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Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Robert De Niro has been out promoting his new film, a Nancy Meyers comedy called The Intern. More Content Now's Ed Symkus has a nice little interview with De Niro in which he touches on his earliest film memories, his films with Brian De Palma, and De Niro's work as a director. Here's an excerpt:
Q: Can you recall any early memories at a movie theater that made you say I want to be an actor?

A: I don’t remember specifically. I saw the usual things; in those days there were a lot of Westerns, and there were the classic double bill features at the Loews Theater, movies with Spencer Tracy or Marlon Brando or Tony Curtis. One departure I remember was “Suddenly Last Summer” with Elizabeth [Taylor]. I also liked going to the movies because it was air conditioned when it was so stiflingly hot (laughs). I started studying acting when I was 10, going to acting school on Saturdays. I don’t know what actually kicked off my wanting to do it at that time. I forget. But when I was in my teens, I started up again.

Q: I first saw you in “Greetings” and “Hi, Mom!” so I was introduced to you as an offbeat comic actor. Has there ever been a plan of making a comedy then a serious one then a comedy?

A: No, you do what comes along, then find a way to rationalize why you want to do it or justify it. So my career has just happened the way it did. I guess I’m still a work in progress. I actually first worked for Brian De Palma on “The Wedding Party” when I was 19. I played one of the groomsmen. I think the only other person you would know in it is Jill Clayburgh.

Q: You’ve directed two films: “A Bronx Tale” in 1993 and “The Good Shepherd” in 2006. Any plans for another?

A: I don’t know. I want to do a sequel to “The Good Shepherd,” but I never planned on directing more than five movies in my life, so if I do another one ... well, it’s possible, but it would have to be really special.

A couple of weeks ago, The Mirror's Gerard Couzens reported that, in an interview with an unnamed Argentinian magazine, De Niro talked about picking up the check for that first role in De Palma's The Wedding Party: "When I went to pick up my check I was with my mom because I was under-age and she had to sign the contract for me. I was looking at the contract and it said 50 dollars. I thought it was 50 dollars a week but she explained that it was 50 dollars for the whole thing."

Posted by Geoff at 10:43 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, September 16, 2015 10:45 PM CDT
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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Above is a snapshot taken by scholar Ethan de Seife during his visit to the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas, where they have collections donated by Robert De Niro, Paul Schrader, and David Mamet. I've been wanting to visit the Center myself after posting about the De Niro collection here some years ago. Hopefully I'll get out there soon to report in more detail about some of the Brian De Palma-related screenplays in the De Niro collection, with the actor's annotations included, as well as any other interesting items.

But for now, we have these bits and pieces via de Seife, who explains in the post linked to above that he is working on "a book-length re-evaluation of De Palma’s work." He further explains, "To my mind, De Palma is the most talented of the directors of the so-called 'Film School Generation.' He’s also the most misunderstood: critical writing on his work has been stuck in the same ruts (Hitchcock, violence, misogyny) since the 1970s. It’s getting boring. A filmmaker as gifted as he is deserves better."

The photos above show De Niro in some color production photos for The Wedding Party, the first feature film for both De Niro and De Palma. In his post, de Seife also includes a snapshot of the Wedding Party screenplay, featuring some of De Niro's notes.

Here is an excerpt of some of de Seife's other findings:


The film Hi, Mom! is a vicious satire of Vietnam-era politics and liberal empty-headedness; it remains one of the most subversive of all American films. Much of its deserved reputation for challenging satire rests on the infamous “Be Black, Baby” sequence, in which the members of a black radical group stage a work of participatory theater designed to allow white people to “experience” blackness. Patrons are subjected to all manner of abuse… and then rave about the show. It’s a deeply ambiguous and still pretty shocking scene.

De Niro’s own notes for this scene are, in total: “At ‘Be Black, Baby’ play where I play a cop and beat up the white liberals painted black.” The paucity of this description itself speaks to the importance of improvisation to both De Niro’s and De Palma’s art; this, in turn, reveals a great deal about the nature of the film’s production.

The most intriguing of my finds in the De Niro papers pertains to a De Palma film in which De Niro does not even appear. De Palma made Home Movies in 1980 in an unprecedented collaboration with film students at Sarah Lawrence. In the collection was a treatment (a kind of synopsis) of the script dated from 1970; apparently De Niro had been considered for a part in it. The treatment differs in significant ways from the film as it was made a decade later, and those differences themselves may also prove revelatory of De Palma’s evolution as an artist.


Posted by Geoff at 11:00 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, August 23, 2014 11:00 AM CDT
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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The above video is a clip from tonight's episode of CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. In the clip, Strombo shows a scene from De Palma's The Wedding Party, and asks De Palma about casting the 20-year-old Robert De Niro in his first film. Here is the transcript from the Strombo site, as well:

GS: The Wedding Party, 1963, Robert De Niro, 20 years old in that. Is that his first film?

BDP: Yes, that was his first film.

GS: When you saw him did you know that there is something special there?

BDP: He came in to an audition. We were in a loft in the Village and we put an ad in the Village Voice and we were just seeing one actor after another then this sort of timid kid came in, the last one in. We had him do a little improvisation and we thought 'Hey, this kid is pretty good' and he said ok, but there's something I've been preparing in my class can I show it to you. The kid had the part, I mean, okay. So he goes outside and we're sititng around and it's like 5, 10 15 [minutes], we figured he had gone home and then he came in a did this incredible scene from 'The Strike', the Clifford Odets play about the taxi strike . He was ranting and raving and [yells] and you think, holy mackerel. That's Bob De Niro.

Posted by Geoff at 8:05 PM CDT
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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Jill Clayburgh, who starred as the bride in Brian De Palma's first feature The Wedding Party, died Friday at her home in Lakeville, Connecticut, according to the Hollywood Reporter. She was 66 years old, and had been quietly battling chronic lymphocytic leukemia for 21 years, according to her husband, David Rabe, speaking to the Associated Press. At Sarah Lawrence College in the early 1960s, Clayburgh met and dated De Palma, where they made The Wedding Party with mentor Wilford Leach. The film also featured Robert DeNiro, William Finley, and Jennifer Salt. In an interview for Sarah Lawrence College's alumni magazine in 2007, Clayburgh explained how she steered herself toward the theatre, and, eventually, films:

I did theatre because I hated gym. It wasn’t like now, when everybody is thinking about what they’re going to be. I went to an all-girls’ school in New York City and the theatre was at the boy’s school, so I went there to hang around with the boys – not because I thought, ‘I’m going to be ACTRESS.’ It let me get out of horrible gym, but it was no great, overwhelming drive to act. And then I got very tall and I kept getting the boys’ parts and I didn’t like that. So I stopped acting.

At Sarah Lawrence, I started off concentrating in religion and philosophy, but then I did a summer apprenticeship at Williamstown – it’s a fabulous program that they have – and I just fell in love with the theatre.

I did plays at Sarah Lawrence with Wilford Leach, who subsequently became a director at the Public Theater with Joe Papp, and I also worked with John Braswell. So I had Will and John and Brian De Palma [SLC/M.A. ’64], who was one of our first male students – in fact, he was one of the few men around. He directed and did some of his earliest movies there. I dated him and worked with him. We did a movie called The Wedding Party. It was a collaboration with Will and Brian. John was in it too, and Robert De Niro, who used to come up from the City and do shows at SLC. What Will was doing was so off the radar; it was as if he had his own theatre chemistry lab at the College.

[Clayburgh and De Palma are pictured here from 1976]

Clayburgh went on to appear in several Broadway productions and films, and really made her mark in Paul Mazursky's An Unmarried Woman in 1978, which garnered her first Oscar nomination. The following year, she was nominated again for her role in Alan J. Pakula's Starting Over. These two roles solidified Clayburgh as a symbol of the growing feminist movement in the 1970s.

Clayburgh, Rabe, and De Palma have remained friends throughout the years (as recently as three years ago, Rabe revised a draft of the screenplay for De Palma's still-in-development Untouchables prequel). Clayburgh once dated Al Pacino, with whom she starred in an off-Broadway production of The Indian Wants the Bronx in 1968. Recently, her daughter, Lily Rabe, had been co-starring with Pacino in a Broadway production of The Merchant of Venice (Rabe is taking a week-long leave of absence from the show, which is pushing its official opening night from November 7th to November 15th). Clayburgh had been appearing in several stage productions of late, as well as taking on various film and TV roles, including Nip/Tuck, for which Jennifer Salt was a producer/writer.

Clayburgh can be seen back in theaters later this month when Edward Zwick's Love & Other Drugs opens November 24th. Clayburgh's movie career will perhaps come full circle with her final film role next May, in Paul Feig's Bridesmaids, a comedy in which two women battle to plan their friend's wedding party.

Posted by Geoff at 11:01 AM CDT
Updated: Saturday, November 6, 2010 2:56 PM CDT
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