Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Cape Fear and of course Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. Two Oscars. Seven nominations.
After that career, what on earth possessed Robert De Niro to play a sex-mad, foul mouthed, racist, homophobic, leering, jeering grandfather in new comedy Dirty Grandpa?
Speaking to Loaded from his London home, the film’s director Dan Mazer admits he initially couldn’t believe De Niro was on board with his outrageous comedy either.
Mazer, the longtime writing and production partner of Sacha Baron Cohen, had to see DeNiro in person before he believed he wanted any part in it.
‘Are you sure? Are you sure that Robert De Niro has read this script?’
“I was sitting at home, got emailed the script and thought it had a funny title. And then my agent told me Robert De Niro and Zac Efron were attached to it,” Mazer reveals.
“To be honest, my first reaction was ‘Are you sure? Are you sure that Robert De Niro has read this script? It’s not another Robert De Niro?’”
“I told them that, until I met him and saw the whites of his eyes, I was not going to believe that he wanted to be in it. Then I met him, and lo and behold, he really understood it and really wanted to do something like this.”
The film sees De Niro play Dick Kelly, the recently widowed grandfather of Zac Efron’s uptight Jason Kelly, who tricks Jason into a road trip to Florida just days before his wedding. De Niro’s potty mouthed character is mad for the ride and sets his sights on a college girl (played by Aubrey Plaza) that he simply must shag.
“As I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s much more extreme than anything else DeNiro has ever done,” Mazer offers. And that’s putting it mildly.
Dick is more than a bit of a dick, with a penchant for masturbating in the afternoon and sticking his bits in his grandson’s face when they share a bed.
But for Mazer, who was nominated for an Oscar for co-writing Borat in 2007, bringing the legendary DeNiro into a bold new world wasn’t even that difficult.
“He knew what he was getting into and went even further than we ever could have expected of him which was incredible”
“The man has done over a hundred movies and part of the challenge and the appeal to me was to get the greatest actor of our generation to do something that he had never done before,” Mazer says.
“Robert embraced the opportunity and was like: ‘Dan, is that enough? I can do more. I can go further…’ Apart from the lines scripted by the writer John Philips and I, we’d throw more extreme lines at Robert and he never baulked at anything.
“He knew what he was getting into, and went even further than we ever could have expected of him, which was incredible.”
Directing one of the most iconic actors of our time in a pretty filthy comedy was always going to result in criticism, and Mazer seems ready for the inevitable shitstorm that the film is bound to drag up around De Niro’s decision to star.
Will people be looking at it thinking: ‘What’s going on with DeNiro?’
“You know what, I am sure they will,” Mazer admits.
“I think it’s just as valid and just as relevant as anything he might do with David O’Russell or Martin Scorsese”
“There’s this snobbery with critics and certain people who are sure to say how much they loved Taxi Driver and all those films. The fact is that Robert De Niro is a brilliant comic actor. He wanted to do something he hadn’t done before. I think he should be applauded for that.
“I think it’s just as valid and just as relevant as anything he might do with David O’Russell or Martin Scorsese because, frankly, cinema is a mass medium and we made something for people to really enjoy.
He pauses: “Certainly I anticipate a degree of snobbery about it, but that’s all it is.”
Although it has yet to hit cinemas here, Mazer is already hopeful that a sequel could happen.
“I think that Rob has created a brilliant character and who knows? It depends on whether anyone goes to see this one, to be honest, but there are a whole range of possibilities there. I hope it works on both sides of the Atlantic. And, even though his character is extreme, there is a real heart there.
“People will remember it, that’s for sure.”
Dirty Grandpa is out in UK Cinemas 29th January 2016, with previews from 25th January.
Loaded’s entertainment editor Jennifer O’Brien is an award-winning journalist who has written extensively about popular culture as a national newspaper columnist and author. Follow her on Twitter at @Jen_OBrien1