Robert De Niro joked with Stephen Colbert during his sit-down on The Late Show a week ago, noting that when it came to his Tribeca Talk with Martin Scorsese, he’d ask a question, leave for coffee, and return minutes later to ask the next question.
That was hardly the case here today, as the two went back and forth onstage for more than 90 minutes at the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, covering a majority of ground; from their collaborations together, such as Mean Streets, The King of Comedy and Casino, to those pics in which the Raging Bull Oscar winner did not star, i.e. Silence and The Wolf of Wall Street.
However, for those fans looking to hear more about their ninth team-up together, The Irishman, or see a clip from that upcoming Netflix movie, the duo didn’t dive into any great details. Rather, they delivered passing mentions of the pic. Outside of today’s Tribeca Talk, Deadline hears that the film wasn’t ready to deliver a clip yet, which makes sense, given that footage wasn’t shown from Scorsese’s last movie Silence, a December 2017 release, until mid October that year.
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Kicking off their chat with a clip between Harvey Keital and Robert De Niro conversing in Mean Streets, Scorsese briefly spoke about the extension of the mob genre with The Irishman. “It’s a world that’s been romanticized since then (Mean Streets),” said the filmmaker about mob pics. “Even in our new film, the nature of who these people are, are not necessarily from the trappings around them, but who the people are.”
“The book was terrific,” said De Niro about Charles Brandt’s novel I Heard You Paint Houses, which The Irishman is based upon, about the exploits of mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran. “I heard you paint houses” are the first words Jimmy Hoffa ever spoke to Sheeran, who De Niro plays in the pic, and to paint a house means to kill a man. In the book, Sheeran, a WWII army vet, confesses to the author that he handled more than twenty-five hits for the mob and for his friend, Hoffa. Sheeran worked for mob boss Russell Bufalino, who ordered him to off Hoffa.
“I said Marty, read this, see what you think. We were about to do something else and we went into The Irishman,” said De Niro.
“I think, profoundly, you felt the heart of this character, this situation, and it’s universal. It happens to be set in this world,” added Scorsese.
Toward the end of their session, an audience member screamed out for more info on The Irishman, and Scorsese responded, “It’s in the milieu of the pictures we’ve done together, and that we’re known for, and I think, I hope, it’s from a different vantage point. When years go by, you see things in a special way,” said the The Departed Oscar-winning director.
Making a cameo in the audience was Leonardo DiCaprio, who gave a wave to the stage. He emerged toward the end as the De Niro and Scorsese discussed The Wolf of Wall Street and how the snake oil salesman story, per the director, was “a very American story, about the land of opportunity.” He also regaled the audience with the tale on how De Niro recommended a young DiCaprio to him following This Boy’s Life, “something he never does,” said Scorsese about De Niro.
“He liked the pictures we made, he wanted to make films like that and not be afraid of certain topics,” said Scorsese about DiCaprio, who has clocked five movies with the filmmaker.
“One of the people in the (US presidential) cabinet said the movie misrepresented the financial world,” said Scorsese about The Wolf of Wall Street.
One of the more interesting stories De Niro and Scorsese chatted about was their work on the 1982 film The King of Comedy. De Niro loved Paul Zimmerman’s script. The writer gave it to De Niro and Scorsese in Cannes. Milos Forman wanted to make it with De Niro, but under another writer. But the actor wanted Scorsese to direct. Scorsese at the time didn’t have his heart in the film. However, De Niro did, and it was a big learning experience for the director. “I felt like it was a one-line gag,” said Scorsese about the pic, which follows a wannabe stand-up who stalks a late night talk show host in hopes of performing on his show. “He wants to be on TV so badly, he kidnaps a TV show host,” said Scorsese.
“But I missed what you saw, the burning need of the celebrity, the yearning to be famous, but famous for what?” said the director. The pic reminded him of the George Cukor film It Should Happen to You, about a young woman played by Judy Holliday who rents a billboard to advertise herself, and her life changes over night. Scorsese could see why the project spoke to De Niro, with the actor’s star wattage booming post Godfather II.
Scorsese and De Niro even met a real-life Rupert Pupkin-type prior to filming. They recalled a guy who wrote De Niro extensively, asking to have dinner with them. De Niro brought Scorsese over to the guy’s house for the experience. “I remember sitting on the guy’s bed in his bedroom and he’s living with his parents,” said the actor.
Scorsese remembered that King of Comedy came out “and we got killed (by the critics). There were these new popular shows like Entertainment Tonight that said that (the film) ‘blames the media. That’s outrageous!’ At that point, it was absolutely the wrong time to release a film after Raging Bull and Heaven’s Gate and Apocalypse Now. They expected, from our collaboration, something different. This was different, but they wanted another way.”
King of Comedy also repped, per Scorsese, the first time he worked with a big personality star, that being Jerry Lewis. One day on the set, Scorsese kept Lewis waiting around past midnight, and received a stern visit from the actor, who asked the director to give him a heads-up should the production go long and he wasn’t needed. “I thought ‘Oh, it’s not only about us,’” said Scorsese, indicating he was used to doing low-budget movies, working round the clock with his friends like De Niro.
“I began to understand about time and the physicality of the shoot,” said Scorsese, adding “the improv (in the film) went on for ages.” But time has been on the side of King of Comedy. Scorsese mentioned that, by 1990, film magazines were heralding the movie as one of 1980s’ best. “People now think it was a glorious hit, but it was reviled (when it opened). In Los Angeles, we were replaced by a film called Losin’ It,” added the director.
Scorsese showed a clip from Casino, and it was the moment where Joe Pesci’s Nicky Santoro meets up with De Niro’s Ace Rothstein in the desert and unloads a mouthful of curses on him; how he’s being too flamboyant in his oversee of the casino. Scorsese called Pesci’s tirade in the scene “like jazz.” Scorsese found Casino to be a version of Paradise Lost: “God gives them this paradise of sin, Las Vegas, and they can do anything and they screw it up. And they’re cast out of the paradise.”
More remember when: Scorsese recalled when producer Irwin Winkler brought some UA executives over to the apartment to talk about Raging Bull before it went into production. Apparently, they just wanted to talk about the pic with him and De Niro. One of the suits asked why they would want to be make a movie about boxer Jake La Motta. “‘This guy is a cockroach,” Scorsese recalled the exec saying. “Your reaction was articulate,” Scorsese told De Niro, “You said, ‘No, he’s not.’” And with that, production moved forward. Scorsese later learned from Winkler that the execs were coming over in an attempt to shut-down Raging Bull.
At the end of today’s talk, De Niro was asked by an audience member if he still auditions.
“I have readings of movies,” said the the two-time Oscar winner, a process which enables him to feel out a director and a project. “But traditional readings like that, not for a long time.”