Esquire. what i've learned: robert de niro
I like it when interviews are brief. Are we done yet?
When I was a teenager, I went to the Dramatic Workshop at the New School. The school had a lot of actors under the GI Bill — Rod Steiger, Harry Belafonte, the generation ahead of me. I went in there and the director said to me, "Vy do you vant to be an acteh?" I didn't know how to answer, so I didn't say anything. And he said, "To express yourself!" And I said, "Yeah, yeah, that's it. That's right."
We used to roller-skate. Not like these souped-up Rollerblades they have today. Roller skates with ball bearings. We'd hang on to the back of a truck and go for a ride for a couple of blocks until the streetlight turned red and the truck stopped. Then one day they changed the lights to a stagger system. Only we didn't know. All the lights changed up an avenue at intervals so you could go twenty or thirty blocks without stopping. Suddenly, I'm stuck on the back of one of these trucks, and after four blocks, I'm realizing that the next light isn't going to turn red. The driver doesn't know you're on the back. You have no choice but to keep hanging on till he stops. There are things you do that when you get older, you realize how stupid they were.
Some people say, "New York's a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there." I say that about other places.
You have no idea that years later, people in cars will recognize you on the street and shout, "You talkin' to me?" I don't remember the original script, but I don't think the line was in it. We improvised. For some reason it touched a nerve. That happens.
Marty Scorsese listens. He's open to unexpected things on that — this is a flowery way of saying it — on that voyage. He takes ideas, and he's not afraid to try them.
There's no such thing as not being afraid.
Money makes your life easier. If you're lucky to have it, you're lucky.
I left a meeting right after they hit the World Trade Center. I went to my apartment, which looks south, and I watched it out my window. I could see the line of fire across the North Tower. I had my binoculars and a video camera — though I didn't want to video it. I saw a few people jump. Then I saw the South Tower go. It was so unreal, I had to confirm it by immediately looking at the television screen. CNN was on. That was the only way to make it real. Like my son said: "It was like watching the moon fall."
I didn't have a problem with rejection, because when you go into an audition, you're rejected already. There are hundreds of other actors. You're behind the eight ball when you go in there.
At this point in my career, I don't have to deal with audition rejections. So I get my rejection from other things. My children can make me feel rejected. They can humble you pretty quick.
It's true: I spent lunchtime in a grave during the filming of Bloody Mama. When you're younger, you feel that's what you need to do to help you stay in character. When you get older, you become more confident and less intense about it — and you can achieve the same effect. You might even be able to achieve more if you take your mind off it, because you're relaxed. That's the key to it all. When you're relaxed and confident, you get good stuff.
The hardest thing about being famous is that people are always nice to you. You're in a conversation and everybody's agreeing with what you're saying — even if you say something totally crazy. You need people who can tell you what you don't want to hear.
Movies are hard work. The public doesn't see that.