From Taxi Driver and The Godfather, to Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle, Robert De Niro is one of the most accomplished working actors alive today.
Never short on extracurricular activities (he and producing partner Jane Rosenthal just wrapped their 13th Tribeca Film Festival last month), De Niro’s latest project is a touching documentary about his father, Robert De Niro Sr. — a New York artist who was revered by his son, but struggled his whole life with being gay.
Although his father died 20 years ago from cancer, De Niro has been committed to preserving his legacy. The doc called Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro, Sr. premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and is set to air June 9 on HBO.
The 70-year-old actor recently opened up to Out about the relationship he had with his dad while giving the magazine a personalized tour of his father’s final home and art studio in Soho, which he maintains as if a working artist still lives there. “It was the only way to keep his being, his existence alive here,” he explained.
When it comes to his father’s sexuality, De Niro said it was something that his father was very conflicted about his whole life. “Yeah, he probably was [conflicted],” he told Out. “Being from that generation, especially from a small town upstate. I was not aware, much, of it,” adding that his family’s bottled up emotions were a product of the times. “I wish we had spoken about it much more. My mother didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age.”
Growing up, he and his father were distant. “We were not the type of father and son who played baseball together, as you can surmise,” he continued. “But we had a connection. I wasn’t with him a lot, because my mother and he were separated and divorced. As I say in the documentary, I looked after him in certain ways.”
Still, he learned from his father’s struggles. “Again, for my kids, I want them to stop and take a moment and realize that you sometimes have to do things now instead of later, because later may be 20 years from now — and that’s too late.”
When asked whether or not his dad’s sexuality influenced the roles he had played over the years, De Niro said, “No, [because] they weren’t offered to me. If they had been offered to me by a good director, that’s something I would have considered.”
The documentary, however, is one that he says he felt obligated to produce. “It was my responsibility to make a documentary about him,” he said. “I was always planning on doing it, but never did. Then Jane Rosenthal, my partner at Tribeca [Enterprises], said, ‘We should start doing that now.’ It was not intended to be on HBO. It was just something I wanted to do.”
By Jeremy Blacklow