The untold truth of Robert De Niro

Robert De Niro is a Hollywood icon. A regular on the A-list since the early '70s, he is, as The Guardian put it in 2019, "Able to wipe the floor with modern lightweights such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Daniel Day-Lewis."

While some critics have brazenly claimed that De Niro is a typecast mafioso, the performances the actor has delivered have almost always been met to critical acclaim (we're just going to forget that The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle ever happened). Indeed, as John Parker wrote in Robert De Niro — Portrait of a Legend, "It was ... characteristic of De Niro's performances that whatever he did involved repetition." Sure enough, that repetition works, and even looking at the New Yorker's 2019 effort in The Irishman, his on-screen gangster persona was yet again met with praise by moviegoers. "I am a perfectionist," the Taxi Driver star told The Guardian in 2018. "I always try to do as much research as possible for a role."

Recognized for playing strong silent types, it turns out De Niro is pretty much the same in real life. As his 2019 interview with The Guardian observed, although he's "not exactly monosyllabic, [he] spends as much time nodding with his distinctive pursed-mouth underbite and says as little as he can get away with." Known for disliking interviews, we've still managed to find some gems about this legendary A-list great. Here is the untold truth of Robert De Niro.

Robert De Niro was surrounded by creativity growing up

Robert De Niro is notoriously a private man. As Vanity Fair once explained, the Casino actor "categorically [refuses] to speak about his private life." So, what sort of upbringing did he have?

Well, as that same Vanity Fair profile revealed, De Niro was "born and raised in Greenwich Village." His father, also named Robert De Niro, was an abstract painter, while his mother, Virginia Admiral, was also an artist. As the mag further noted, "The De Niros were part of a loosely knit artistic community" — meaning the future star soaked up everything he saw. This surprisingly brought the Raging Bull actor to his first quite uncharacteristic role: as the Cowardly Lion in a local production of The Wizard of Oz

De Niro also saw his father as an inspiration. Sometime in his teens, he traveled to France to visit his dad, and as he told the New York Post (via Vanity Fair), "It was a nightmare [to see a parent struggle]." Musing to The Guardian in 2018, the star revealed, "I've realized how important it is to appreciate the things your parents leave behind. My father ... he died in 1993, I've kept his studio intact, just the way he left it."

Robert De Niro's secret baptism

While Robert De Niro's current religious beliefs and preferences remain under wraps due to the star's notoriously tight-lipped nature, the story of how he became a baptized Catholic is undoubtedly an unconventional one.

According to The Irish Post, De Niro's father came out as gay in 1945, causing his parents to swiftly separate. This left the future actor to be "raised by his atheist mother in Manhattan," while his "lapsed-Catholic father lived within walking distance." However, during a short transitional period after his parents' separation, De Niro was sent to stay with his grandparents in Syracuse, N.Y. As Andy Dougan's Untouchable: A Biography of Robert De Niro explained, it was during that time that his grandparents secretly baptized him a Roman Catholic — behind his parents' backs.

As his career later sore to stardom, De Niro became known for the "tough guy" roles he played, such as in Raging Bull or Taxi Driver. When fellow Italian-American, director Martin Scorsese, approached him with a chance to star as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ, it would have been a perfect opportunity for De Niro to explore his Catholic background — after all, Scorsese himself once thought about becoming a Catholic priest. As Untouchable noted, however, De Niro rejected the idea. "I was not interested in playing Christ. It's like playing Hamlet," the actor has been quoted as saying. "I just didn't want to do it."

Robert De Niro lived mere blocks away from a fellow industry great

Much like peanut butter and jelly or even salt and pepper, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro just seem to go together. Ever since they've both become Hollywood heavyweights, the pair's names can often be heard in the same breath, and although they've enjoyed a friendship together of over 40 years (via People), it turns out the duo may have been aware of one another even before their climb to the A-list.

As explained in Yannis Tzioumakis and Peter Krämer's collection of essays, The Hollywood Renaissance: Revisiting American Cinema's Most Celebrated Era, De Niro and Scorsese grew up in the same Greenwich Village neighborhood — only blocks apart. They would only officially meet years later at a party they were both invited to while Scorsese was still developing Mean Streets, realizing that "they had seen each other in various places growing up near New York's 14th Street, and that they had friends in common." Even back then, De Niro was notoriously reserved, yet as Scorsese's second wife, Julia Cameron, noticed at the time, the two quickly found themselves "engrossed in conversation."

De Niro later starred in Scorsese's Mean Streets, clearly marking the start of a beautiful friendship — both professional and personal. "I consider myself very lucky to have that long of a relationship with him," De Niro told People in 2020. "I can't imagine my life without it."

The Italian-American community isn't always fond of Robert De Niro

When the name Robert De Niro is mentioned, it conjures up scenes of gritty Brooklyn back alleys, double-breasted suits, and white-and-red-checkered trattorias. Of course, this is due to the widespread acknowledgment of the various mafioso characters the actor has portrayed on camera.

However, while the public has generally praised the star for his performances and even doled out countless awards, not everyone holds him in such high regard. In 2004, De Niro was set to receive an honorary Italian citizenship due to his heritage, yet was met with some restraint. Per The Guardian, the Washington-based group, The Order of the Sons of Italy in America, appealed to the Italian prime minister, claiming that the actor has "made a career of playing gangsters of Italian descent." So, which movie really set them off? Surprisingly enough, it wasn't a film involving fratricide, stabbings, and assassinations that instigated this backlash — it was 2004's animated film, Shark Tale. Uh... right. According to the organization, De Niro's role as a "classic godfather figure" shark "[damages] the collective reputations of both Italians and Italian-Americans," even going so far as to say that the film would paint all Italian-Americans "as gangsters to millions of children."

As for De Niro? He addressed the claims at the Venice Film Festival (via the Irish Examiner), retorting, "The characters I play are real. They are real. So they have as much right to be portrayed as any other characters."

Preparation for Taxi Driver involved becoming a taxi driver

It's no secret that Robert De Niro takes his craft very seriously. In fact, the actor has even butted heads with those that don't seem to agree with his methods of preparation. While filming 2019's Joker with Joaquin Phoenix, De Niro reportedly clashed with his fellow actor. According to Vanity Fair, the two found themselves disagreeing when it came to rehearsing for the movie, as director Todd Phillips recalled, "Joaquin's like, 'There's no f**king way I'm doing a read-through,' and Bob's like, 'I do read-throughs before we shoot, that's what we do.'"

However, as a self-proclaimed "perfectionist" when it comes to acting, the story of De Niro's role as Travis in Taxi Driver is bewildering. Per Page Six, this star reportedly worked 12 hour days as a cabbie to prepare for the role — definitely form-fitting for "the city that never sleeps." Years later, in 2014, The Taxi and Limousine Commission of New York tweeted out a photo of the actor's cab license, asking the public to come forward with stories of getting picked up by the legendary De Niro.

In a hilarious story retold by author Andrew J. Rausch in The Films of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, one passenger did recognize the prolific star, allegedly quipping at the time, "Well, that's acting. One year the Oscar — the next, you're driving a cab!"

Robert De Niro once had strong words to say to France

While Robert De Niro is no stranger to playing the role of various criminals, is it possible that his on-camera personas have bled into his real-world identity? Probably not, but this seemed to be the opinion of one particular French investigator while examining a case involving a prostitution ring. We'll explain.

As reported by BBC News, after arriving in Paris for a film shoot in February 1998, De Niro was quickly arrested and taken in "for nine hours of questioning." So, what did the case have to do with the Cape Fear star? Well, as the outlet revealed, the "magistrate wanted to speak to De Niro after his name was mentioned by one of the call girls" — the only piece of questionable "evidence" that tied the actor to the crime. Naturally, De Niro was released.

"I will never return to France," the admittedly "furious" New Yorker told the French newspaper, Le Monde (via BBC News). Although the actor was awarded "France's most prestigious decorations, the Legion of Honour" the year prior, it looked like De Niro didn't want anything to do with it anymore: "I don't see any reason why I should hang on to that thing which comes from a country which flouts its own motto 'liberty, equality, and fraternity.'" Eventually, time did heal De Niro's wounds, as he agreed to travel to the Cannes Film Festival in 2011 as president of the nine-member jury.

Robert De Niro paid to have ruined teeth

If driving a taxi around New York in preparation for a role isn't enough, perhaps the following will make you rethink any doubts on whether you recognize Robert De Niro as one of the most obsessive method actors of all time.

According to The Times, in order to get into the role of convicted rapist Max Cady in Martin Scorsese's 1991 thriller, Cape Fear, De Niro reportedly "paid a dentist $5,000 to grind down his teeth." Yikes! The importance of this aspect may be lost to the masses, as most stars just opt for professional cosmetic dentures, but the legendary method actor takes things seriously. "I always say that you try to use the elements of yourself that can be used in the character," De Niro explained to BBC Cinematic in 2019, adding, "In an actor term, make it your own or personalize it so that it gets more specific as long as it's within the character parameters."

Evidently, it wasn't lost to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as De Niro's Cape Fear performance landed him an Oscar nomination, with the film pulling in a massive $182 million at the box office worldwide. As for De Niro's teeth? The actor later splurged another $20,000 to get his pearly whites back to pristine condition.

Robert De Niro is the Raging Bull

Robert De Niro's preparation to get into the role of American boxer Jake La Motta in Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull is nothing to scoff at, as the film showcased the actor's most dramatic physical transformation to date.

Per Vanity Fair, De Niro's obsession with the movie came long before Scorsese's, as the director had zero interest in boxing. "I didn't know what the hell was going on," Scorsese dished to the mag, adding, "It was sports." Nevertheless, De Niro pressed on, captivated by the film's source material, Raging Bull: My Story. Finally, after a severe hospital scare, Scorsese agreed to go forward with the flick. "I couldn't understand Bob's obsession with it, until, finally, I went through that rough period of my own," the director mused.

Sure enough, De Niro dove into the project, training with La Motta himself for nearly a year. He had become so strong, in fact, that during a fight scene, the actor broke one of co-star Joe Pesci's ribs. But that wasn't all. The biggest shock to viewers upon watching Raging Bull was the fact that after all his boxing training, De Niro put on a whopping 60 pounds by allegedly eating pasta and "grand European dining" non-stop to portray an older La Motta, resulting in labored breathing for the star. As Vanity Fair explained, "Any sort of physical contortions an actor submits to for his art — that's something the public can relate to with headshaking amazement."

Robert De Niro was the victim of a bomb threat

While hit jobs and assassinations are common workplace events in the lives occupied by Robert De Niro's movie characters, it's definitely jarring to hear that they sometimes wiggle their way into the actor's real life, too.

In October 2018, a "suspicious package" addressed to the star was delivered to the seventh floor of 375 Greenwich Street, the location of De Niro's production company, where he organizes the Tribeca Film Festival, and his restaurant, Tribeca Grill, as reported by CNN. So, why would anyone want to blow up De Niro of all people? Well, the connection between De Niro and the various other bomb threats at the time is that they were all addressed to outspoken critics of President Donald Trump — a man whom De Niro holds in very low regard (to put it mildly).

As CNN reported, thankfully, the bomb was safely disarmed and nobody was injured in the process. "There's so many crazy people," De Niro told The New Yorker. "The state of the country is so terrible now ... I'm waiting for the bad dream to end."

There is an '80s song written about Robert De Niro

It's safe to say that we've all experienced our fair share of celebrity crushes, from the shrilling masses of *NSYNC in the late '90s to today's hordes of Beliebers. In fact, the particular image that comes to mind when we think of celeb crushes are posters plastering the walls of teenage girls' rooms. Well, in the '80s, a group of young girls went beyond the typical crooning and fan mail and took it a step further — they wrote a song about Robert De Niro.

So, who were they? None other than UK singers Bananarama, more so known for hits like "Cruel Summer," or "Venus." Their hit about the iconic actor, "Robert De Niro's Waiting," actually peaked at number three on the UK singles chart — even catching the attention of the star in question.

In The Guardian's 2017 interview with the band, singer Sara Dallin dished, "At the time, our favorite actors were Al Pacino and De Niro, but obviously Robert De Niro scanned better," adding that after the song's release, the Goodfellas star invited the trio for drinks in Soho. As Dallin revealed of the meetup, "De Niro was quite shy." Are any of us even surprised?

A Robert De Niro friendship that spans decades

When you think of legendary Italian-American actors, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are two names that quickly come to mind. Although their on-screen history together spans decades, the off-screen history of these two is even longer.

In an interview with The Guardian, Pacino revealed that the two men first met in 1968, back when Pacino was still a stage actor and De Niro had his hands full with "wacky" indie flicks. "Early on in our careers, we connected from time to time and we found we had similar things happening to us," Pacino said, noting that it was "camaraderie" that brought them together. "We're really close," the actor gushed, adding, "We don't see each other very much, but when we do, we found we shared certain things."

Since the late '60s, these actors have been as close as can be. Sitting together during a GQ interview in 2019, the mag noted that Pacino is "visibly protective" of his friend of 50 years. "We get together. And there's a trust there. There just is," the Scarface legend mused. Sure enough, once the interview was over, both men got up and poignantly embraced. As Pacino said to De Niro, "I love you," it was apparent that his notoriously tight-lipped pal felt the same way — with no words needed.

Yes, Robert De Niro is worth just as much as you'd think

Robert De Niro wouldn't be the industry heavyweight he is today if it wasn't for his dedication to his craft. "De Niro is a number of things all at once," director Elia Kazan once mused to Vanity Fair. "He finds release and fulfillment in becoming other people. That is his pleasure, his joy. He's found his solution for living — in work. I've never seen a guy who worked as hard.

So, what does the Mean Streets star do when he's not acting? Well, with a reported net worth of $500 million, he doesn't have to do anything — yet for De Niro, it looks like staying busy is a passion. According to CNN, in 1994, the A-lister co-founded what would later become a highly-successful restaurant chain, Nobu, "an upmarket Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant." By 2018, De Niro, along with co-founders chef Nobuyuki "Nobu" Matsuhisa and entrepreneur Meir Teper, "[had] 39 restaurants and eight luxury hotels across five continents."

If that's not all, the actor also co-owns the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca. Clearly, De Niro's two passions are film and hospitality, something he touched upon to CNN in 2018. "They're creative in different ways," he explained, before perfectly summarizing, "If you are ever lucky enough to have anything be successful ... make sure you don't short change yourself."