He is one of America’s great actors, and on screen is as intense and ferocious a performer as exists in Hollywood. There’s only one De Niro. But off screen, he remains the curious antithesis of his persona. Shy, awkward, shunning publicity, De Niro rarely gives interviews, and when he does, his co-stars or director flanks him.
He remains a man of few words, and interviewing him is not the easiest of tasks, as Paul Fischer recently discovered in New York when he spoke to the shy Oscar winning giant about his latest film, 15 Minutes. . In 15 Minutes, De Niro plays superstar Homicide Detective Eddie Flemming, who allows a young, talented Fire Department. Arson Investigator, Jordy Warsaw (Burns) to team up with him in order to track down a pair of Eastern European killers on a rampage through the city. Ferocious, unpredictable and clever, the immigrants quickly learn how to use the celebrity of their pursuers to spin their own stardom into an explosion of media and judicial madness.
Question: There are some graphic violent sequences in 15 Minutes, such as where one of the characters sticks his hand into the chest of another. Do you think scenes like that serve a purpose in advancing the plot of the movie?
Answer: That’s not for me to answer. The director.
Question: But do you think, having seen the movie, that it serves a purpose?
Answer: I don’t remember seeing that part. I swear, I don’t remember.
Question: What about the other graphic moments, the killings and such —
Answer: Let’s see. It’s pretty graphic.
Question: Too graphic?
Answer: I don’t know if it’s TOO graphic. It’s trying to achieve a purpose, so I guess it has to be graphic for that reason. But you should ask the director.
Question: You’re known as actor who intensely prepares for a role. What did you do to prepare to play THIS character?
Answer: We had a technical guy on the set called Steve Davis, who was very helpful with everything and was there all the time, so he was the main person to help me.
Question: Does doing a movie like this alter your perceptions of the media? Does it make you feel differently at all about the way the media operates?
Answer: No, I have my own perceptions of the media.
Question: Can you elaborate?
Answer: It is what it is. The media’s like a big dinosaur with a tail that swings back and forth and it indiscriminately knocks things over, both good and bad, and that’s the freedom of the press, so what are you going to do?
Question: What attracted you to this script?
Answer: John [Hertzfield, director] and I spoke about it. There were things that I wasn’t sure about, this and that, but I felt that whatever it was going to be, it would be interesting and I’m in. He’s also very agreeable and amenable to doing things that we discussed and a lot of directors won’t do that. They get stuck with something and he’d be willing to try ANYTHING.
Question: When you’ve been a victim of tabloid journalism yourself, what has been your reaction? Gone crazy?
Answer: No, I sued once in France where they wrote stuff, which you’ve heard before, but it was all nonsense, because they have some privacy law, which doesn’t mean anything. They pay the fine and they still sell the photos, or whatever.
Question: Did you get the money out or them or an apology?
Answer: I forget.
Question: But you haven’t been back to France since, right?
Answer: No I go back. It wasn’t France, it was the judge; he was an idiot.
Question: Do you watch television a lot?
Answer: Not too much.
Question: You seem to be able to switch back these days between serious drama and comedy like Meet the Parents. Why is that do you think?
Answer: I’m lucky that Parents was such a huge success.
Question: So what are your criteria for choosing roles?
Answer: Just if they interest me, It could be the director, the script, could be anything, even a scene I think is great.
Question: Are you planning to direct a movie again?
Answer: Yes. [Much laughter]
Question: Why do you work so much? Are you a workaholic?
Answer: I just like to work.
Question: So you don’t feel you’re a workaholic?
Answer: I don’t know what means, workaholic. I won’t always be doing this, but for I am.
Question: Do you have time to lead a life?
Question: Have you ever been a victim of crime?
Answer: Once a place I was living it was robbed if that’s what you mean.
Question: At one point in 15 Minutes, you say: When you have nothing to say, you just shut up and let the others do the talking. Is it possible to do that a lot in real life when you have to promote movies?
Answer: I try to do it as much as I can.
Question: People are lining up, including your director and co-workers to sing your praises and you always read how any actor would give their right arm to work with you. How does that make you feel?
Answer: Well I’m honoured and flattered.
Question: Does it baffle you?
Answer: It’s not something I think about.