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Robert De Niro

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Arguably the most impressive actor working in films today, De Niro has managed to limn a whole gallery of fascinating, fully developed characters while exposing very little of himself. His willingness to submerge himself totally in any part-even to the point of physical metamorphosis-accounts for much of his success, but De Niro's passion, intensity, and animal magnetism come through in every film assignment he's undertaken, giving his screen performances a welcome consistency regardless of the role he's playing. The son of New York artists, De Niro studied acting with Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler and toiled, like many of their students, in off-Broadway theatrical productions. He made early screen appearances in Greetings (1968) and The Wedding Party (1969, but made in 1963), lowbudget films directed by Brian De Palma, and took roles in Hi, Mom!, Bloody Mama (both 1970), Jennifer on My Mind, Born to Win and The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight (all 1971) before getting plum roles in 1973's Bang the Drum Slowly (as a mentally deficient, terminally ill ballplayer) and Mean Streets (as an irresponsible street tough in his first film for director Martin Scorsese). De Niro's breakthrough role was that of the young Vito Corleone in the flashback sequences of The Godfather, Part II (1974), which won him a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award and brought him to the attention of moviegoers, who were captivated by his mature, subtly nuanced performance. He carried a major film for the first time as charismatic movie producer Monroe Stahr in The Last Tycoon (1976), Elia Kazan's adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, and riveted audiences as a borderline-psychotic cabbie with a messianic complex in Scorsese's harrowing Taxi Driver that same year, earning his first Best Actor nomination. New York, New York (1977), Scorsese's attempt to make a glamorous Hollywood musical, paired De Niro with Liza Minnelli. The Deer Hunter (1978), gave him a great (if somewhat enigmatic) character in the Pennsylvania steelworker who joins the Green Berets during the Vietnam War; his outstanding performance earned him critical raves and another Oscar nod. Raging Bull (1980) reunited him with Scorsese. Cast as prizefighter Jake La Motta, De Niro threw himself into role preparation with his customary vigor, bulking up not only for the fight scenes, but gaining a full 40 pounds to play the middle-aged, out-of-shape La Motta as a cabaret owner. A masterpiece of naturalistic screen acting, his portrayal won him a Best Actor Oscar. Even given the success he's achieved on his own, De Niro is at his best when teamed with Scorsese, who has a gift for eliciting jaw-dropping performances from his star, as witness The King of Comedy (1983, as wannabe comic Rupert Pupkin), GoodFellas (1990, as coldblooded gangster Jimmy Conway), and Cape Fear (1991, Oscar-nominated again as sadistic ex-con Max Cady). De Niro eschews the conventional in his choice of roles; even in a buddy movie like Midnight Run (1988), he brings an added dimension to his parts. He's certainly not afraid to go over the top, as he did with tongue-in-cheek playing the sinister Louis Cyphre in Alan Parker's Angel Heart (1987) and as Chicago mob kingpin Al Capone in De Palma's The Untouchables (1987). And no one on the screen today can match him for depicting inner conflict, as he did so well in Jacknife (1989), playing a Vietnam vet whose eccentricity and corny humor mask a seriously wounded psyche. It's precisely those traits that make him the most compulsively watchable male star currently working. After delivering a harrowing performance as a small-minded bully in This Boy's Life (1993), De Niro took the plunge and directed his first feature film (in which he also costarred), the well-received A Bronx Tale (also 1993). He then played the Creature in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994) and reteamed with Scorsese-the eighth time-for Casino (1995). OTHER FILMS INCLUDE: 1981: True Confessions 1984: Once Upon a Time in America, Falling in Love 1985: Brazil 1986: The Mission 1989: We're No Angels (also executive produced); 1990: Stanley & Iris, Awakenings (Oscar-nominated); 1991: Guilty by Suspicion, Backdraft 1992: Mistress (also coproduced), Night and the City 1993: Mad Dog and Glory.
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