Robert De Niro, the patriarch’s 80th birthday


By John

«The talent lies in the choices”: this meager reflection of Robert DeNiro about his career sounds like the trademark of one of the greatest actors ever. Probably the one that best characterizes the New Hollywood of the 70s and that turns 80 on August 17 celebrating in “his” Greenwich Village with an exclusive party in an Italian club. Even if he has traveled all over the world, even if he has chosen Italy as his second homeland (we have just seen him in Naples in the company of Paolo Sorrentino), New York is his real home and it can be said that his imagination overlaps now absolutely to that of the Big Apple. In Little Italy he became the protagonist with “Mean Streets” (1973), in those streets he built his fame with “Taxi Driver” (1976) and then returned a thousand times as in “Once upon a time in America” ​​(1984) , in the Tribeca district (that of the Twin Towers) has taken root, promoting the nascent Film Festival in 2003 and developing a real estate company which today allows him to make films as a personal hobby. Shy, pale, insecure, he made his way thanks to an instinctive talent cultivated with maniacal punctilus, a contagious smile but always tinged with melancholy, a versatility cultivated in comic roles in maturity, but incomparable in dramatic ones, especially when linked to hardened characters from life and struggling with crime. Partly due to the indissoluble bond with his friend Martin Scorsese (to date nine films), partly due to his direct experience between the Bronx and Little Italy, he was gangster and policeman, detective and criminal with absolute naturalness and it is difficult to separate his talent from unforgettable characters whose life has reserved anger, brutality and redemption.

Robert Anthony Jr. was born in Greenwich Village on August 17, 1943 to Robert Senior of Abruzzo and Irish blood and to Virginia Admiral of Dutch origins. The two met at the Academy of Fine Arts (she will have a certain fame as a poet and painter), but they separated already in 1945 when her father declared her homosexuality. Little Robert will go to live with his mother in Little Italy even if he will maintain affectionate relationships with his father throughout his life. Growing up as a street boy with friendships opposed by his parents, he is not a model student, he soon discovers a passion for acting, making his debut at the age of 10 in the “Wizard of Oz” in a school play. Before leaving high school he has already chosen his path, he attends courses Stella Adlerdevoted to the Stanislavski method and then the famous Actors Studio of Lee Strasberg.

In the 60s in New York there are not many opportunities for those who dream of cinema. De Niro gets a few appearances in two films Marcel Carné (“Three Bedrooms in Manhattan” and “The Young Wolves”) in the middle of the decade, but in 1963 a young filmmaker involved him in a real independent film: “Just Married” by debutant Brian DePalma which, due to censorship problems, will only be released in 1969. At the time, however, the criticisms were more than favorable and drew attention to «Billy Milk» as it was called due to the pallor of the complexion. He works two more times with De Palma (“Ciao America!” And “Hi Mom!”), He passes through the “forge” of Roger Corman for «The Barker clan», he gains experience with some B-series comedy. Then with «Beat the drum slowly» (1973) by John D. Hancock he manages to establish himself also for the maniacal care with which he studies the character, a baseball player, spending weeks training with the players. Instead, he fails to get the role of Sonny Corleone in “The Godfather”, but Coppola will remember him by calling him for the role of the young Don Vito in the sequel to the highly successful saga. For the occasion he will learn Sicilian, including the dialectal nuances, and will win his first Oscar as co-star in ’75.

Meanwhile, however, in the same 1973, luck (and friendship with de Palma) earned him the encounter that changed his life: the debutant Martin Scorsese, Italian-American like him, entrusts him with the lead role in «Mean Street» (alongside Harvey Keitel) and gives space to the autobiographical imprint that De Niro brings to the character. Two years later the two, as a couple, repeated their success with the extraordinary “Taxi Driver” which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Like 1973, 1975 was also a turning point for the actor: he alternated between the set with Scorsese and the one with Bernardo Bertolucci who called him for his epic «Novecento» in the role of the bourgeois Alfredo Berlenghieri. From that experience De Niro’s bond with Italy was consolidated, later consecrated by dual citizenship and by visits to his grandparents’ town, Ferrazzano in Molise. «Italy – he said – remains the most beautiful country in the world, and the one that historically has given more than any other in cultural and artistic terms. Today it seems to me that it is experiencing a very chaotic moment, but I have the impression that this is a constant in its history and that perhaps its beauty arises from this chaos».

Retracing his filmography between failures that have become mythical such as «New York New York», Oscar successes (“Raging Bull”), absolute triumphs (“The Deer Hunter”) and box office entertainment (the «Meet the Parents» trilogy) is almost a sterile exercise since among its over 100 interpretations everyone finds his favorite. He has directed two films (the acclaimed “Bronx” in 1993 and the committed “The Good Shepherd” in 2006), he has always been a supporter of Democrats and a staunch opponent of Donald Trump, has a turbulent love life with seven children from four different partners, becoming father of Gia again last May. In Italy his voice, capable of a thousand nuances, was linked for a lifetime to that of Ferruccio Amendola who however, on many occasions, gave way to SStefano De Sando as in the last masterpiece, «The Irishman». Martin Scorsese says of him: «I don’t know anyone able to surprise me on the screen like De Niro for his strength and ability to involve».