Robert De Niro talks to Michele Manelis about his role in The Irishman and how his best is yet to come
You star with your old friend, Al Pacino, in The Irishman. Can you tell me a bit about your relationship with him?
Al and I have known each other since we were in our 20s and we got together from time to time over the years and talked about stuff, especially as our situations changed and we felt we could talk about things that are hard to talk about with a lot of people other than those who have been in the same situation. So that's been a good thing for both of us. And with The Irishman, we had a good time doing it. It was the right one for us to do together.
How did you feel about looking at this younger version of yourself?
It was interesting. When we first started trying to get the project going, there was talk about younger actors who would stand in for me and Al and Joe [Pesci]. But then as time went on and we got older, technology improved in this area. Marty [Scorsese, director] decided to go with the idea of us being made to look younger. And it works.
Was the acting the same?
We needed a movement coach for when we were too slouched or not spry enough. Like, there was a scene where I go down the stairs to meet Ray Romano, and he pointed out to me that I was stepping a little more carefully. He said, "You are a young guy; you are 39, you jump down the stairs." So I had to learn to bounce down the stairs. I was happy about the technology. I always joke, it adds 30 years to my career.
I imagine you prefer ageing down than up?
Well, makeup-wise, it's easier to age than "youthify", as Marty says, that's his word, "youthification". He coined that, I think. It's easier to put stuff on and make you look older.
When you did Raging Bull, you would have heard about your performance as "the greatest actor of all time". Who would you regard to be in that category?
I don't know if I'm qualified, believe it or not, to answer that question. I think of [Marlon] Brando, of course. When he was at his peak when he was really, really good and focused. I guess Greta Garbo, and I'm missing people. Maybe you can remind me, and I'll say, "Yeah, right."
Cary Grant represented something special, you could say that. I don't know if I would tip him into the others.
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Is it safe to say that you'll be acting until the last day of your life?
Well, what else am I going to do?
Yeah, I mean, retirement, if you can enjoy retiring and, depending on what retiring means, slowing down if you are forced physically to do that but I like to keep going, keep busy, yet at times, you have to slow down just so you can focus on something properly that needs the time. So, it's a balance.
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What was the moment you realised that you loved acting?
I realised when I was a kid, I was a teenager, I was looking at some of these TV shows, and I said, "Jesus, if that person can do that, I can do that." I think I was watching a Western at the time.
When did you realise you could make a living at it?
When I was actually making a living?
You're a part owner of the Nobu restaurant, so it's a safe bet to say, you must love sushi. What's your favourite dish at your restaurant?
You know what I had the other day, wagyu beef. It's unbelievable. You can only have so much of it, it's so rich - but it's great.
When do you usually go there?
To Nobu I go, in some ways, it's my place to go. So, I take my kids there, they like to go. It's a regular staple of mine.
You said you liked Brando at his peak. Have you peaked yet?
I would like to think that I will always peak to the end. I mean, I don't think of myself as crawling out and dying and that might be one of my best scenes; and it might be one of my last scenes in a movie, I don't know. We'll have to wait and see.