On the heels
of the broadcast of his Kennedy Center Honors (along with
Bruce Springsteen, Dave Brubeck, Mel Brooks, and Grace Bumbry),
legendary actor Robert De Niro can be seen on the silver screen
again. While he's being lauded for past laurels, he's also garnering
kudos for his latest film, Everybody's Fine, a comparatively
modest work that has recently been released after making a festival
circuit tour – most recently it had a special feature screening at
the 2009 Denver Film Festival.
Oscar-winning director Guiseppe Tornatore's 1990 hit Italian film,
Stanno tutti bene (which starred Marcello Mastroianni as an
Italian bureaucrat on a veritable travelogue across Italy in search
of his adult children), English director Kirk Jones transfers the
story to the States and De Niro.
67-year-old actor plays retired widower Frank Goode who used to
string telephone wire – a job that encouraged interaction – but is a
guy not good at communicating or even knowing what's going on with
his kids. When his wife was alive she handled his quartet of kids;
now, as adults, they are spread across the country, so Frank goes on
a surprise tour to re-connect with them.
narrative falls flat at times, De Niro makes up for it with his
passion and understanding of his character. The interplay between
him and the trio of actors playing his kids – Drew Barrymore, Sam
Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale – is authentic and affecting. A
great turn this late in his career; De Niro shows a softer side and
redeems himself for some of his recent, lesser movies.
Ever since he
established himself through his breakout performance in 1973's
Bang the Drum Slowly, De Niro has racked up quite a track record
of cinematic achievements – culminating in various Oscar nominations
and two wins. In '74, De Niro received an Academy Award for best
supporting actor for his role in The Godfather: Part II and
won Best Actor for Martin Scorsese's 1980 boxing film, Raging
Bull. The New York born and bred De Niro has made a unique
partnership with his fellow Italian American Scorsese, establishing
quite a catalogue together from 1973's Mean Streets to the
two Oscar noms for best actor in two of Scorsese's greatest films,
Taxi Driver (1976) and Cape Fear (1991).
1993 De Niro made his directorial debut with the touching A Bronx
Tale and directed the epic CIA historical, The Good Shepherd.
Now De Niro heads his own production company, owns various
restaurants and other real estate in lower Manhattan, and, in
response to the 9/11 attack, co-founded the Tribeca Film Festival.
At least in
Everybody's Fine, he neither plays a character that kills
someone or plays a parody of Robert De Niro as either a crook or
cop. Instead, he has made a seasonally appropriate movie about a
parent's loss and the enduring relationship with his adult children.
Niro to speak on much of anything is a bit of trick – not unlike his
character in this film. So when a crop of journalists sat down for
an Everybody's Fine press conference with director Jones and
actor Sam Rockwell and this the veteran New Yorker, they were
deferred to Jones unless they were directly addressed to him (and
Rockwell wasn't asked much anyway). Fortunately, enough questions
were asked to produce some decent answers, but nobody will ever call
Bob De Niro longwinded...
you get involved with the process of making this film?
Kirk and I had
a meeting and he told me the story and what it was based on. He had
photos of the whole project – the traveling across the country – and
I was impressed with how passionate he was about the project. I
could see that he was special and doesn't do movies often. This will
have been his third [after two long hiatus between each of his other
films, Nanny McPhee and Waking Ned Devine]. So that
informed me obviously [about how] he cares so much. I saw the
original [Italian film] and [Kirk's] other two movies, and then I
read the script. We then just decided when to do it.
your personal life affect the roles you pick and the way you play
related to Frank and drew on my own experiences like I do in all my
parts. You draw on whatever's relevant to the part you're playing;
it makes it more personal. There was a lot here of course. I have
five children, and two grandchildren. But also, going back to Kirk
being the director and his caring [about the project], that's the
anchor of the whole thing [here]. That's really, really important.
important than the role itself?
It's not more important but it's equally as important. He has to
steer the ship. It's his baby, so he's got to make choices and all
that. I put myself in his hands so to speak.
the original Italian movie; how did you relate to the Marcello
Mastroianni character? What do each of the fathers have in common?
It was just a
different type of movie. I love Mastroianni. Since I was kid I
always watched his movies. He's been in great films – part of the
great Italian tradition, obviously. But it was a different thing,
totally. Kirk made it his own. The structure was there and all that
stuff. But it was totally different.
the most moving moments in the film are when we see Frank's
telephone calls to his kids. When was the last time you heard a busy
signal? Do you get nostalgic for those times or are you into the
twitter. Somebody told me about it. I didn't know what it was.
How do you
feel about new technology?
I only know
how to use a computer. I don't even know how good I am at it. I
slowly use the little things and get emails and look at videos on
the computer and use an iPhone. I guess I use it adequately.
anything in this movie remind you of an experience you had with your
own father – after all he was a major abstract expressionist painter
– or as a father with your own children?
My father was
pretty easy on me about what I wanted to do, to be an actor and
stuff like that. My grandfather was much more strict, more
old-school, old time Italian than my father ever was. That was my
impression of him. My father came from that to New York City to get
away from certain things and they raised me kind of easily. The fact
that I wanted to be an actor, well, that was okay with them and my
father. I try not to be too strict with my kids because certain
things they have to do. But at the same time I don't want them to
get away with anything. I think I try to rationalize with them, and
argue; "Now look I'm very good with you about certain things unless
you do this. You have to now do this. That's only fair." Of course,
there are times when that stuff doesn't work. I'm not the
all-knowing, all-seeing... But in general it works pretty good.
mean like the curfew kind of things?
I don't put a
curfew – you know, [tell them] "do this" – I'm flexible with certain
things that the kids have to do. It's not like a curfew where they
have to go to sleep at a certain time.
approach your comedic work differently than your dramatic work?
Well, this is
a more gentle sort of comedy than say Meet the Parents. It's
more of a dramedy.
worked on every scale of film from mega-productions to an
indie-budgeted one like this film, as a producer, director or an
actor. What's the difference in working in indies versus large
difference is you have more time. When you have more – just a lot
more – then there are a lot more people on the set, a lot more
trucks, [and such]. It's a big production. I don't know. I mean,
making movies that are very simple, ultimately – I always wonder
when I walk around a big movie and you see all these trucks and this
and that. I think, "Just to get this, you've got to get all these
people." Of course, those are only certain movies that do that. It
was good. This to me is a normal time to shoot. I think we shot
eight weeks? So eight weeks is a pretty good schedule. It's an
independent film. An independent is going to be less than what goes
on this film I think. It costs less to make. And a shorter schedule,
like five weeks. Four weeks.
Will you be
doing more films like this?
Do you have
some things in mind?
a deal with CBS for three pilots to be shot in New York City. What
kind of shows do you watch and will we see you taking a part on
Maybe. I don't
watch much TV other than the news. Really I'm busy and I'd rather be
reading and doing stuff. There's good television. I just don't watch
a lot of it.
your interests are in producing?
producing these shows. That's good. But to this point – and once
those start happening I will watch them. Work on them. But in
general before that, I'm not that tuned in to television and such.
But there's a lot of good stuff.
We're doing a
third one – Meet the Little Fockers.
built a career on playing tough guys, gangsters, police officers.
How important is it to you to do something different, something
softer? Do you think about how people perceive you from movie to
movie; does that concern you at all?
people do that and sometimes I play off that because it's a certain
thing you do – you can make fun of it in certain movies. Like in
Meet the Little Fockers, it's also titled The Godfocker.
And I asked Greg [Glienna, one of the writers] – because I have a
feeling if something happens to me – will he [De Niro's character
Jack Byrnes] be the Godfocker?
dealt with a lot of adversity. You've overcome 9/11 nearly
devastating your beloved Tribeca. How do you deal with it?
adversity are you talking about?
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