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Robert De Niro  

Though he has never consistently ranked as one of the industry's most popular or highly paid stars, Robert De Niro is recognized as one of Hollywood's most well-respected actors. A Method Actor from the beginning, De Niro partially built his fame on the lengths to which he would go to immerse himself in his roles. Although his prolific career has been checkered with hits and misses, his performances have remained consistently solid. Unlike some other much higher profile actors who draw from their own experiences or always allow something of themselves to remain visible in their roles, DeNiro becomes his characters, revealing nothing about himself in the process.

Born August 17, 1943 in New York City to a family of artists, De Niro was named after his father, who was a poet, sculptor, and painter. The actor's mother, Virginia Admiral, was also a painter, and was divorced from the his father shortly after De Niro's birth. Growing up in Little Italy, De Niro was a small, shy child whose scrawniness earned him the nickname "Bobby Milk." His acting debut came at the age of ten when he played the Cowardly Lion in a production of The Wizard of Oz. Following this debut, De Niro abandoned the theatre in favor of involvement with a small-time street gang, but the siren's song of his first paycheck for his performance in Chekov's The Bear called him back to acting at the age of sixteen. After training with Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, De Niro launched his professional career on stage, working on and off Broadway, in dinner theatre, and in the occasional television commercial.

The actor made his first film appearance as an extra in Marcel Carné's Trois Chambres a Manhattan (1965). The following year, he successfully auditioned for a small speaking part in The Wedding Party (1966). During filming, De Niro was befriended by one of the co-directors, Brian De Palma, who provided the young actor with his first leading part as a draft dodger in Greetings (1966). Unfortunately, the film was a flop, failing to find much of an audience. The same was true of De Niro's third film, Sam's Song (1969) (which was re-cut and re-released as The Swap a decade later to exploit De Niro's popularity). It was actress Shelley Winters, aquatinted with De Niro since they studied with Adler, who provided him with his first break by casting him as her drug-addicted, dim-witted son in the low-budget film Bloody Mama (1970). Though something less than a towering cinematic achievement, the film began open doors for De Niro in Hollywood. He continued appearing in low-rent roles until he was cast opposite Michael Moriarty in the moving Bang the Drum Slowly in 1973; his portrayal of a simple-minded professional baseball player suffering from Hodgkins disease earned him "Best Supporting Actor" kudos from the New York Film Critics. That same year the actor enjoyed another critical triumph with his role as the volatile, deeply troubled Johnny Boy opposite Harvey Keitel in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, and the film marked the beginning of De Niro's long and celebrated association with the director.

The actor's next big break came the subsequent year whenFrancis Ford Coppola cast him as the young Don Corleone (originally played by Marlon Brando) in the acclaimed The Godfather Part II. For his subtle, multi-layered portrayal (his flawless accent came from hours of studying and practicing a Sicilian dialect), De Niro received his first Oscar for "Best Supporting Actor." In 1976, he courted further acclaim in Scorsese's Taxi Driver as tortured loner Travis Bickle, a role he prepared for by spending days in New York cabs observing the drivers. The film, and De Niro's portrayal of Bickle, became one of the most celebrated of the actor's career, and established him as one of the decade's rawest and most compelling new talents. He followed up Taxi Driver with New York, New York (1977), another Scorsese collaboration that saw De Niro play struggling musician Jimmy Doyle opposite Liza Minnelli; although the director's uneven attempt at a noirish Hollywood musical was greeted with a lukewarm reception, De Niro's work as Doyle helped to broaden his range beyond the confines of crime-oriented films .

De Niro encountered greater acclaim in 1978 for his riveting performance as a steelworker whose life is irrevocably changed by his experiences in Vietnam in Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter. He then won another Oscar in 1980 for his performance as self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta in Scorsese's powerful Raging Bull. This film is the one most frequently cited when people try to explain the lengths De Niro goes to to get into character; in this case, the actor gained 50 pounds to portray LaMotta in his seedy old age.

Following this tremendous success, De Niro continued to do some of the best work of his career in collaboration with Scorsese. He received particular acclaim for his work in the director's Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995), both of which are widely held to contain De Niro's strongest work of the 1990s. However, the actor did turn down his friend for what could have been a career-altering role: in the late '80s, Scorsese approached De Niro with the opportunity to star in the lead role in The Last Temptation of Christ. Ever a Method disciple, De Niro reportedly declined the offer, saying that he couldn't possibly do adequate research for the part. Ironically, the actor did accept Alan Parker's offer to play Lucifer (also known as Louis Cyphre) in the director's violent noir mystery Angel Heart (1987). To prepare for the three scenes he was to appear in, De Niro grew long hair and a beard and read the biographies of some of history's more evil men. Later, Parker talked about his experience working with the actor, saying "When De Niro walks on the set, you can feel his presence, but he never behaves like a movie star, just an actor. And when he acts, his sheer concentration permeates the whole set." Parker additionally stated that working with De Niro could be was a little exhausting, as the actor was constantly coming up with questions, suggestions, and new ideas.

During the remainder of the '80s the early '90s, De Niro played a wide range of roles in films of markedly divergent quality. He turned in some of his most thought-provoking performances in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Martin Brest's Midnight Run (1988), and Penny Marshall's Awakenings (1990). Though best known as a serious dramatic actor, De Niro has occasionally experimented with widely different roles, including a turn as the Creature in Kenneth Branagh's universally panned Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and his part as a bumbling, chronically stoned ex-con in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown (1997). In the late 1990s, De Niro continued to display his talents in a number of diverse films, including the 1997 Cop Land, the widely-acclaimed action piece Ronin (1998), the lavish 1998 adaptation of Great Expectations, and the 1999 comedy Analyze This, in which he drew raves for his performance a neurotic mob boss. The surprising capacity for comedic work that De Niro displayed in the latter film was again demonstrated -- to great critical and commerical delight -- in Jay Roach's Meet the Parents (2000), which cast the actor as the exceedingly overprotective father of a young woman (Teri Polo) who brings her unwitting boyfriend (Ben Stiller) home for a weekend to meet her family.

De Niro also branched out into directing and producing in 1989 with the foundation of his Tribeca Film Center. He made his debut as a producer with Neil Jordan's remake of Michael Curtiz's superior 1955 comedy We're No Angels. Despite a lavish budget and an elaborate set (with rural British Columbia standing in for New England), the film bombed, and De Niro, who also starred opposite Sean Penn, was derided for giving a hammy performance. He made an admirable directorial debut in 1993 with his sensitive adaptation of Chazz Palminteri's one-character play A Bronx Tale, and the same year executive-produced the innovative and critically-acclaimed television anthology series Tribeca, which unfortunately failed to capture an audience and was cancelled after only seven episodes. Since then, De Niro has continued to serve as a producer on such projects as the made-for-TV Witness to the Mob (1998) and the 1999 film Entropy. That same year found De Niro poking fun at his tough guy image with a role as a stressed-out mobster in need of a shrink (Analyze This), and continuing the humorous trend into 2000 with roles in The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Meet the Parents.

In addition to his entertainment industry commitments, De Niro created and co-owns the Tribeca Grill, which is located on the first two floors of his lower-Manhattan film center (which in turn is located in an historic coffee distribution building) and is decorated with his father's artwork.

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