INT: Robert DeNiro
Having been a longtime fan of the Robert De Niro, I could not help but feel giddy with the anticipation of meeting one of the worlds most famous and admired actors alive. The two-time academy-award winning iconic actor has also gained great respect as a director and producer. He has achieved great success and gained critical acclaim for the portrayal of various iconic characters in numerous mobster films. He is a distinguished, handsome and refined artist who obviously takes great pride in his work. Having had a great passion and fascination for the CIA, De Niro showcases his talents by taking on the dual role of actor and director in his upcoming drama, THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
film is the epic drama of the birth and life of the CIA in
I had the surreal experience of interviewing one of my all-time favorite actors De Niro, as he talked about handpicking his all-star cast, the filming process of this intricate film, a possible part two and importance of revealing the life of the CIA in his soon to be released film, THE GOOD SHEPHERD.
*** BEWARE OF SPOILERS ***
Mr. De Niro, you are such an accomplished actor. When you direct do you encourage the actors to take on your own style or do you accept theirs?
I like to think that I they have to find it in their own way, so that would be the first thing and then the others but probably it doesnt surprise me if it creeps in how I would do it. So thats possible but they ultimately have to be the ones that are comfortable with what theyre doing.
This is only the second time youve directed a piece. But there have been discussions about this film since 1998. I understood it was going to be a John Frankenheimer film but he couldnt get insurance and got sick and died at which point you took over. Can you tell us what compelled you to do this movie and why you think its important to tell this story in 21st century America?
John Frankenheimer he gave me the script and then he was trying to do it and I loved it and I was like what part can I play, this and that. And he was trying to get it done then I had met Eric son in the meantime and recommended him for another project we were working on plus I was working on this other script and I was consulting MiIt [Beardon] about it and I said to Eric, would you be interested in working on this and he said no. And somehow as time went on we agreed he said if you do the Good Shepard Ill do the second part if were so lucky and then I said ok and thats how it started. I remember I was with Milt in Moscow on one of these trips and then I said you know this is what I really want to do the movie about. The Cold War. So the other one was going more toward whats happening today and whats happened in the later period.
Why is this relevant for people today?
I know I am supposed to say I think its relevant - but I dont know if its relevant. I mean I know it happens to become relevant in certain ways because of whats happening and all the attention to the CIA in general. The only direct thing that I think of on the top of my head is the Abu Ghraib sort of thing in the interrogation scene? It was done through we researched it and looked for other things and that was also one that came to mind - plus it was so simple and effective and powerful and horrible that I felt it would be a good thing to use in this scene.
Are you ever amazed like when your agents in a sauna, do you ever think how did I get here? And can you talk about casting Matt and Angelina?
Yeah, that was a surreal situation. Yes, and so, when Matt and Angelina Matt I was originally going to do it with Leonardo DiCaprio but it didnt work out schedule wise and so I went to Matt immediately and he gave me a quick answer and said he would do it. And there are only a few actors I would do it with and that was one of them. I was very, very lucky for him to come on board. Hes just been great on every level.
Why did you want him?
Because he could do it, you know. If there were certain actors that I would be given the option to work with, not that they wouldnt have been great in other things, it just wouldnt have turned me on to do it with them because I know it just wouldnt work. Not for me and all that effort I just wouldnt want to do it. I think you go through an enormous amount as it is so you at least want to believe that every person you have in that story is working for the right reasons.
Angelinas the same. I was very lucky to get her. She had always wanted to do it, expressed an interest - we had a few meetings and her wanting to do the part, I sensed she had some real special feel about it. And I was lucky she surprised me even more than I thought with what she did.
Matt plays a man who is trying to keep a lot of secrets. If we were in on meetings between you and him on how he would be portrayed, what were the characteristics that you discussed and I guess the same for Angelina?
Well you know somethings you dont talk about, you do talk about and thats all understood. The directing the way I was looking at it, you take broad strokes you talk moment to moment. Scene by scene. Every set up that you do, the cameras there. Everythings precisely modulated, raised and lowered.
In your years of studying what did you learn about the mind of people like that?
I dont know if I learned anything other than just that people are...the world that we created that was there. The only thing that I learned is that people in the intelligence world are very smart, and very interesting people. And the nature of it the other part - the deception which you always hear about and its been seen in other movies is fascinating. I dont know, all I know is what we did in this movie and that I tried to make it as believable as possible. Sometimes I wasnt sure because there was also this mythology that I supporting, its not literally what it was but its a kind of a thing. I tried to have that as real as possible, as credible and believable as possible.
The cinematography was impressive in this film.
Thats Bob Richardson hes a wonderful cinematographer and I couldnt have done anything without him. Hes just great.
Well in regards to character I noticed that almost you always shot only by profile and that kept an air of mystery about him. Did you have a visual concept in mind?
It was discussions with the cinematographer. Id say how about if we do this, lets do this, lets try that, yeah that sounds good, lets do that . And thats how we did the whole film. If something felt wrong Id be like okay how about doing this or going over there. It was very collaborative process.
Was it story-boarded prior?
No, we story boarded some of it. Ive always had a problem with it I think its great, and you should do it and if youre doing action scenes, certain things you need the precision, thats absolutely. I feel more comfortable just doing it there. We talk about scenes, we rehearse them - things always change on the set and at the last minute someone will come up with an idea. Like when Eric was on the set, he would come up with an idea. Yeah ok, that might mean we have to change something here. The actors will come up with something different. Bob Richardson will come up with another idea. Ill come up with another idea. It always needs that kind of youre going in this direction all of a sudden youll go this way. Youre still going in this direction but you have to kind of make a right turn and continue that way. And have the flexibility to do that.
Can you talk about the climactic airplane scene near the end? Did you worry that Matt Damons character would lose all sympathy in that scene?
I never worry about the sympathy for the character. If you followed the story youd get empathy, you have empathy for the character for the dilemma of the situation. So that was something that I was okay with that.
In the screening room people gasped. I was just wondering if people minds changed about the character. I wondered if you thought about that.
Actually in the original script he had another version where I dont believe we should go this way I dont know if I should tell you what it is. Well he threw the son out. So I said no I dont believe that, we have to pull it back. The other makes more sense. I was always concerned about how those things look.
I want to know the secrecy of Skulls and Bones and if there were rules you had to follow of what you could and couldnt include in the film? If so, what were the parameters of that?
No there were no rules or anything like that. We just got information from things that were written in books and basically put that together. I think the skeleton of this sword with Erics thing I dont know if he got it from something. I just wanted to make it and pull this thing together and make it a ritual, ceremony of a sort. I did whatever I thought was right and take out what I really didnt think is right and thats what we came up with. I could never expect to find what they did exactly but personally, I dont even know if it matters. Maybe if wed gotten another detail - we heard about the mud wrestling - but the other details would have been great to use if we could find them but at the end of that were trying to figure out what you think it could be without making it silly or sensationalizing it. The mud wrestling, that we heard it happened so thats okay.
This movie has a tradition of CIA stuff. Can you talk about trying to cut it down to a shorter time with all the material?
Yes I did have to take some stuff out. Ill put that in the extended version and put some other scenes in the theatrical DVD version, and then Ill put both scenes in the longer version hopefully. Im very happy with the version we have now and so thats okay. I also want to tell the story. I dont want to confuse the audience. I tried not to and still there may be parts that are confusing. I also think that sometimes it doesnt matter if its quite not that clear, its okay. You dont always have to have the answer to everything. So there are certain trajectories character-wise that I took out of the characters so that I could focus on what we had on the other characters. I felt that, that would probably make sense at this point. And for anybody who really wanted to see the other part of the story absolutely, well have that hopefully.
What was the other part of the story?
One thing is the brother returns from and then he disappears again. Which I might, if Im so lucky as to use, in another second installment.
Whats sustained you throughout this long period of making the film, and with that scene in the sauna how was the experience of making this film and do you have other plans to direct?
I was always hoping to do it and Eric and I were always in touch and talking. I want this actor and that actor. We spent time working on it when 911 happened I felt as though the worlds changed now. And I didnt think wed do the movie but life went on and people started showing interest and thats it. I dont know what Im doing next but if I could do a second part to this story, show certain characters lined up and introduce new characters; I would love to do that. After that Im not sure.
Youre still motivated to be a director?
Yeah, I am.
Do you see any comparisons of this with Coppolas Godfather? Someone said that this movie is De Niros Preppy Godfather.
It was started by Coppola the project with Eric Roth. Then it went through other directors. Yeah there is a comparison. I was always concerned that it might have certain direct parallels but how could they not? I mean was about that secret society and this is about another type of secret society but very Americana. I mean one of the best lines in the movie to me is in the Joe Pesci scene where he says What do you people have? and Matt Damon says the United States of America, the rest of you are just visiting.