Look who’s stalking
As the government cracks down on stalkers, Robert De Niro again plays an obsessive in The Fan. Andy Dougan, author of a new biography, tells Deirdre Molloy about a reluctant star.
Robert lie iliro: a sphinx without a secret
‘You get into a clinch with this guy. you feel his eyes upon you. and you know that ifyou're not at the top of your game he‘s going to leave you for dead.’ So says actor Chaz Palminteri of Robert De Niro. his director and co-star in A Bronx 'lirle.
Untouchable — the chosen title of Glasgow film critic Andy Dougan‘s new De Niro biography — sums up the actor‘s special gift. it denotes presence. the power of underplaying. Think of Travis Bickle's gaze in 72m Driver. as he watches an aspirin dissolve in preparation for another lonely night behind the wheel: the pill spitting and thrashing in the water could easily be Travis himself, about to wash all the scum off the streets.
Private to the point of belligerence.
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De Niro presented a formidable subject for Evening Times writer Dougan in his endeavour to delve beneath the on- screen persona. Another journalist had given up, ﬁnding the task impossible. ‘That’s what really piqued my interest.’ says Dougan. ‘I thought “how hard can it be?”.‘ Hence the book‘s ‘unauthorised‘ tag.
With the exception of his roles as petty-hoodlum Johnny Boy in Mean Streets and boxer Jake La Motta in Raging Bull. prime De Niro has always meant verbal restraint and an unsurpassed physical control that hints at the torment within. According to Dougan. the actor's zealous guarding of his private life stems from the same source. ‘He gets this from his father: it’s a sense of rage. His father was a total perfectionist and he inherited that too.’
De Niro was born into the Bohemian surroundings of Chelsea. Manhattan in 1943. but his parents. both artists. separated when he was just two. though they remained on amicable terms. Documenting his childhood was the breakthrough in terms of Dougan’s research. ‘In previous biographies and proﬁles. he emerges full-blown at the age of sixteen. and they like to pretend
‘He gets this from his father;
it’s a sense of rage. his father
was a total perfectionist and he inherited that too.’
he was some sort of street kid. He was. in fact. a charming little boy who grew up to be an extraordinary actor.’
The turbulent episodes in De Niro‘s life came later on: the paternity suit. the affair with Naomi Campbell. the cocaine binge with Robin Williams and John Belushi. The latter event. culminating in Belushi‘s death in I982, followed another real-life drama. In 1980. John Hinckley shot President Reagan in a failed assassination bid designed to catch Jodie Foster‘s attention. Hinkley claimed to model himself on 'laxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle. and letters to Foster were discovered in
You talkin’ to me? As Travis Blckle in Taxi Driver
Despite this personal connection. De Niro reprised his stalking role in I991 for friend and director Martin Scorsese‘s remake of Cape Fear. Now De Niro is revisiting this persona in The Fan as Gil Renard. a baseball fan obsessed with star player W ‘sley Snipes. ‘The Fun is pretty lacklustref reckons Dougan. ‘De Niro is just coasting in it. But the death of Belushi and the Hinckley incident did cause him to wonder if it was all worth it. That‘s why I‘m convinced 'l‘lie I’un has to be another money job. He couldn't get close to the part. It would be too painful for him.‘
The picture that emerges from Dougan‘s study is of an actor — and. on the basis of A Bronx 'litle. an able director — of unstinting dedication. prepared even to shoulder the llops and nondescript nice-guy roles to fund his fledgeling Tr'chCa film studios. But what ofthe man behind the mask'.’ ‘l‘m not sure at the end of it all whether 1 even like Robert De Niro.‘ Dougan laughineg admits. ‘But my feeling going into it was that there was nothing to him. no big secret. just an ordinary man. and that's been justified.‘ Untouchable.“ Robert De Niro Unauthorised by Andy Dougan is published by Virgin. [)t'it't't/ £16.99. See Filth Review .s'errtionjor 'I'/te I’un.
Revenge is sweet: As Max Carly In Cape Fear