Considered among the finest screen actors in film history, Robert De Niro’s talent lies in what he does not allow the audience to see. “People don’t try to show their feelings, they try to hide them,” he once said. That elusive depth has become the De Niro hallmark; the silent layers he infuses into even the most seemingly obvious of characters.
Born August 17, 1943 in the Little Italy section of New York, young Bobby was born to Irish-Italian artists who gave him the freedom to explore the ethnic enclave he would later immortalize in his collaborations with director Martin Scorsese.
De Niro’s youthful flirtation with street gangs gave way to a natural creativity that enabled him to distill his innate shyness into acting. Studying with famed coaches Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, De Niro also built important friendships, making the acquaintance of directors like Scorsese and Brian De Palma, who gave De Niro his first leads in the low-budget films The Wedding Party (1967) and Greetings (1968).
A number of small film roles followed, but it was his heartbreaking performance as the dim-witted ballplayer dying of cancer in Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) that finally got De Niro noticed. That same year he scored big in Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973) and the following year played young Vito Corleone in The Godfather, Part II (1974) and earned his first Oscar (for Best Supporting Actor). It was his very next performance, as the psychotic Travis Bickle in Scorcese’s Taxi Driver (1976), which cemented the magical partnership that began with Mean Streets and became the stuff of film legend.
To date DeNiro and Scorcese have made eight films together including New York, New York (1977), The King of Comedy (1983), GoodFellas (1990), Casino (1995) and Raging Bull (1980), for which De Niro would take home his second Oscar, this time as Best Actor. By the time the ’70s drew to a close, Robert De Niro would be lauded as one of the most skilled film actors of his, or any, generation.
Not content to live solely in the gritty underworld of Scorcese, De Niro has regularly and effectively contributed his talents to many films that go beyond the genre: The Deer Hunter (1978), True Confessions (1981), Falling in Love (1984), Awakenings (1990), Stanley and Iris (1991), and A Bronx Tale (1993), which he also directed. In 1988 De Niro won legions of new fans as the straight man to Charles Grodin’s comic accountant in Midnight Run, and he continued to further his reputation for comedy with Wag the Dog (1997), Analyze This (1999), Meet the Parents (2000), and Showtime (2002).
Many think that DeNiro has diluted his talent somewhat in the last decade or so with at least three or four film appearances a year in movies such as The Big Wedding (2013), The Bag Man (2014) and The Intern (2015), movies that haven’t exactly set the world on fire but at the end of the day any movie is enlivened by a De Niro appearance.
Fiercely protective of his personal life, De Niro still lives in beloved Lower Manhattan where he owns a number of popular restaurants.