That was our conundrum when we sat down with Robert De Niro as he promoted the thriller 'Limitless' (an apropos title, seeing the number of topics we were allowed to bring up to the two-time Oscar winner).
It would be easy simply to revisit one of the greatest acting careers of all time, seeing as how De Niro received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes and how this year marks the 35th anniversary of 'Taxi Driver.' But the actor, at 67, only looks forward, and 'Limitless' is a prime example of that.
De Niro plays Carl Van Loon, a Rupert Murdoch–type business mogul betting on hot shot Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), who becomes the toast of Wall Street while using an experimental drug that has caused his I.Q. to soar. De Niro only has around 15 minutes of screen time. As with Robert Rodriguez's 'Machete' last year, De Niro took the role not for the size of the part, but because he was interested in the filmmaker -- in this case director Neil Burger ('The Illusionist'), with whom De Niro hopes to team someday in a much larger capacity.
But don't let De Niro's string of supporting roles and comedies like 'Little Fockers' fool you -- he's not short on pet projects. There's his next film with Martin Scorsese, 'The Irishman' (based on the book 'I Hear You Paint Houses') in which he'll co-star with Al Pacino and Joe Pesci and play Frank Sheeran, the prime suspect in Jimmy Hoffa's murder. There's talk of an ambitious Scorsese collaboration which De Niro compares to Fellini's '8 1/2.' And there's always the possibility that he'll find time to direct another movie.
Moviefone was the only online outlet to have a one-on-one sitdown with De Niro. We touched on these topics and others while chatting in the swanky Trump SoHo on his home turf of Lower Manhattan earlier this month.
Moviefone: So you didn't get involved with 'Limitless' until it was in pre-production?
Robert De Niro: Bradley [Cooper] obviously was attached to it, and Neil got in touch with me and we talked about it. I read the script and we talked some more and I had some thoughts, I can't even remember what they were, and then he went back with [screenwriter] Leslie [Dixon] and they worked on it more. I wish [the character] had more, so they tried, but you have to do that carefully because if you overdo it then it throws the story out of whack, it's not as easy of a problem to solve.
From what I've learned, Carl was a combination of two characters.
Yes. And the character has to work within the whole piece, if there's too much then you have to cut it out anyway [in editing], so that's no good, that's a waste of time and money and energy, so it was trying to figure out how Carl could fit into the whole story.
Is it rare that you'll come onto a project when it's that far along?
It happens a lot. And I'll read it and we'll work on it, or I'll just like it and it's fine, but it depends. Everything is different. And it's also about who else is in the film. But with this I had seen Neil's film 'The Illusionist' and I liked it and I thought he did a good job, so I wanted to work with him. I liked the character of Carl and I met Bradley and liked him, so it was a combination.
And you and Neil are trying to get another project off the ground?
We have something else that we're talking about. We're in the talking phase, so we'll see what happens.
Will we see you back directing anytime soon?
I've been talking with Eric [Roth] for a long time about doing a sequel to 'The Good Shepherd' where it would cover '61 with the Bay of Pigs and the Berlin Wall going up to '89 with the Wall coming down, that period of time. And if I wanted to do another one, it would be from the Wall coming down to the present.
God knows if that will happen. But I would really love to do that.
Is there a start date yet for 'The Irishman'?
There's no start date because Marty has a movie called 'Silence' that he wants to do first. He's been wanting to do it for years. So once he gets that locked in, then we can have an idea of when we can start.
But you and Pesci and Pacino are still locked in to star?
Are you and Scorsese still toying with the idea of making a Fellini-like side project to 'The Irishman' that looks at your collaboration?
That was Eric Roth's idea, and it's a tricky one. I wanted to do it, I just don't know if it's going to happen now. Maybe. It still might, I don't know. It was very ambitious to have this idea of using some footage from 'The Irishman' while also shooting another script that kind of plays on the history of Hollywood and me and Marty's collaboration in that history, but it sort of lost steam at one point. Maybe it will come back, because I thought the idea was great.
With maybe doing a project that highlights your work with Scorsese along with your Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes and your Tribeca Film Festival celebrating its 10th year, have you taken time to pause and think about your contribution to the arts?
Well, what am I going to do? Sit down at home and think? I'd rather sit home and read, which is what I do. [laughs] I like to keep busy, and especially as you get older you realize that if you don't get started on something now three years will be here before you know it and then that's it. So you have to set up what you want to do because time flies.
Are there roles that interest you now that earlier in your career you would never have touched?
I think theater. I've been thinking about plays, like Eugene O'Neill. But there's a lot of work doing a play. Usually it's eight performances and that's a lot, it's a commitment of time.
If there was one role from your career you could reprise again, which one would it be?
Because I didn't like how I did it the first time? [laughs]
Well, I was thinking more because you liked doing it so much that you'd want to play that character again?
Well, we're talking about doing another 'Midnight Run,' and that was a character that I liked a lot. They're working on it, and that's something that I would have fun doing.
Would Charles Grodin come back, too?
I don't know. I think it would be his son is in trouble, and now I'm doing him this favor to get his son out of trouble.
And I think it was 10 or 15 years ago I asked Marty and Paul Schrader if they'd want to explore the idea of where Travis Bickle would be today. I think Paul may have even written a script or a treatment, but we didn't get excited enough. That's one I always felt would be interesting to go back and play.
'Taxi Driver' is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Do you still get the same rush for projects today that you did back with 'Taxi Driver' and 'Raging Bull'?
I do. Some projects you start out from the beginning, like those you mentioned, and I have projects like that now. They take years to develop and go through many transformations, all for good reasons. Marty and I were going to do another project until I read this book 'I Hear You Paint Houses' and I said, "Marty, you need to read this, this is what we should do." I'm very excited to make 'The Irishman.'