Robert De Niro is one of the most iconic actors in the history of cinema. Granted, he had been doing lighter comedies lately, like New Year’s Eve, Dirty Grandpa and, yes, Little Fockers.
But the two-time Oscar winner is back on the front line with what he does best: pure drama. And he does it in a biopic about Bernie Madoff, the biggest fraudster Wall Street has ever seen.
The film, which will be released by HBO on TV, is directed by Barry Levison and also has Michelle Pfeiffer as Madoff’s wife Ruth.
There is no doubt De Niro’s performance will be one to remember, and loaded spoke to the acting icon to know more about the film and his experience playing Madoff.
loaded: Firstly, can you speak a little bit about your preparation for the role; was it important for you to speak to some of Madoff’s victims, including any celebrities he said to have ripped off?
De Niro: Yeah. I spoke to people. I read Diana Henriques’s book, of course, and some other books and spoke to people. I didn’t meet him, but I did a fair amount of research on it.
loaded: Do you think he’s a sociopath, and what does that mean to you?
De Niro: The only thing that I feel is that his kids didn’t know and his wife didn’t know. What he did is beyond my comprehension. I did as best I could, but I don’t understand. And Diana was great, of course, and, you know, some people just – you can go so far. You can do your interpretation. The only things I do feel strongly about is that he didn’t tell his kids and he didn’t tell his wife. But everyone around him probably had an idea. They just didn’t want to look too deeply because they knew something wasn’t quite right.
loaded: What do you think the viewers will learn from watching that film?
De Niro: You know, I don’t know what you will learn. You will get one impression and another person will get another impression. I think to me, it’s like the kind of story that you read into what you want in a way, like a book, a novel or something. You can’t label him this or that, and I think that’s a danger to go in and be too specific in some ways.
loaded: Did you learn something about investment or have you always been savvy with your own investments?
De Niro: No. I think he’s a classic example of somebody who receded very much back, let people come to him, and got to a position where people would think it’s an honour to be — for him to take their money. And that’s a classic, classic con situation or whatever you want, that you see in all forms, all walks of life.
loaded: So maybe Madoff deserves to win an Oscar or something like that?
De Niro: Maybe, in some ways.
loaded: You have been speaking about social and political matters with the election and just recently about Meryl Streep’s speech. What are your hopes for what films like this, and we had films like The Big Short last year, can do to educate the public and improve social matters?
De Niro: Well, movies, you know, like The Big Short, this film, will probably – good chance of there being more films showing this kind of situation illustrating things, the problems that we have now that we’re about to face, we’re about to see, witness, experience. We’ll see where that goes. But it’s going to happen, though. I’m sure of that.
loaded: A few years ago at a Scorsese tribute, you jokingly said, “as for me, from now on, I’m only going to do comedy.” And you’ve pretty much stuck to that. You did lots and lots of comedy, not much drama. Did you miss it when you weren’t doing drama and did it feel good to get back into a very, very serious drama here?
De Niro: I thought this was a comedy. (Laughter) No. It was good and working with Barry was great and Sam, his son. They did a great job, terrific job, and – because I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, this and that. It was a lot of work and I’m glad I did and we had a terrific time.
loaded: To study this man, did you concentrate on his great salesmanship, on the qualities he had that did convince people that, the qualities that made him win at this enormous con game?
De Niro: Yeah, I mean, he must have had some kind of very strong – could be disconnected disdain for people, because he really – maybe he wasn’t from a certain world that he was in. And so for him to do this con, if you will, might have been more easy, because it seems that he wasn’t – his kids, he wanted to be part of that world, but he wasn’t. He was just, you know, another type of person who was not on the level, in a certain way, and sophisticated and for real, kind of like a certain type of felon or thug — not a thug, but a hood or somebody who tries to get over on people because they don’t really feel as equals to them. So they’re going to get over them on another way.
loaded: With all the preparation that you did for your role as Madoff, when you walk on the set, what helps you inhabit? Is it the suits? Is it looking in the mirror and seeing that the hair is just right, like Madoff? What is it that makes you become the man?
De Niro: Well, I don’t know if – I can’t answer that in that way for some reason. It’s the physical, of course, seeing how I look and so on. And I studied as much as I could of – there wasn’t a lot of him, but the visual stuff of him and his behaviour and so on, the way he talked. And that’s it.
Thanks to Robert De Niro for speaking to loaded. The Wizard of Lies will be broadcast in May 2017.
Credit: Lucy Allen/HOT Features