Robert De Niro Behind the Scenes of His Greatest Movies

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Whether you enjoy his late-life output or not is irrelevant. Robert De Niro is one of cinema’s most celebrated actors, having made his mark in over 100 movies that defined a powerful decade of filmmaking. He’s worked with some of the finest directors, Martin Scorsese being his most famous collaborator, and his reputation as a fearsome street-tough type is often imitated and rarely topped. In honor of De Niro’s birthday — and inspired by the publication of Robert De Niro: Anatomy of an Actor and the recent Martin Scorsese exhibit on the Museum of Cinema website — we’re looking at behind-the-scenes photos from De Niro’s greatest films. The images offer a look at the star’s methodology, intensity, and relationships with the astounding talent he surrounded himself with.

Image via Museum of Cinema

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro behind the scenes on the set of Raging Bull. To prepare for his role, De Niro trained hard (with the real Jake LaMotta) and boxed in several real matches in Brooklyn. He won two of them.

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For Raging Bull, De Niro eventually gained 60 pounds to portray the older La Motta in his post-boxing career.

Image via Museum of Cinema

Scorsese only used one camera to shoot the boxing matches in Raging Bull. He wanted it to appear as though a third person was in the ring, dodging the other fighters, so the audience could really see their emotions.

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Raging Bull

Image via Museum of Cinema

Behind the scenes of Taxi Driver with Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese.

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De Niro prepared for his role in Taxi Driver by getting a cab driver’s license and working between shoots.

Image via Museum of Cinema

De Niro’s famous “You talkin’ to me?” scene in Taxi Driver was largely improvised. The script’s only line was, “Travis speaks to himself in the mirror.”

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From Steve Schapiro, who captured photographs on the set of Taxi Driver:

“This image was shot after the most violent scene in the film – the last sequence with all the shooting and stabbing and wrestling.

“When Scorsese shouted ‘Cut!’, everyone just collapsed about laughing – it relieved a lot of the tension.

“During filming, you could sense that this was going to be one of the greatest films of all time. The intensity of the acting really boosted the feeling that Taxi Driver was destined to be a classic.”

Image via Museum of Cinema

De Niro’s ex-wife, actress Diahnne Abbot, appears as the concession girl in the porn theater scene in Taxi Driver.

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Makeup artist Dick Smith applying the finishing touches to De Niro’s mohawk in Taxi Driver. It was made from a bald cap with horse hair added to it.

Image via Museum of Cinema

Behind the scenes of Taxi Driver with Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese.

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For Goodfellas, De Niro spoke with real-life former mobster Henry Hill to find out what his character Jimmy was like in person. De Niro portrays real-life gangster Jimmy “the Gent” Conway, who was a Lucchese crime family associate.

Image via Museum of Cinema

De Niro insisted on using real money in Goodfellas. All his outfits had a watch and pinkie ring to go with them.

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De Niro pranked Goodfellas co-star Ray Liotta by putting a fake severed horse head in his trailer — a kind of initiation into mafia movies, referencing The Godfather.

Image via Museum of Cinema

De Niro helped costume designer Rita Ryack chose his character Max Cady’s clothing in Cape Fear.

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De Niro’s tattoos in Cape Fear were made from vegetable dyes so they would fade in a few months.

Image via Museum of Cinema

To prepare for his role in The King of Comedy, De Niro studied the stand-up comedy of Richard Belzer.

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Jerry Lewis, Robert De Niro, and Martin Scorsese on the set of The King of Comedy.

Image via Museum of Cinema

Behind the scenes on the set of New York, New York with Liza Minnelli, Robert De Niro, and Martin Scorsese.

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It’s said that De Niro and Minnelli became romantically involved while filming New York, New York.

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De Niro auditioned for the role of Sonny Corleone in the first Godfather film and was hired to play Paulie Gatto. He asked to be let out of his contract when Pacino’s role in The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight came up for grabs. Eventually he landed a role as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather II, which won him an Academy Award.

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Behind the scenes of The Deer Hunter with Robert De Niro and Michael Cimino.

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De Niro, Christopher Walken, and John Cazale on the set of The Deer Hunter.

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De Niro was the first person cast in Once Upon a Time in America. He helped choose the other actors for Sergio Leone’s film.

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De Niro wore 70 different costumes in Casino. Co-star Sharon Stone wore 40.

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Casino

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Casino

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Robert De Niro directing Chazz Palminteri in A Bronx Tale — his directorial debut.

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De Niro directing Lillo Brancato in A Bronx Tale. Brancato is known for his striking resemblance to a young De Niro.

Image via Museum of Cinema

Michael Mann directing the pivotal scene in Heat, with De Niro and Al Pacino.

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David Proval, Robert De Niro, and Harvey Keitel in Mean Streets.