Personal detailsName: Robert De Niro
Born: 17 August 1943 (Age: 70)
Where: New York City, New York, USA
Height: 5' 9"
Awards: Won 2 Oscars, 1 Golden Globe
All about this star
Over the course of nearly forty years, Robert De Niro has established himself as one of the most respected and iconic screen actors in history. This is a position he's achieved both through the relentless perfectionism of his approach to his work, and the ferocity with which he protects his private life. Apart from the very occasional tabloid snippet, we hear nothing about the man, only ever seeing him when he's playing someone else - which is, of course, exactly how he wants it to be.
Robert De Niro was born in New York, New York on August 17th, 1943. His ancestry - strangely, given his tight cinematic connection with the Mafia - is more Irish than Italian. His parents were both respected artists. His father, Robert Snr, was a painter, sculptor and poet, an abstract expressionist by style. His mother, Virginia Admiral was also a painter. The couple, who'd met as Hans Hoffman's Provincetown painting class, divorced when young Robert was only two, the boy being raised by his mother. Robert Snr continued with his art, Virginia eventually opened a typesetting and printing business. A biography, released in 2004 by John Baxter, claimed that Robert Sr was in fact gay and spent only a few months with Virginia before separating, later enjoying affairs with the poet Robert Duncan, as well as Tennessee Williams and Jackson Pollock. Robert Jr, as ever, would make no comment.
Despite the divorce, Robert still saw his father regularly, often being taken to the movies. On his return home, he'd act out the film he'd just seen, learning to imitate the great actors of the day (he later made his mother swear never to let the press know which ones). The house, something of an artistic refuge, was usually peopled by renowned painters, poets and critics.
Robert Jr caught the acting bug early, appearing as The Cowardly Lion in a local production of The Wizard Of Oz at the age of 10. So keen was he (even as a boy he was intensely focused) that, at 13, his mother, recognising his desire and ability, sent him to a progressive private school, New York's High School Of Music And Art. But Robert wasn't quite ready. He dropped out and spent his time roaming the streets of Little Italy with a no-mark street gang, picking up the nickname Bobby Milk for his deathly white complexion. His father openly disapproved of his new "friends" and the pair fell out, though the rift wasn't permanent. When De Niro's father took off for a couple of years in Paris only to slip into depression and destitution, it was Robert Jr, aged only 18, who flew over there to bring him home.
Robert Jr didn't stay off the rails for long, and soon threw himself back into laborious study. He attended the famous Stella Adler Conservatory and worked too under Lee Strasberg, learning the legendary Method. By the age of 16, he was touring in a production of Chekov's The Bear. Soon he was criss-crossing the South, performing Neil Simon-style comedies in dinner theatres, and would spend well over a decade honing his craft in theatre workshops and off-Broadway productions. In the meantime, he tried to break into the movies, promoting himself with his usual strict attention to detail. He'd arrive at auditions with photographs of himself in 25 different guises.
De Niro's first important break came through his relationship with the young director Brian De Palma. De Palma cast him in The Wedding Party - filmed in 1963 but not released till 1969, the same year De Niro made an appearance on Sesame Street - then, a few years later, in Greetings and Hi Mom!.The pair would reunite, as major players, with 1987's Oscar-winning The Untouchables. Now De Niro's career began to take off. He appeared, alongside Shelley Winters and Bruce Dern, as one of the notorious Barker gang, in Bloody Mama, then revealed the depth of his work ethic by paying his own passage to Italy to research a small role in The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.
1973 was the year De Niro broke. This saw his first collaboration with the man who'd mark his career more than anyone else - director Martin Scorsese. The movie was Mean Streets and De Niro shone as a dangerously irresponsible shyster and hooligan. But, perhaps even more importantly at the time, there was Bang The Drum Slowly, a remake of a 1956 Paul Newman movie, wherein De Niro plays Bruce Pearson, a major league baseball catcher struck down by Hodgkins Disease, who tries to make it through one final season. Having returned to the South with a tape-recorder, strenuously researching his part, his performance was startlingly good, showing a wide range and genuine sensitivity, and winning him a New York Film Critics Award.
Now De Niro entered his most extraordinary period of work, landing himself an exceptional series of roles (he's said that "The talent is in the choices"). First he played the young Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part 2, taking the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his efforts (he and Brando are the only actors to have both won Oscars for the same role). Then he was back with Scorsese as the unforgettable moralist vigilante Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. He played Monroe Stahr, the big-time Hollywood producer looking for love in The Last Tycoon, and starred in Bertolucci's sprawling epic 1900. There was a brief downturn as he and Scorsese attempted to recreate the old-time musical in New York, New York (De Niro learned the saxophone for the role), but he bounced back immediately as the morose and disciplined hero of Michael Cimino's magnificent The Deer Hunter.