|Actor, Director, Producer|
|Robert Mario De Niro on August 17, 1943 in New York City, New York, USA|
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Born on Aug. 17, 1943 in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, De Niro was left at two years old without his father, Robert, a painter who traveled to Europe to work when he and his wife divorced. When he was 10 years old, De Niro had his first taste of acting playing the Cowardly Lion in a school production of "The Wizard of Oz." His mom, Virginia Admiral, worked as a typist at the Dramatic Workshop where De Niro began his training. He quit, however, when he was 16, around this time, he briefly ran with a local street gang who affectionately knew him as Bobby Milk. When he was 18, De Niro returned to his training after being taken under the wing of actress Shelley Winters; this time with Stella Adler at the famed Actors Studio. One of his earliest appearances onscreen was a brief walk-on in "Trois Chambres A Manhattan" (1965), a romantic drama set in New York by French director Marcel Carne. Meanwhile, De Niro went around town looking for work with a composite headshot of him in numerous guises - cab driver, old man, business executive - to avoid being typecast in ethnic Italian roles.
De Niro began his feature acting career in earnest when he appeared in a few low-budget films by director Brian De Palma, who paid the actor fifty bucks a role. They first worked together on "The Wedding Party" (1967), a comedy of errors about a couple nervously preparing for their pending nuptials. Shot in 1967, the film was released two years after De Niro was seen in "Greetings" (1968), playing a voyeuristic film enthusiast who tries to help a friend avoid the Vietnam War. After landing the lead role in "Sam's Song" (1969), a low-budget indie about a New York film buff who makes a documentary about Richard Nixon, De Niro rejoined De Palma for "Hi, Mom!" (1970), a counterculture satire about a returning Vietnam vet who tries to make it as an aspiring pornographer. He learned to speak fluent Sicilian in making his first foray into the Mafia world with "The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight" (1971), a disastrous comedy that De Niro said he would rather forget. De Niro followed with supporting roles in the equally forgettable "Born to Win" (1971) and "Jennifer on My Mind" (1971).
Up to that point, De Niro's career had been merely a proving ground for the young actor, who suddenly found himself earning vast critical praise with his performance in "Bang the Drum Slowly" (1973). As a dimwitted baseball player who finds himself dying young from Hodgkin's disease, De Niro delivered a tear-jerking performance that propelled him into the limelight and earned him a Best Supporting Actor award from the New York Film Critics Circle. In stark contrast to his gentle portrayal of a simple Southern boy, he exploded onscreen as Johnny Boy in "Mean Streets" (1973), his first of many landmark collaborations with director Martin Scorsese. His portrayal of the hot-headed street thug, whose best friend (Harvey Keitel) tries to save his neck from a local loan shark while struggling with his Catholic guilt, was the stuff of legend. Meanwhile, he earned critical kudos from all corners and a Best Supporting Actor award from the National Society of Film Critics. De Niro's performance as Johnny Boy remained arguably one of the finest and most revered breakthrough performances in cinema history.
De Niro cemented his stature as the best actor of his generation with "The Godfather, Part II" (1974), starring as a young Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) who is sent as a child to America to escape the Mafia in Sicily. Told in flashback, young Vito's turn-of-the-century rise to power in New York's Lower East Side is paralleled by a paranoid and increasingly malevolent Michael (Al Pacino), whose ambition to expand the family business in the 1950s ultimately destroys his marriage to Kay (Diane Keaton) and leads him to kill his own brother (John Cazale). Despite playing a younger version of Vito Corleone, by no means did De Niro simply regurgitate Brando's performance. He instead made the young Vito his own and presaged the wise, Machiavellian Mafia head by portraying him as a quiet, but fearless family man determined to make a life in his new country on his own terms. De Niro's brilliant performance turned him into an international star and earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Following on the heels of "The Godfather, Part II" was another seminal performance, one that forever scarred the memories of audiences both young and old. In "Taxi Driver" (1976), perhaps one of the most chilling, but ultimately redeeming character studies ever made, De Niro played Travis Bickle, a lone New York City cab driver whose revulsion for the scumbags, whores and other degenerates stalking the night leads him to unleash bloody carnage in order to save a young prostitute (Jodie Foster) from her pimp (Harvey Keitel). De Niro's disturbing portrayal of a lonely man on the fringes and about to crack from the pressures of a decaying society was long remembered for being one of his finest, thanks in large part to the infamous improvisation where Bickle - armed to the teeth and descending into madness - stares himself down in a mirror and demands to know, "You talkin' to me?" De Niro earned the adulation of critics and audiences the world over, while securing several critic awards. He also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, but lost out to Peter Finch's even more insane Howard Beale in "Network" (1976).
After playing two of the most seminal characters in American cinematic history, it was no surprise that De Niro's next film, "The Last Tycoon" (1976), failed to reach previous heights. A thinly-guised portrait of Hollywood mogul Irving Thalberg, "The Last Tycoon" - the final film directed by legendary director Elia Kazan - suffered from a slow pace and muddled storyline, even as it benefited from De Niro's strong portrayal of a studio head who coolly maneuvers through the chaos of Hollywood. He next starred in Bernardo Bertolucci's little-known, but exceptional five-hour epic "1900" (1976). Set in the countryside of the Province of Emilia in Italy, "1900" told the story of two men - one, a bastard born into a family of farm workers (Gerard Depardieu); the other, the heir to wealthy landowners (De Niro) - both of whom are bound by the coincidence of being born on the same day as the death of famed composer Giuseppe Verdi. Despite the gargantuan scale, both in terms of scope and screen time, the film was released in a small amount of American theaters. Nonetheless, De Niro gave one of his more moving and vulnerable performances as a man torn between duty and friendship.
Joining forces with Scorsese for a third time, De Niro starred in "New York, New York" (1977), playing a jazz saxophonist struggling to make it in the Manhattan music scene of the 1940s with his singer wife (Liza Minnelli). Despite making beautiful music together on stage, the marriage suffers and they eventually split. Both become successful once on their own, but meet again years later and decide whether or not to give their relationship another shot. Despite learning to play a tenor sax, De Niro gave one of his lesser performances - at least in terms of critical reception - which was largely ambivalent at best. But De Niro's greatness would not be denied for long. He again delivered another landmark performance, this time in Michael Cimino's intimate anti-war epic, "The Deer Hunter" (1978). As Mike, a steelworker and avid deer hunter who g s off to fight in Vietnam with his hometown buddies (Christopher Walken and John Savage), De Niro was in top form, playing a man devastated by the horrors he faced in war, namely being forced to play Russian roulette while a prisoner of the Viet Cong. De Niro earned another nod at the Academy Awards for Best Leading Actor.
Perhaps no other collaboration between De Niro and Scorsese was more admonished and admired at the same time than "Raging Bull" (1980). A critical darling, but financial disaster upon release, "Raging Bull" had, over the years, become a seminal classic that ranked high on many lists as being one of the greatest films of all time. In Scorsese's brutal look at a man consumed by violence, "Raging Bull" depicted the public and private life of former middleweight boxer Jake La Motta, a Bronx-born, street-tough brawler who became champion in 1948, only to lose everything, including his wife (Cathy Moriarty), his title and eventually his self-respect after collaborating with the mob to throw a fight. For an entire year prior to production, De Niro trained as a boxer with La Motta, who molded the actor into what he thought would translate onscreen as a top middleweight contender. On the flipside, Scorsese stopped production for four months so De Niro could go to France and eat his way to gaining 60-odd pounds. In the end, De Niro delivered a visceral portrayal of a man who can only use animalistic violence to deal with complex human emotions, earning his first Academy Award for Best Leading Actor.
To follow "Raging Bull" with anything that attempted to achieve such greatness again would have been an exercise in futility. So instead, De Niro starred alongside Robert Duvall in "True Confessions" (1981), a rather predictable send-up of film noir that centered on two brothers - one, a detective; the other, a young priest tasked with finding a prostitute's killer. Then in his fifth collaboration with Scorsese, De Niro gave one of his finer, but less-appreciated performances in "The King of Comedy" (1983), playing Rupert Pupkin, a wannabe stand-up comic living in his mother's basement who becomes so desperate for a break that he hatches a plan to kidnap a famous late-night talk show host (a surprisingly subdued Jerry Lewis) in order to get a spot on his show. Though not nearly as chilling as his performance in "Taxi Driver," De Niro's portrayal of Pupkin was no less obsessive - sort of an overeager Travis Bickle in a bad suit. Technically a financial disaster - the second in a row for De Niro and Scorsese - "The King of Comedy" nonetheless remained one of his most remembered and revered performances.
Though it was rare for De Niro to be overshadowed by a film, "Once Upon a Time in America" (1984), Sergio Leone's sprawling epic about four Jewish mobsters in New York, happened to be one of those instances. Clocking in at close to four hours, Leone's stunning, non-linear masterwork chronicled David "Noodles" Aaronson (De Niro) and his three Lower East Side friends who grow up to become ruthless gangsters running rampant throughout the 1920s and 1930s, only to suffer the sad fate of many living a life of crime and violence. Moving fluidly through four decades with flashbacks, dream sequences and opium-induced visions, "Once Upon a Time in America" was ultimately a commentary on the mythology of gang violence in America that displayed an intellectual depth and emotional resonance unsurpassed by other crime dramas. It was a larger-than-life masterpiece that aspired to be much more than the sum of its parts.
De Niro spent the rest of the 1980s resting on his laurels, with a few occasional bright moments. After starring opposite Meryl Streep in the tepid romance "Falling in Love" (1984), De Niro had an amusing cameo as a heating-and-air conditioning repairman in Terry Gilliam's futuristic satire "Brazil" (1985). He did as much as he could in "The Mission" (1986), a sweeping, but ultimately uninspiring historical epic about a former slave trader (De Niro) seeking redemption in 18th century South America after killing his brother (Aidan Quinn). De Niro followed with a brief, but memorable portrayal of famed Chicago gangster Al Capone in Brian De Palma's "The Untouchables" (1987), then played the mysterious and malevolent client of a seedy private detective (Mickey Rourke) looking for a singer who owes him a debt in the controversial crime thriller, "Angel Heart" (1987). With "Midnight Run" (1988), De Niro made his first foray into mainstream comedy, effectively playing a hard-nosed bounty hunter bringing an embezzler (Charles Grodin) to justice, only to learn that the criminal owes the mob money and has been targeted for assassination. Despite the clever script and deft direction on display in "Midnight Run," one could not help feeling that De Niro had stepped onto a slippery-slope of appearing in audience-pleasing films that began to diminish his previous accomplishments.
In perhaps his first serious lack of judgment, De Niro starred alongside Sean Penn in "We're No Angels" (1989), an insipid remake of the 1955 comedy about two prisoners escaped from Death Row who disguise themselves as priests to avoid capture, only to be confronted with all manner of problems from their newfound path. He next starred in what could best be described as his least remembered film, "Jacknife" (1989), playing a former Vietnam veteran prone to wild outbursts who visits an army buddy (Ed Harris) drowning himself in a bottle in order to deal with his painful memories of the war. Despite an unpredictable story and good performances all around, "Jacknife" failed to capture the public's attention and quickly disappeared. De Niro made another foray into romantic drama territory with "Stanley and Iris" (1990), playing an illiterate man fired from his factory job who falls in love with a coworker (Jane Fonda) while she teaches him how to read. Touching to a fault, "Stanley and Iris" capped a long stretch of mediocre films for De Niro.
The string of unchallenging material came to an end with his next film, "Goodfellas" (1990), a long-awaited and most-welcomed reunion with Martin Scorsese. In what many felt was the director's best work, De Niro had a supporting role as Jimmy Conway, a mid-level mobster who takes a young, half-Irish kid (Ray Liotta) under his wing and shows him the gangster life. Along with a hot-tempered Sicilian (Joe Pesci) quick to pull the trigger, the three embark on a decades-long spree of robbing and killing that eventually leads to a breakdown of their once strictly-held moral code to each other and their bosses. Though the focus was clearly centered on Liotta's character, a fictionalized version of real-life mobster-turned-FBI informant Henry Hill, De Niro was nonetheless engaging and powerful as the elder mobster who undyingly follows orders, even when having to turn on those he trusts and loves most. What was unprecedented about "Goodfellas," however, was the ability of Pesci to actually steal the show from all involved; his Academy Award-winning performance was the rare instance where an exceptional De Niro was actually upstaged. Because the two became close friends off-screen, perhaps the sting of scene-stealing was lessened.
Ever since "Raging Bull," De Niro had become less selective with his projects in order to make a bigger payday and finance his own projects through TriBeCa Films, which he formed back in 1988. Meanwhile, he earned another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for "Awakenings" (1990), which saw him play a man brought back from a coma through the tireless efforts of a passionate and somewhat unorthodox doctor (Robin Williams). De Niro elevated otherwise mediocre material in "Guilty By Suspicion" (1991), playing a Hollywood director blacklisted during the Communist witch hunts in the early 1950s, only to be driven to testify after failing to resuscitate his career. After giving a strong performance as an arson investigator in Ron Howard's well-crafted "Backdraft" (1991), De Niro joined forces with Scorsese a seventh time for a remake of the 1962 thriller, "Cape Fear" (1991). De Niro played Max Cady, a deranged ex-convict who seeks revenge on Sam Bowden, (Nick Nolte), the attorney who improperly defended him in a sexual assault case. Cady begins harassing the family; first by trying to seduce Bowden's teenage daughter (Juliette Lewis), followed by more violent means. For his electric, if sometimes over-the-top performance, De Niro earned another Oscar nod for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Although the early 1990s were challenging for his career - he made a series of films that made little impact with the press or public - he did become more actively involved as a filmmaker, chiefly as a producer and director. De Niro enhanced his reputation as a champion of New York film with his TriBeCa Film Center, home to TriBeCa Films, which became a hub of the city's resurgent production community. He produced actor Barry Primus' low-budget directorial debut "Mistress" (1992), as well as Michael Apted's more ambitious "Thunderheart" (1992). The first, which saw De Niro portray an urbane film financier trying to help a once-promising filmmaker (Robert Wuhl) get his first movie off the ground, was easily dismissed as a poor man's version of "The Player" (1992). De Niro stayed behind the camera for "Thunderheart," producing the well-received story of a Native American FBI agent (Val Kilmer) grappling with his identity while working on a culturally sensitive case. De Niro segued into television production as the executive producer of "Tribeca" (Fox, 1992-93), a short-lived dramatic anthology about life in the famous Manhattan neighborhood.
After playing an ambulance chaser who tries to make it as a boxing promoter in "Night and the City" (1992), De Niro made his directing debut with "A Bronx Tale" (1993), an affectionate and understated coming-of-age drama set in the 1960s about an adolescent boy (Francis Capra/Lillo Brancato) torn between his honest, hard-working father (an endearing De Niro) and a violent, but charismatic neighborhood crime boss (Chazz Palminteri). De Niro received warm praise for his first effort, though the film ultimately failed to find much of an audience at the box office. He co-starred as a seemingly nice stepfather-to-be who turns out to abuse the son (Leonardo DiCaprio) of his fiancé (Ellen Barkin) in "This Boy's Life" (1993), then played a neurotic police photographer in the underrated comedy "Mad Dog and Glory" (1993). De Niro made another questionable career move when he starred as the fearsome creature in Kenneth Branagh's faithful adaptation of "Mary Shelley's Frankenstein" (1994). Too convoluted and confusing for critics, "Frankenstein" disappointed audiences and failed to make much of a dent at the box office, while the Academy Award-nominated makeup effects nonetheless did little to hide De Niro's distinct mannerisms.
Despite rumblings from the film buff set about whether or not he had reached the nadir of his creative efforts - though remaining a top box office draw - De Niro still managed to generate excitement for a few of his endeavors. In one of the most highly anticipated onscreen pairings of all time, De Niro starred opposite Al Pacino in Michael Mann's excellent crime thriller, "Heat" (1995), playing a master thief determined never to go back to prison, who leads his highly-professional crew on one last heist, only to meet his match in the form of a relentless LAPD lieutenant (Pacino) determined to track him down. Though the two only appeared onscreen together for less than 10 minutes, fans of both were finally satisfied seeing two masters at the top of their game square off against one another, since the two had never appeared onscreen together in "Godfather, Part II." Then for the eighth time, he teamed with Scorsese for "Casino" (1995), a vibrant, though uneven look at a corrupt Las Vegas casino owner (De Niro) who lives and breathes the odds for gambling, but has trouble figuring out his hustler wife (Sharon Stone) and trusting his best friend (J Pesci). In the end, too many critics and fans compared the film to "Goodfellas."
After a small supporting role as the physician to a woman (Diane Keaton) carrying for her chronically ill father (Hume Cronyn) in "Marvin's Room" (1996), De Niro stood out as a conflicted neighborhood priest who helps four childhood friends retaliate against a sadistic guard (Kevin Bacon) for abusing and raping them in Barry Levinson's coming-of-age drama, "Sleepers" (1996). De Niro had grave trouble trying to elevate Tony Scott's dreadful thriller, "The Fan" (1996), doing his best to play an obsessive baseball fan who inserts himself into the everyday life of his favorite player (Wesley Snipes). He was compelling, however, as an internal affairs officer using a put-upon sheriff (Sylvester Stallone) to take down a crew of corrupt cops in "Cop Land" (1997). The actor then gave a hilarious performance in an atypical role, playing a stoned-out ex-con planning a robbery with a ruthless arms dealer (Samuel L. Jackson) and his equally stoned-out beach bunny girlfriend (Bridget Fonda), only to be set up in a double cross by an airline stewardess (Pam Grier) looking to avoid prison in "Jackie Brown" (1997). De Niro rounded out a productive and interesting year playing a Washington spin doctor who enlists a Hollywood producer (Dustin Hoffman) to help him create a phony war in order to avoid a sex scandal involving the president in "Wag the Dog" (1997).
De Niro continued his string of unusual supporting roles with "Great Expectations" (1998), playing Lustig in Alfonso Curon's modern-day retelling of Charles Dickens' classic novel. Taking a turn into the world of post-Cold War espionage, De Niro starred in John Frankenheimer's solid thriller "Ronin" (1998), playing a CIA agent who infiltrates a group of European criminals hired to nab a mysterious briefcase from another group of crooks. Then in what some considered a bizarre change of course, De Niro made the broad comedy, "Analyze This" (1999), in which he gave a comical send-up of former onscreen mobsters as a New York gang boss who seeks help for his anxiety attacks from a nebbish psychologist (Billy Crystal). Not too surprisingly, De Niro received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy. He took a drastic step backwards with his next project, however, playing a homophobic stroke victim who tries to regain his power of speech by learning how to sing with the help of a drag queen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) in Joel Schumacher's melodrama "Flawless" (1999). Luckily, the film was a low-profile indie which generated little attention. The same, however, could not be said of the tent pole disaster, "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" (2000), which saw De Niro's painful portrayal of the Fearless Leader.
Returning to high-profile broad comedy, De Niro scored another major hit with "Meet the Parents" (2000), playing a former CIA agent who takes an instant disliking to his potential son-in-law (Ben Stiller) and puts him through intense scrutiny - and the occasional lie-detector test - to make sure he is right for his first-born daughter (Teri Polo). De Niro again was rewarded for his unusually comic efforts with another Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy. He rounded out the year with a strong performance as a formidable Master Chief Navy Diver who helps a young man (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) become the Navy's first African-American Master Diver in the well-received, but overlooked true-life tale, "Men of Honor" (2000). After phoning it in as a criminal ready to make one last heist before he retires in "The Score" (2001), he was easily dismissed as a New York homicide detective who enlists the help of a young arson investigator (Ed Burns) in tracking down a pair of Eastern European psychos embarked on a killing rampage in "15 Minutes" (2001).
The string of lackluster films continued when he appeared opposite Eddie Murphy in the limp comedy "Showtime" (2002), playing an LAPD detective roped into starring in a reality show after an on-camera mishap attracts a television producer (Rene Russo). After playing yet another homicide detective in the bleak crime thriller "City by the Sea" (2002), De Niro revived paranoid mob boss Paul Vitti for "Analyze That" (2002), a box office dud that generated enough enmity to avert a third installment. Meanwhile, inspired by the terrorist attacks on New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, De Niro and producing partner Jane Rosenthal started the TriBeCa Film Festival, which sought to revitalize and celebrate the city as a major filmmaking center. The first festival took place in 2002 and was a resounding success for the local community, which saw upwards of 150,000 people descend upon lower Manhattan and generated over $10 million in revenue for local businesses. As the festival grew over the years, attracting more widely-recognized talent, some criticized the lack of local representation and complained that it was merely a launching point for Hollywood vanity projects. Despite the criticism, TriBeCa remained a well-regarded staple on the festival circuit.
Back on the big screen, De Niro struck gold with the animated adventure "Shark Tale" (2004), voicing Don Lino, the head of a family of sharks chasing after a small fish (voiced by Will Smith) who may have accidentally killed another shark (voiced by Michael Imperioli). After another late-career misfire with "Godsend" (2004), a forgettable supernatural thriller about human cloning, De Niro revived angry father and ex-CIA agent Jack Byrnes for the mega-successful, but unfunny sequel "Meet the Fockers" (2004). He then starred opposite kid phenom Dakota Fanning in the rather routine thriller, "Hide and Seek" (2005), perhaps confirmation that his career was indeed on the wane, creatively speaking. De Niro next journeyed to Spain to film the foreign-made period drama, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" (2005), a poignant adaptation of Thorton Wilder's novel about the Archbishop of Lima (De Niro) tasked with finding out why God chose to allow five people to perish in a bridge collapse.
After nearly 15 years, De Niro decided to step back behind the camera and direct "The Good Shepherd" (2007), a sprawling historical look at the creation of the CIA through the eyes of an intelligence officer (Matt Damon) struggling to keep his secret life away from his frustrated wife (Angelina Jolie). De Niro had a small role as the former head of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor agency to the CIA. Despite sharp attention to period details, a strong cast and sweeping scope, "The Good Shepherd" suffered from flat pacing, convoluted storylines and few twists, turning what could have been an intriguing study into an overlong bore. After returning to animated features with a small voice role as The King in "Arthur and the Invisibles" (2006), De Niro chewed up the scenery as a brute pirate looking to unleash his inner queen in the comic fantasy, "Stardust" (2007). After an amusing, though brief cameo as himself on "Extras" (HBO, 2005-07), De Niro starred alongside Al Pacino for a decidedly longer period of time in the crime thriller "Righteous Kill" (2008). Turning to Hollywood satire, De Niro was the focus of "What Just Happened?" (2008), playing a middle-aged producer struggling to grab hold of his flailing career while trying desperately to deal with his spiteful ex-wife (Robin Wright Penn) and his suddenly grown-up daughter (Kristen Stewart). After playing a widower who reunites with his children in "Everybody's Fine" (2009), he had a supporting role as a corrupt Texas senator in "Machete" (2010), before playing portraying an officer in "Stone" (2010) and reprising Jack Byrnes for the second sequel "Meet the Fockers" (2010). De Niro next joined Jason Stratham and Clive Owen for the critically maligned action thriller "Killer Elite" (2011) and played a powerful tycoon who opens new worlds for a struggling writer (Bradley Cooper) with an experimental drug in the underwhelming thriller "Limitless" (2011).