Paul Gardner bagged himself a rare interview with Robert De Niro for the Observer Magazine of 7 August 1977 (‘Making It – the man from Mean Streets’).

Gardner had met De Niro in Rome for the filming of Bertolucci’s 1900 – ‘an extravagant tapestry of Italian history’ – but was rebuffed. Then three years later he caught up with him in Hollywood, De Niro having spent five months on Martin Scorsese’s film musical New York, New York.

‘After my first movies, I gave interviews,’ he said, slouched in a chair in Scorsese’s office. ‘Then I thought, what’s so important about where I went to school, and hobbies… what does any of that have to do with acting, with my own head? Nothing.’

Gardner argued that ‘personality stars’, such as Steve McQueen, would lose fans if they changed their image for each film, but that De Niro ‘changes roles without leaving footprints, without leaving a clue as to who they really are’.

His New York, New York co-star Liza Minnelli agreed: ‘There’s an intensity and mystery. His eyes look out, but they also look in.’

Gardner caught up with De Niro again in New York, surprised to see he’d ‘radically changed his physiognomy and physique for his fourth Scorsese film, Raging Bull’. Over lunch Gardner asked him what got him interested in acting. De Niro told him: ‘Aw, now, don’t ask questions.’ So they ‘sit around… without questions’.

‘I gained about 20lb for Jake [LaMotta] and I’m still puttin’ it on,’ De Niro eventually revealed. ‘I see so many fight movies where the actors are out of shape, I don’t believe them. So I come to the gym here – they rigged up a special one – and work out every day.’ He laughed, quietly. ‘I’ve got Sylvester Stallone’s trainer.’

What Gardner didn’t know was that De Niro would pile on 60lb for the scenes as an older, has-been LaMotta. But perhaps De Niro wouldn’t have told him how, if he’d asked.

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