What’s Christmas like at Robert De Niro’s house
Los Angeles—What is Christmas like in the home of one of the greatest actors of all time? “I know people who sing Christmas carols at their house, and that’s really sweet and great,” Robert De Niro answered in this recent interview.
“It’s nice,” added Robert who has won two Oscars and two Golden Globes and earned many nominations. “I once went to somebody’s house, and they were all singing. I said, ‘Gee, this is a great tradition.’ It’s alien to me, but I liked it.”
“For Christmas, we just give presents,” the actor said about the holidays in his New York house. “It’s chaotic. The little one is running and opening the presents that she shouldn’t and that aren’t hers. Christmas is a good time of the year.”
That “little one” is his daughter and sixth child, Helen Grace, 5 years old, who was born via surrogate. Robert married his second wife, Grace Hightower, in 1997.
The 73-year-old plays an aging comic in Taylor Hackford’s “The Comedian,” so the conversation centered on humor.
Excerpts from our talk:
Does comedy come naturally to you? My mother always thought I was funny. It started from that (laughs).
How would you describe your humor? I have a sense of humor about things, especially when things don’t look so good, for certain reasons. What else can you do?
You are not referring to Donald Trump’s election, are you? That is a surreal nightmare at this point. But I’m hoping that even though we perceive him all to be what he is, he will actually make some good choices about things. And that he might do stuff that we’ll all be surprised about and give him the benefit of the doubt. So, we will see.
Don’t you think Hollywood contributed in a way to Trump’s emergence? Yeah, he was on “The Apprentice” for all those years. It was a success. I think that actually helped him. It’s pretty scary that a TV reality show gets you that. It’s crazy.
Can you talk about getting up onstage in a comedy club? Was that the one thing that still intimidated you? In comedy, you learn from heartaches. And what I understand, you learn from hard experiences, too, because you’re up there by yourself, and it’s moment to moment. When people aren’t laughing, it’s tough to deal with that.
I worked with Jessica Kirson and Lewis Friedman. Jessica is a wonderful comedian. I was very lucky to have her help me. She teaches comedy, too. She told me about going onstage and to not be afraid to fail. Just go in and do it. You might die, but that’s OK. It’s a real masochistic kind of thing in some ways.
I rehearsed at The Comedy Cellar a lot. It was good when I got a good reaction. The extras that I got—if you tell them the joke once or twice, they will laugh. After that, it’s like, we heard it. So I said to Taylor, “Have the extras laugh, even if they don’t want to, because it helps me.” And they did—it changed the whole feeling. Otherwise, it’s flat. You need that interaction with the audience.
What did receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama mean to you? I was honored to receive it and with all the other people, especially in that company. And that Obama had thought of me, because I don’t know when I will be there again. You never know.
How did you feel when your accomplishments were read aloud? Proud. I had my wife and a few of my kids there. It was very nice and moving for everybody. And especially since it was the last time Obama could do it.
What was going on in your mind in that moment? I thought, how the hell could I be getting this? Lucky me. That’s it.
How many times have you met President Obama? I knew him a little. I met him once or twice before. I made a speech in New Jersey about nine years ago, because I was worried. I was like, whatever I can do to help to make sure he gets at least nominated. I didn’t know him well.
Over the years, we’d go to the White House from time to time, or meet in New York. But we don’t sit down and have raucous laughter in our conversations together. Maybe we will someday, but not now.
What did you think about being part of the mannequin challenge when you were there at the White House? Did you know what it was about? I didn’t quite understand it. I saw that there were a bunch of athletes at the White House that did it earlier. Then, they were doing like a panorama shot in the White House, so I just stood there. Then, I saw that everybody was still, so I hope I did the right thing.
You have inspired so many actors. Who inspires you? I was always inspired by Marlon Brando, James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Elia Kazan and, today, Paul Thomas Anderson. I think he is a terrific director. Daniel Day-Lewis is a wonderful actor. And Sean Penn who is also a friend, Leonardo DiCaprio—and there are actors that I’m leaving out. Cate Blanchett is a wonderful actress. Meryl Streep, obviously.
You’re working all the time. Do you also wish that you aren’t working, just going somewhere and being away from it all? I like to do that, too.
If that happens, what would you like to do? I have my family, my kids. I have many things to do and other hobbies. I’m fine, but I like to keep busy—because after a certain age, there is nothing.
How important is it for you to also have Italian citizenship? (He is also an American citizen.) Maybe it’s more important now.
And having an Italian passport? It’s an alternative.
You are blessed with six children. Is being a father the best job? Well, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done—my kids, the best creation—that’s for sure.
Do you see elements of you in them? Of course I do. I do another thing, I look back in time and ask myself, was so and so born then? No, so that didn’t happen then. I look chronologically at everything based on the ages of my kids, because that is real. They were born on those dates. So the other thing happened before or after—I do that a lot.
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