Home Movies Robert DeNiro: “I Don’t Know If I’ll Ever Direct Another Movie”

Robert DeNiro, a man who does not like to talk too much, was left to do a lot of talking last night at the First Time Fest’s  20th Anniversary Benefit screening of his directorial debut, “A Bronx Tale.” The star of the movie, Chazz Palminteri, who wrote the screenplay, was a no show because of food poisoning. This left DeNiro and actress Katherine Narducci, to handle the screening and Q&A moderated by David Schwartz from the Museum of the Moving Image. The audience was formidable: it included DeNiro’s beautiful wife Grace, plus Tony Bennett, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, and Gay Talese. Bennett’s daughter, Johanna, presented the evening as part of her First Time Film Festival along with co-founder Mandy Ward and the Tribeca Film Institute. DeNiro made his directing debut in 1994 with the critically acclaimed film, set in the Bronx in the 1960’s. He’s only directed one other film since then, “The Good Shepherd,” with Matt Damon. The famed actor was unexpectedly poignant. He said, “I don’t know if I’ll ever direct another movie. If I did 5 in my life I’d be happy. I might not do three. I don’t know if I’ll do another movie because it’s a lot of work.” “A Bronx Tale: a rueful story about a kid’s relationship with a local gangster (Palminteri), which troubles his bus driver father (De Niro.) The “Raging Bull” actor said getting the film on the big screen took six years, give or take a year. He’d Palminteri’s one-man show in L.A. and knew there was a “feeding frenzy” by the studios to get it on the screen. Palminteri turned down many offers. “He wanted to make sure that he could play the part of Sonny. If you opt to sell it to them,” De Niro told him, “at the end of they day they’re going to want somebody with a name to hedge their bets and they’ll probably come to me.” “Let’s eliminate that whole process.” De Niro promised him, “Give it to me and I’ll promise you that you can play the part of Sonny, and that’s what happened.” As why he chose to make his directing debut with “A Bronx Tale,” De Niro said, “I wanted to direct a movie for a while, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. You always want to tell the perfect story. In a movie you want to make it your letter to the world. It’s not quite what I imagined that I would want to make it my letter to the world, but I liked Chazz, and the whole thing, and I knew at least (I could) attempt something special out of this material, and that I understand that world.” Many of the roles were cast with non-actors, especially the children. “You gotta find kids from that neighborhood. Kids that understand that world,” De Niro said. The first boy who played his son, Francis Capra, was 12. “He’d say to me, ‘You want me to cry yet?’ I’d say hold on,’ so he understood the meaning and the reason and the importance of that emotion and he was ready to do it so I was always amazingly surprised how he understood that at such a young age.” De Niro added, “These are kids, 14, 15, 16, who want to be men. In that culture they want to be grown ups. They aspire to what they see before them in the gangster culture, the Sonny culture.” It was about 13 years after “A Bronx Tale” when De Niro directed his next film, “The Good Shepherd,” about the early history of the C.I.A., starring Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. “I’d always been interested in that subject matter,” De Niro explained. The screenplay is by Eric Roth (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”). “I wanted to do a sequel to it but he (Roth) has not come up with that. He dilly-dallied with doing a television show, which would mean we would have more time to get into details, all the intricies of that world. In a feature you don’t have time to do that, but at the same time it’s more grand, it’s more like opera.” As for whether there will be a sequel, “It’s unresolved at this point,” De Niro said. De Niro took questions from the audience. The last one was from an acting student who asked the “Taxi Driver” actor about his “process,” whether it was a method approach or more technically driven, and if these techniques had an “inherent danger.” “I don’t know what the dangers are because I’ve never experienced that,” De Niro said. “I don’t know if you’re saying somebody gets so involved in their role that they’re going to wind up losing themselves and go crazy. I’ve never seen that ever. Ever! Ever! Ever!” De Niro said. “Whether it’s Stella Adler or whether it’s Lee Strasberg, do the technique whatever, and they overlap a lot, because at the end of the day actors use whatever works for them. When they’re in there, in the moment, you have to use what’s good for you. You think about your mother who died last week. You think about this, you can think about that. You do whatever. My two things are, you don’t hurt yourself. You don’t hurt others. Everything else is okay. Whatever your wildest imagination is that can make you arrive at that point in that scene that’s fine,” De Niro said, “but the rest of it is all bullshit.” (Everyone cheered at the last sentence.)

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