The Marrakech Film Festival is back. After a year’s hiatus Martin Scorsese, 76, and Robert De Niro, 75, lended their considerable heft to a festival Scorsese considers important for its screening of films from the region. While he participated in a conversation with the public—also attended by Guillermo del Toro and Julian Schnabel—De Niro, usually a man of few words, granted interviews, hardly something he usually likes to do.
I started by asking him about his flood of emotion that interrupted his speech as he spoke to the crowd after accepting his career tribute and a big hug from Scorsese.
“Yeah I am emotional,” he responds, then skirts the issue. “I’ve been very lucky to have the thing with Marty, for us to have this long creative relationship.”
Still I persevere. Has he become more emotional as he’s grown older?
“I was emotional when I was younger,” he admits with a smile. “I think when you get older sometimes you get more sentimental. You realize where you’re going and this could be the last time. That’s even why I came here. I’m 75 and I’ve been wanting to take my kids here but it’s always a bad time for them as they’re in school. So I said I’m just going to come on my own and bring them another time. I want to be here with them for a week at least and have a look at the towns.”
How was it facing his career tribute and looking at images from his movies, given he doesn’t watch them?
“It wasn’t bad. I liked it. I have a friend visiting, Art Linson, who produced Heat and The Untouchables, which are showing here and he also produced What Just Happened and We’re No Angels. He even got teary and he’s very cynical.”
De Niro compares the Marrakech Festival with his own Tribeca Festival, as both started in 2011 around “the tragic events of September 11” and both “serve as an inter-cultural bridge.” While he acknowledges that modes of filmmaking are changing, “even at Tribeca we had the one-minute film, one of the new forms of expression and God knows what it will be in five or 10 years,” he’s personally not buying into it.
“I don’t disagree with it. It’s just not something I would be interested in doing. I understand it but that’s all I can say. The way Marty and I do movies is from another tradition.”
Indeed. In March the dynamic duo completed The Irishman, Scorsese’s $140 million mob picture. What makes it part of a newer breed of movie is that it was financed by Netflix.
“There had been a lot of juggling regarding who would put money in and when it was coming,” recalls De Niro, who, like Scorsese, did not want to wait any longer. “When Netflix came in they just came in. They relieved a lot of anxiety and grief about doing it in a certain way, the way Marty wanted to do the film and it’s as it should be. So now it has to be presented in a traditional grand style. When Netflix switches to small screens, even if today they can be big, that’s something to be worked out and debated. I don’t know where that stands.”
The Irishman, De Niro’s ninth movie with Scorsese, was written by Steve Zaillian and based on Charles Brandt’s book, I Heard You Paint Houses. It follows Frank Sheeran, De Niro’s labor union leader and hitman for the Bufalino crime family and his involvement in the slaying of the Teamster Jimmy Hoffa, played by Al Pacino.
While the film unites De Niro with Pacino for the fourth time (after Heat, The Godfather Part II and Righteous Kill) it marks Scorsese’s first time directing Pacino. Did De Niro offer any tips?
“No, they were great with each other.”
Fellow septuagenarians Joe Pesci (as Russell Bufalino) and Harvey Keitel also star. Was it a deliberate ploy to get the old gang back together?
“Yes, it was. This particular project was the right thing to do, so that’s why it took us a long time to get it going. It was a great experience.”
It was also a huge challenge.
“The idea was to go back four, maybe five decades. So Marty wanted the people at ILM to do this as best as it’s been done to this point, to make us look younger. And I was excited by that. It gave us the freedom to do scenes when we are younger and not worry about makeup so much. Sometimes we used movies when I’m in my 50s, in my earlier years, just without makeup. So I’m very curious to see how it looks.”
As an actor who so embodied his characters—his famed Method approach—has his process changed over the years?
“Some things change,” he admits. “I try to look at what is absolutely necessary to do as opposed to what you do. When I was young I was anxious and less relaxed about stuff. As I get older I go there and do it and think it’ll be ok. You can get there more easily.”