"WHATEVER THE LABEL WOULD BE", DISTINGUISHES THEM FROM COMEDY OF 'ANALYZE THIS' OR THAT
In an interview with The New Yorker's Michael Schulman, posted last week, Robert De Niro is asked about his shift into comedies:
The first decades of your career you mostly played dramatic roles. That seemed to change around the time that “Analyze This” and “Meet the Parents” came out. Was comedy something you were itching to do?
I mean, I’d done things that were—they’re not comedies, but “Greetings,” “Hi Mom!,” stuff like that. Quasi-comedy of a certain type, whatever the label would be. But, with “Analyze This,” Billy Crystal had this script and he wanted to get it to me, and so he got it to me. And I said, “O.K., let’s have a reading of it and let’s see.” Because I thought it would be kind of fun to do this if we got it right, and if we got the characters more real. Not doing caricatures but doing characters.
In a way, that character is a comic version of mob characters that you had been playing in dramas. Did you have a feeling that you wanted to play off your own image?
Yeah, I didn’t mind that. I thought it would be O.K.
The interview opens with Schulman asking about the pipe bomb that had been sent to De Niro's office in late October, one of several that had been "sent to high-profile Democrats and critics of the President," according to Schulman. This leads into discussion of Donald Trump, De Niro's recent recurring role on Saturday Night Live, and eventually touching on De Niro's experience as a young man in the late 1960s:
When did you find out about the bomb? Where were you?
I was in my house, working out. I got a call early in the morning that it was there in the office.
What went through your head?
There’s so many crazy people. The state of the country is so terrible now, with a person who has set such a bad example of bad behavior. I’m waiting for the bad dream to end. So what are you gonna do? What am I gonna do?
How much blame do you place on the President for something like that happening?
I think on a subconscious or subliminal level, and many other levels, it gives the O.K. to other people who are maybe more on the verge of thinking, or fantasizing, that he’s somehow given the O.K. to do that. I used to think, Well, maybe once he becomes President, he’ll maybe—he’s a New Yorker. Not that that means anything, in certain ways, but it does in others. I thought, Maybe he’ll come around. But then he’s been worse than I ever could think. ’Cause he has no plan. He has no center whatsoever. He even gives gangsters a bad name. ’Cause a gangster will give you his word and will pride himself—or herself. He doesn’t even understand that kind of logic. He thinks he’s slick and all that. There’s something wrong with him mentally.
It’s interesting that you compare him to a slick mobster guy—
Well, he thinks he’s a mobster. He’s a mutt. And I’ve said that before. I’ve said it publicly. And everything that he says about other people—that they’re losers, that they’re this and that, every terrible thing he says—he’s really saying about himself. I don’t know what his parents did, I don’t know how they treated him, whatever, but it’s all projection.
I imagine that a lot of people out there in the country who admire him are also people who’ve admired you over the years, even just demographically. Older white men tend to like President Trump. And I would think that they might see in him things they could have seen in Vito Corleone or Jake LaMotta, these guy-guys who don’t take any bullshit.
There’s a difference. He doesn’t represent—he likes to act like he does, I guess from that stupid show he did, that a lot of people bought and believed that he would act a certain way. And I remember seeing a documentary about these two writers who helped create the whole aura, the whole look, the office, the presentation, and everything. These two schlubby guys, two writers. They said, as I remember it, they said, “We created this thing.”
You mean the makers of “The Apprentice,” who created the character.
The character. And now he’s in reality and he’s got to make real decisions. I don’t know if I’m answering your question. You’re saying people who like me—yes, there is a similarity with my characters. But I’m an actor. Those are characters I play.
Have you seen any kind of backlash from your fans, people who are Trump supporters?
No. I can’t worry about that.
Did you ever interact with him personally over the years?
I met him once at a baseball game.
I was there with a few of my kids. He came into the box that I was in, said hello, and we shook hands. I never wanted to meet him. Because I think everybody’s onto what he’s about. What amazes me is that people buy into it—people who have a responsibility to the country, not to him. They have gone along with this. And we all know who they are. Republicans who can go into the private sector and get a job making more money in a law firm or something. Instead, they opt to stay in this situation with a criminal and sell themselves. And everyone who’s involved with him has been tainted, and people will never forget it. The only one is Mattis, a little bit, and he stumbled the other day when he went down to the Mexican border and tried to give a Pancho Villa story. I felt bad, because I have great respect for him, and we all do.
And now he’s gone.
Yeah, I don’t blame him. It’s dangerous that he left. We’re in a crisis in this country. We have a fool running it, and, when a guy like Mattis finally has to go, we have a lot to be concerned about. I don’t see how we can go two more years with this guy.
I assume that the reason the person sent you a bomb was because of what you said at the Tony Awards, which was not what I expected to happen at the Tony Awards. Was that a decision you made beforehand or was it impromptu, to say, “Fuck Trump”?
It was impromptu. I feel that more people should speak out against him and not be genteel about it. At Tribeca, I said, “I’m tired of being nice about it.” They have ads on CNN about truth. “This is a banana, this is an apple,” or whatever they have. That’s what we’ve come to with all the “fake news” stuff.
How did your role as Robert Mueller on “Saturday Night Live” come about?
Actually, my wife, who—we’re [searches for the word and pulls his hands apart] separating now—but she had thought of it. I said, “What can I play on ‘S.N.L.’?” Because I love “S.N.L.” And she came up with Mueller. So I told Lorne Michaels. This is how I remember it—I could be wrong.
Is there a key to playing Mueller?
Mueller is the hope. Mueller is our hope. And he’s doing everything—he’s doing it perfectly.
But he’s not someone who’s seen in public very much these days. How did you decide to play him?
I didn’t. It’s a skit—the makeup and everything. They put jowls and prosthetics on, the chin, the nose, eyebrow.
Did you grow up in a political household?
Not really. Some but not much.
What was your experience of the antiwar movement, the politics of the late sixties, early seventies?
I felt that the war was not a just war. And, you know, it was a turbulent time in America, as I think it is now. It might even be worse now.
Did your parents have a particular kind of politics that they spoke to you about?
My mother was a little more leaning toward the left, in some ways, but never telling me much. My father was an artist. He was apolitical, pretty much.