Yeah, we’re talking to you. As he tears up the screen with Jason Statham in Killer Elite, we reveal some rare fact-gold about one of Hollywood’s greatest actors...
1. De Niro gets his perfectionism from his father. Robert De Niro Sr was an acclaimed Expressionist painter who studied his subjects in depth and repainted canvases hundreds of times. A 2004 biography claimed Robert Sr – who split from his wife when Robert Jr was two – was actually gay and had affairs with Tennessee Williams and Jackson Pollock.
2. Growing up in New York’s Little Italy – a few blocks away from Martin Scorsese – he was nicknamed ‘Bobby Milk’ for his pale skin. He and Marty saw each other several times in the neighborhood, but never spoke until being introduced at a party in 1972. One year later, Mean Streets began their eight-movie (so far) director/star collaboration.
3. De Niro won his first big role aged 10, playing the Cowardly Lion in his school’s production of The Wizard Of Oz. But how about the big-screen breakout De Niro performance that you haven’t seen? Bang The Drum Slowly, released in the same year as Mean Streets, in which his turn as a dying baseball catcher wowed critics.
4. De Niro was the last star to see comedian John Belushi alive. He visited his friend at 3am at LA’s Chateau Marmont hotel on 5 March 1982 but left shortly afterwards, discovering him jacked up on cocaine and heroin. Around midday, Belushi was found dead from an accidental overdose.
5. Best Supporting Actor for The Godfather Part II and Best Actor for Raging Bull are De Niro’s only two Oscars. He was nominated for Taxi Driver (lost to Peter Finch in Network), The Deer Hunter (lost to Jon Voight for Coming Home), Awakenings (lost to Jeremy Irons in Reversal Of Fortune) and Cape Fear (lost to Anthony Hopkins in Silence Of The Lambs).
6. De Niro wants you over for dinner. He owns several restaurants, but his favourite is TriBeCa Grill in New York, frequently patronised by the man himself and decorated with his father’s paintings. Still haven’t had your fill? Check out De Niro’s own personal archive of scripts, costumes and props at the University Of Texas in Austin.
7. Movies turned down by De Niro include In The Line Of Fire (John Malkovich’s villain), The Departed (Martin Sheen’s cop), The Last Temptation Of Christ (Willem Dafoe’s Jesus), Do The Right Thing (Danny Aiello’s pizza-seller), Any Given Sunday (Al Pacino’s coach), Big (Tom Hanks' adult), Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty’s lead), Home Alone (Joe Pesci’s burglar) and Misery (James Caan’s writer).
8. De Niro has four sons by three women. His married actress Diahnne Abbott (Taxi Driver, New York New York, The King Of Comedy) dated African-America model Toukie Smith and is currently hitched to ex-flight-attendant turned socialite Grace Hightower (who pops up as a social worker in Precious).
9. Grinding down his teeth (Cape Fear), working as a cabbie (Taxi Driver), learning the saxophone (New York, New York), eating ice cream and spaghetti to bulk on 60lbs (Raging Bull)... De Niro’s Method madness is legendary. But he lost the World Record for ‘Most weight gained for a movie’ to Vincent D’Onofrio, who flabbed on 70lbs for Full Metal Jacket.
10. Since his 1968 debut in Brian DePalma’s Greetings, there have been only five separate years when De Niro hasn’t released a movie. His work-rate continues to be phenomenal. He starred in three movies in 2010, appears in four in 2011 and has four more out in 2012. He'll be 69 years old on 17 August 2012 (also Sean Penn's birthday) and shows no signs of stopping.
Killer Elite opens in the UK on Friday, September 23