An iconic yet enigmatic figure blessed with prodigious acting talent, De Niro has long been Al Pacino’s only serious rival for alpha-male dominance of the Italian-American screen pack. Despite being born to bohemian artist parents and attending the prestigious Stella Adler Conservatory, the Method acting bruiser has largely made his name playing lowlife hoodlums and volatile tough guys. Always a magnetic presence on screen, even when appearing in trash, his finest work often results from the alchemy he shares with his muse and frequent collaborator, Martin Scorsese.
Early Scorsese classics like Mean Streets and Taxi Driver brought De Niro to public attention, and the duo would later hit sublime heights when the actor persuaded a reluctant Marty to make the Jake LaMotta biopic Raging Bull. Known for his punishing dedication in preparing for a role, even training to be a champion boxer before piling on four stones in weight, De Niro’s brand of perfectionism has since been adopted by the next generation of high-octane performers, including Johnny Depp and Daniel Day Lewis.
Although often subject to colourful headlines involving drugs and prostitutes, De Niro’s more public offscreen interests include ownership of several restaurants in New York City and San Francisco, plus launching the Tribeca film festival in 2002 in a bid to revitalise Lower Manhattan following the 9-11 attacks. His more recent roles have revealed his lighter side in lively comedies like Analyze This and Meet The Parents.
“Some people say that drama is easy and comedy is hard,” De Niro said recently. “Not true. I’ve been making comedies the last couple years, and it’s nice. When you make a drama, you spend all day beating a guy to death with a hammer, or you have to take a bite out of somebody’s face. On the other hand, with a comedy, you yell at Billy Crystal for an hour, and you go home.”