Quentin Tarantino Dives Deep Into De Niro: ‘Jackie Brown’ Shoe Choice & Losing Role In Mike Nichols’ Rom-Com – Tribeca

There was a time back in the 1990s when one wouldn’t find Robert De Niro doing many interviews. He supposedly didn’t like them, and felt awkward. However, today on the ‘first’ day of Tribeca’s De Niro Con, the actor’s Jackie Brown filmmaker Quentin Tarantino unlocked the method actor at the SVA Theater.

While the Q&A took place after a 35MM print screening of Jackie Brown, how Tarantino’s process of working with the 2x Oscar winner was only one facet of their 30-minute plus dialogue.

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For, what was truly racking Tarantino’s head: Why, oh, why was De Niro let go by Mike Nichols off of what would become Neil Simon’s The Goodbye Girl; the project originally known as Bogart Slept Here? The movie would wound up being directed by Herbert Ross, and the lead role of struggling actor Elliot Garfield would go to Richard Dreyfus who won Best Actor at the 1978 Oscars for the part.

De Niro shared that he landed the part in a stretch of work following his supporting actor Oscar win for The Godfather Part II, which included Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Elia Kazan’s The Last Tycoon. In fact, De Niro had to push Last Tycoon much to the filmmaker’s grumbling.

It was during rehearsals at Warner Bros when neither Nichols nor De Niro weren’t feeling it. “I blame myself,” says De Niro, “I didn’t know certain types of things, it was a certain type of comedy –Neil Simon- the timing had to be a certain way, I didn’t feel enthused by it.” De Niro even overheard someone as he left rehearsals say “‘He’s just not that funny.'”

“It wasn’t working,” says actor, “I shot for about two weeks. I had about three times in my life where I had that experience with a director, where we can’t make them happy — so this was one of them.”

“I was sitting in my camper, you feel this dread,” he continued.

“I was going to offer my salary to keep us going for another week of rehearsals,” said De Niro. A meeting was called with Nichols and “he said, ‘I think we’re going to have to end it. He felt terrible. He was really upset.'”

The script was eventually retooled by Simon and became The Goodbye Girl.

Kazan overheard this and was overjoyed because he was able to start De Niro on Last Tycoon.

“It was night to day. I heard about Kazan and experienced meeting him a few times, everybody knew his reputation what it was to work with him, so I was very lucky to go from that to Kazan who loves actors. (Nichols) was just a different way of working. Kazan was everything that I was told,” added De Niro.

“He didn’t know how to work with me at that time,” said De Niro. The actor would eventually meet up with Nichols at a dinner party where he apologized to De Niro.

“I’m like ‘I’m OK,’ I did OK. No problem. Part of me was over-relived not to be in the pressing with him, it wasn’t working, that happens,” the actor continued.

However, for the most part, the actor’s approach to working with directors of varying personalities and thespians with different approaches is to just go with it.

“Once I’m in it, I’m in with them. Everyone respects everybody, that’s the way it is for me,” says the actor.

The movie will find its way: “you give your input, I’ll throw things in, sometimes we’ll disagree.”

Tarantino asked De Niro how he interfaces with younger actors, British actors, and pre-Brando like actors ala Tony Curtis all who have different styles of acting. For De Niro, such moments were never rocket science: “part of acting is re-acting.”

“You make it work, that’s why I like to work with kids and even animals — They’re unpredictable, but that’s OK,” added the Raging Bull star.

In regards to Jackie Brown, Tarantino confessed to De Niro atop the conversation “I felt like I kind of jipped you; (your character) Louis doesn’t have much dialogue.” In the movie, De Niro played a quiet guy, recently released from jail who hangs around gun-runner Ordell Robbie’s Hermosa Beach apartment, smoking pot, having sex with Bridget Fonda’s surfer girl Melanie in arc that builds up to a suspenseful job for the ex-con with unexpected twists.

“It was about posture, mannerism and detail,” Tarantino says about the role “I think you’re the best actor in the world when it comes to that.”

“I described that posture like it was a pile of dirty clothes,” says the filmmaker about his third theatrical release after Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the script based on the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch. Having sat through the screening Tarantino was gob smacked how period Jackie Brown felt in the 1995 of it all from busy malls to lack of cell phones.

Tarantino then shared with the crowd, how one directs De Niro, joking “With Robert, you shut the f*ck up…if I say nothing, he’ll say ‘What did you think?'”

Tarantino shared how on a prop day with the actor where they chose Louis’ watch, the director/screenwriter was quick to choose one for De Niro. “‘You’re like ‘whoa, whoa’ that’s too fast, we should look at all of them and we can have a discussion.”

It was just part of Tarantino’s excitement, “I’m doing Jackie Brown and I’m a shook up can of soda as a director and I have to have an answer (on things), it doesn’t have to be the right answer.”

However, Tarantino says he prepped for De Niro’s methodology on the advice of a theater director at the Sundance Institute, Ulu Grosbard. He gave Tarantino advice on Reservoir Dogs pages, saying the burgeoning director needed to “dive down deeper into characters” vs “the big picture.”

But there was another axiom Grobard gave Tarantino: “Look, once Bobby (De Niro) figures out the shoes the character wants, that’s a big part of the characterization.”

Tarantino continued, “Well, Bobby looks at me and says what kind of shoes does Louis wear? Well, I had an answer!” Essentially, they were beat-up tennis sneakers with one toe bent out of shape for years after being in storage in jail while the character was incarcerated.

Said De Niro, “It’s a good answer.”

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