Anyone who is aspiring to be an actor in this tough industry can tell you how hard it is out there. Read Robert De Niro, a giant of the industry break it down for you in a compilation of various insights taken by longlivecinema.com from his earlier interviews and speeches.
Only someone like Academy Award-winning actor Robert De Niro can tell a pack of new NYU graduates that they are “fucked” at their graduation ceremony, and that, too, to thunderous applause. The actor who was at the Tisch School Of The Arts presenting the commencement speech gave the audience an honest, no-nonsense reality check, saying that securing their arts degree has brought them nowhere close to landing a paying job. De Niro told the new graduates that they had just opened a new door of rejection. “Rejection is inevitable in the real world,” he said. “But you need to understand that it is not about you. It is just not personal.” The light-hearted, yet thoughtful, speech included the best advice we all wished someone told us when we started off pursuing our careers in the arts. De Niro spoke about the importance of hard work and maintaining the same level of commitment for every part, however big or small, you may take up.
From his performances in films like Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, The Godfather II, Goodfellas and Silver Linings Playbook, it is obvious that acting, for De Niro, is not just about looking good and being able to deliver a few lines of dialogue. It is both a physical and emotional process for this method actor, who is known to prepare intensely for all his roles. It is hard to find a combination of both immense talent and brutal honesty in the same person, and it is always refreshing to take advice from a person like this. So we, at Long Live Cinema, decided to compile 10 tips De Niro has for actors from his earlier interviews and speeches. Read on to know how Robert De Niro gets it right every time.
Put the most effort in making the right choices
In an interview, De Niro quoted acting coach Stella Adler on how making the right choices is the starting point of ensuring you act well. Having a comfortable working relationship with the director comes a close second. “I’ll work with a director if I think I’m going to get into a comfortable situation, and if it’s someone I respect and who respects me, even if they’re not so well known,” said De Niro. “Movies are hard to make, and you have to work toward a common ethic and do your best. You don’t want to work with people who don’t care or who are acting out some neurotic, crazy thesis on the set. Who needs it? Life is too short. But I’ve been very lucky in that area.”
Here De Niro describes how a conversation with Harvey Keitel changed his perspective. “As an actor who’s starting out, you can’t say, ‘Hey, I’m too good for this.’ You gotta do it, because people see you, your name gets around, and it has a cumulative effect. Auditions are like a gamble. Most likely you won’t get the part, but if you don’t go, you’ll never know if you could’ve got it. I remember when I was up for Mean Streets, I ran into Harvey Keitel in the Village—we were friends—and he’d already been cast in the movie as Charlie. I had done a couple of leads in movies before so I said, ‘Well, career wise, I should be playing Charlie.’ I didn’t say it like a wiseass. I was saying it sincerely, but not in a way that was threatening to him. Then Harvey said, ‘You know who you should play? Johnny Boy.’ And that clicked. I played Johnny. Now I say to people, ‘If you get a part, do it’.”
Love what you do, don’t expect to be famous
During a talk he delivered at the Doha Film Institute, De Niro gave out this advice to aspiring actors: ““I always say – you’ve got to really love what you do. Don’t expect to be famous – do it because you really love doing it and have fun doing it. I’ve always said if I can make a living at it, I’m happy.” In another interview, on being asked how he had managed be successful and retain the drive to act for so long , this is what De Niro had to say: “I enjoy it. I like it. And especially when you get older, you start realizing you don’t have that much time. And you look back and say, ‘The last 15 years, it went by kind of quickly’. You don’t really know it until you get there and look back and say, ‘Geez, where did that time go?’ I know I’ve gotta account for every day, every moment, every this, every that, but it still went, that time went. So now I have the next whatever, hopefully 15, 20 years if I’m lucky, and I think what to use that time for.”
Use the feedback that good critics give you constructively
De Niro does respect good critics and tries to learn from their feedback, he says. “When you do a movie and show it to people, friends and family can never be totally honest with you. If a critic’s being just mean or nasty it’s unfortunate. Good critics that write with intelligence and compassion are very important. If it’s constructive criticism you can take it or leave it but you always learn something,” he said, at an event. “What I say is, if you didn’t have critics — even though they can annoy you and upset you — if you didn’t have a critic, who would tell you how it is? Because people won’t tell you. Those who are with you and know what you went through can never be honest with you. So they’ll always find a positive thing to say. So the people who you’ll get real feedback from are critics. Especially good critics.”
Prepare rigorously, but don’t let it make you mechanical, the less you do, the better
De Niro is believes in underplaying parts because that’s what he says people do in real life. “It’s very important and at the same time extremely difficult for an actor to pretty much not do anything,” he said. “It is much simpler than you may think. A lot of actors, including I, get caught up in it. We want to do something to show the audience what the character is feeling. But if you think of it, people in real life do not always react dramatically to tragedies. They are more often not stunned by it. And, more than trying to show their feelings, people always tend to hide their feelings. So it is important not to indicate. Let the audience read into your expression rather than you showing them what they should feel. You just have to stop thinking too much about it and it will take care of itself.”
“I feel I have to earn the right to play a part,” he said, when asked why he prepares so intensely for his characters and undergoes drastic physical transformations for even small roles. “Prepare for anything you do. Understand the character, the milieu, the surroundings, the people, but don’t let that restrict you. Sometimes I start with the director or writer or both. I like to have a read through of a script before I even get on-board with a project. It’s a discovery process even if they don’t want me for the role.” It is, however, important to not let preparation come in the way of performance, he said. “It is important to be ready for every scene. You should know your dialogues and that sort of thing. But don’t let preparation make you mechanical. Be in the moment. Just do what you feel like doing at that moment. Be there. That is important.”
Be a good listener, but take a stand
On how to ensure uniqueness in one’s style: “As an actor, it is important to be a good listener. You need to listen to what others have to say, the director, the producer, your co-actor… everyone. I try to listen to everyone and take their inputs on what I have to do. But finally I take my own decision on how I am going to play the part. That’s where the uniqueness comes in. That’s where the difference of you playing the part versus any other actor playing it comes in.”
De Niro said he believes that it is not right to judge a character. “In order to be an artist, you have to be able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. Only then can you understand their emotions and reasons, even though you do not agree with them. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to taste the lives of interesting personalities without having to pay the price for it. My advice is to be true to your character and to yourself.”
Put in your best, understand that if it fails it is not just your fault
On collaboration and handling failure: “When you collaborate, you try to make everything better, but you’re not responsible for the entire project, only your part in it. You’ll find yourself in movies or dance pieces or plays or concerts that turn out in the eyes of critics and audiences to be bad, but that’s not on you because you will put everything into everything you do. You won’t judge the characters you play, and you shouldn’t be distracted by judgments on the works you’re in. Whether you work for Ed Wood, Federico Fellini, or Martin Scorsese, your commitment and your process will be the same. By the way, there will be times when your best isn’t your good enough. There can be many reasons for this, but as long as you give your best you’ll be OK.”
Do not be obdurate
In the Tisch commencement speech, De Niro listed out a few things he would tell his children if they wanted to be artists. He said: “Do not be obdurate and do not be afraid to fail. Take chances, keep an open mind, look out for new experiences and new ideas. If you don’t go, then you never know.”
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