Robert De Niro: From Mean Streets to Hollywood Stardom

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Over 50 years of acting, Robert De Niro has become one of the most beloved and respected actors in Hollywood. Revered for his method acting style, his range of characters and his on-screen presence, De Niro has earned two Academy Awards, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and countless other awards. He’s also celebrated for his roles as iconic gangsters, defined by his performances in Mean Streets, Casino and Goodfellas, to name a few. From humble beginnings in Greenwich Village to 60 successful acting credits and his own production company, Tribeca Productions, Robert De Niro has cemented himself as one of the foremost actors in Hollywood.

Early Life

Robert De Niro was born on August 17, 1943 in the Manhattan borough of New York City. His mother, Virginia Admiral, was a painter and sculptor and his father, Robert De Niro Sr., was an abstract expressionist painter. While De Niro was a young boy, his parents separated and his father moved to Italy, leaving Robert to be raised almost entirely by his mother.

Education and Inspirations

De Niro attended elementary school in the Little Red Schoolhouse and Elisabeth Irwin High School, where he began to show interest in acting. It was his classmates at Elisabeth Irwin that De Niro refers to as inspiring his career, because as he says, “That was really when I decided that I wanted to be an actor,”. After high school, De Niro attended the Stella Adler Conservatory and later joined the Actors Studio for further training.

Early Acting Career

In his early career, De Niro appeared in several stage productions in New York, including Leadbelly and “The Hide Seekers”. His first substantial break came in 1965 when Andrzej Wajda cast him in a small role in his picture “The Wedding”. He then went on to feature in Brain De Palma’s in “The Wedding Party” followed by Brian De Palma’s musical crime drama “Greetings”.

Breakout Roles

De Niro had his breakout role in the 1973 crime drama, “Mean Streets”, directed by Martin Scorsese. He starred opposite Harvey Keitel in the story of a young man’s descent into the underground crime world of New York’s Little Italy. The success of “Mean Streets” helped establish De Niro as an actor of substance, and it also helped to cement his long-term friendship with director Martin Scorsese, with whom he would collaborate many times.

Highly Acclaimed Performances

Over the course of his 50-year career, De Niro has starred in a wide range of films, garnering critical praise for his performances. He won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in “The Godfather Part II” (1974) and won another Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “Raging Bull” (1980). He was nominated a further seven times at the Academy Awards, including his work in “Taxi Driver” (1976), “Awakenings” (1990) and “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012).

Iconic Characters

De Niro has become synonymous with his portrayal of mob characters. He first starred as mobster Jimmy Conway in “Goodfellas” (1990), but he is perhaps best known for the character of Vito Corleone in “The Godfather Part II” (1974). He also starred as gangster Sam “Ace” Rothstein in “Casino” (1995) and bank robber Neil McCauley in “Heat” (1995). He has also taken on roles in comedies, such as his portrayal of Max Cady in “Cape Fear” (1991) and “Meet the Fockers” (2004) and his role as mob boss Paul Vitti in “Analyze This” (1999).

Other Film Adaptations

Though perhaps most well known for his gangster roles, De Niro has acted in a variety of different genres. He has appeared in several Shakespearean adaptations such as “The Merchant of Venice” (2004), “Much Ado About Nothing” (1993) and “Romeo and Juliet” (1996). He has also appeared in historical films such as “The Good Shepherd” (2006), “Gangs of New York” (2003) and “Great Expectations” (1998).

Tribeca Productions

In 1988, De Niro founded the Tribeca Productions film and television production company with his partner Jane Rosenthal. Tribeca has produced a variety of films, including “Meet the Parents” (2000), “Analyze This” (1999), and “15 Minutes” (2001). The company also produces television series such as “Inside the Actors Studio” (1994-present) and “Mesudarim” (2007-2009).

Philanthropy and Other Causes

De Niro has shown his support for numerous causes over the years. In 2004, he was honored with the 2004 Screen Actors Guild Awards for his support of the City Meals-on-Wheels program, which helps to feed homebound elderly in New York. He has served as a board member of the Rape Foundation and was instrumental in the founding of the Tribeca Film Festival, which was created to revitalize the lower Manhattan area in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Robert De Niro has achieved great success in the film industry, and his contributions to film, television and Broadway are incalculable. His post-Mean Streets career has been adorned with some of the best performances in film history, and his lengthy list of awards and accolades speaks for itself. While it’s clear that De Niro has accomplished so much, it’s also evident that his work has had a lasting impact and he will continue to shape film history for many years to come.

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