Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro: The (Non)Interview
Filmmaker Lori SIlverbush doesnt sit down with cinematic icon and founder of the Tribeca FIlm Festival
By Lori Silverbush
Interview Robert De Niro? Sure, I can handle that.
This was my blithe response when I was asked to reach out to the great actor/director for a companion piece to Downtown Expresss coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival, founded by De Niro and his partner Jane Rosenthal six years ago. (Full disclosure: Im not a journalist, but one of my films played in the TFFs inaugural festival in the aftermath of 9/11, and the festival has held a special place in my heart ever since.)
The Tribeca Film Festival was the rare possibly the only festival born to instant prestige (even Sundance spent years germinating as the U.S. Film Festival in its pre-Weinstantino days). Tribeca’s cachet didn’t just come from De Niro’s celebrity, or the de facto involvement of the Nieporents and Keitels that came with him, or the top-tier sponsors like Amex and GM who were panting to sign up. It came from the fact that De Niro himself had become shorthand for a certain type of role, or film troubled, diffident, hard to know, vaguely ethnic that was a metaphor for downtown itself. And there was a certain screw-you quality to that first year’s fest, too. After watching and rewatching the towers toppled by demagogues hating on Western culture, we were going to be part of an event right there that celebrated the most loaded, decadent reflection of Western culture the world has ever known: movies.
But, not being a journalist myself, I had no way of knowing what all real journalists know.
De Niro doesnt do interviews.
And when he does, he doesnt do them for scrappy, pissant filmmakers like me without a single published article to wave under the nose of his vigilant flacks. The angle a young filmmaker interviewing an icon of filmmaking was touching as hell, but De Niro wasnt going for it.
So what now? I supposed I could write a piece that reels off the basic Google details born to two artists in Hells Kitchen, exchanged glances with hood-rat Martin Scorsese in his rough teen years, only to partner famously with the director in Mean Streets and seven more films. Winner of two Academy Awards Best Supporting for portraying a young Marlon Brando portraying Don Corleone in Godfather II, and Best Actor for Jake La Motta in Scorseses Raging Bull. Established Tribeca Films to develop film and TV projects from his New York headquarters. Recent director of Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and Self in The Good Shepherd. Famously reclusive, monosyllabic interviewee.
Hell, I figured. Im an indie filmmaker. Were used to the tough subjects. Im going to do better than the journalists whod squandered their shot with the banal, embarrassingly personal questions an artist like De Niro hates. I would ask Mister De Niro (honorific added for respect) the types of insightful, penetrating questions only a fellow filmmaker would know to ask. Like Who did your craft services? and Steal any locations? Hed instantly sense a commonality between us, and a lifelong friendship would be forged.
Well, thats all been dashed. No interview. Not gonna happen. So Ive decided instead to post a few of the questions I didnt ask Mr. De Niro, and extrapolate the answers based on gut alone (and Google). Here goes:
Me: Mr. De Niro, thanks so much for agreeing to this interview.
RDN: Call me Bob.
Me: Your portrayal, Bob, of Travis Bickle, in Taxi Driver was No. 42 on Premiere magazines List of 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. How does that feel?
Bob: I was robbed. Shoulda been No. 41, easy.
Me: Is it true, Bob, that you played Travis right-handed even though youre a lefty?
Bob: Hes a righty.
Me: You own a number of restaurants. How does that compare to making a film?
Bob: You eat better.
Me: Name the role you were offered you most wish you had taken.
Bob: Frank Costello in The Departed.
Me: Name the role you were offered youre glad you turned down.
Bob: Dick Tracy.
Me: Whats the secret to great acting?
Bob: Theres no secret. Show up.
Me: Surely theres more to it than that.
Bob: Never indicate. People dont try to show their feelings, they try to hide them.
Me: (Stunned, appreciative silence.)
Hovering Publicist: Weve got time for one more.
Me: How does it feel to be a demi-God to hundreds, nay thousands of young(ish) filmmakers like me?
Bob: Whats with the demi?
Me: Sorry, a God.
Bob: Jesus, thats too much pressure. For me, its all about the work.
Me: Gods work.
Bob (laughs): No, that would be The Departed.
Lori Silverbushs short film Mental Hygiene appeared in Tribecas 2002 inaugural festival. Her feature film debut, On the Outs, was released in 2006. She is currently writing and directing a film for Focus Features.