Cigar Aficionado

The Interview: Robert De Niro

The Interview: Robert De Niro
All interview photographs by David Yellen
Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado, sits down for an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with one of the world’s most talented and decorated actors

The visceral rage of boxer Jake LaMotta. The calculated calm of young Vito Corleone. The bombast of gangster Al Capone. The shrewd, dry humor of father-in-law Jack Byrnes. Each of these characters and so many more have been brought to life memorably by Robert De Niro.

He is an actor, director and businessman, a two-time Academy Award winner who has appeared in more than 95 films. Turning 72 this year, he remains exceptionally busy. He appears alongside Anne Hathaway in The Intern, which hits theaters on September 25, and in December he stars in Joy, with Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence.

His storied career began with little fanfare, with a tiny (and uncredited) role in the 1965 French drama Three Rooms in Manhattan. Brian De Palma gave him his first major role with Greetings (1968), but it wasn't until the 1970s that De Niro rose to fame. In 1973, he appeared in Mean Streets, his first film with director Martin Scorsese, and in 1974 he took the world by storm with a brilliant performance as a young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, which later won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. So many great dramas have followed: Taxi Driver. Once Upon a Time in America. The Deer Hunter. Raging Bull (for which he won another Oscar, this time for Best Actor in a Lead Role). Goodfellas. Casino. Heat. Cop Land. Silver Linings Playbook.

But drama is only one side of the De Niro coin. He has acted in many comedies as well, including The King of Comedy, Wag The Dog, Analyze This, Midnight Run and Meet the Parents. He has directed two films (A Bronx Tale and The Good Shepherd) and he has amassed an enviable portfolio of businesses, including an interest in Nobu restaurants (there are more than 30 around the globe), hotels and his new spirits venture, VDKA 6100 vodka.

A former cigar smoker, De Niro has appeared on screen puffing away expertly and earnestly. Who can forget his sadistic Max Cady character in Cape Fear smoking a fat cigar in the middle of a movie theater, cackling away without a care in the world. Or the cigar jammed like a weapon in his hand as he portrays Al Capone in The Untouchables, or the smoke in the jaws of a weathered Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull as he prepares to take the stage in the twilight of his career.

De Niro married Grace Hightower in 1997, and they have two children: Elliot and Helen Grace. He has four other children and six grandchildren, and is a longtime resident of New York City.

He has given few interviews throughout his long career, but on a hot day in May De Niro sat down in the New York City offices of Cigar Aficionado for a face-to-face discussion with Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of the magazine. The two spoke at length about De Niro's storied career in film, his goals for the future, his varied business interests and his onetime love of a fine cigar.

Marvin R. Shanken interviews Robert De Niro
"You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?" Marvin R. Shanken (left) tried Robert De Niro's most famous line during his interview with the acting legend.

Shanken: I've done quite a few interviews. I've never worked so hard, preparing for you. So you're in a lot of trouble to begin with. With all of your movies and businesses and everything else, I'm exhausted. I think I should get an award.
De Niro: (laughs)

Shanken: Let's get started. You're my age. When do you plan to retire?
De Niro: Well I don't really think of retirement because I don't know what else I would do other than do what I'm doing, I guess. I don't feel, and you can tell me how you feel, but I don't feel really much older than I think. I look at myself, I'm not even used to looking at myself as being older. It's a little disconcerting if you see somebody you've known in your 30s or 40s or even 50s who has not aged well, or just got older. That's life.

Shanken: How many movies are you currently working on?
De Niro: I just finished a movie that I did in two parts. I did the first part beginning of January, the second part we did it in Georgia, up until about two weeks ago.

Shanken: What movie is that?
De Niro: The working title is Dirty Grandpa. I don't know what the actual title will be. It's about a grandfather that takes his grandson on spring break, and all the shenanigans he puts him through.

Shanken: So how many different movies are in various states of production?
De Niro: I've done another movie with David O. Russell called Joy, that we did in between, in Boston, in February, March and April. I also did a movie about Roberto Duran [Hands of Stone]. I play the trainer Ray Arcel.

Shanken: That's the one you did with Usher.
De Niro: That's the one I did with Usher.

Shanken: In Hands of Stone, you're playing a boxing trainer. You very famously played a boxer in Raging Bull, you played a boxer in Grudge Match. Is it different looking at the role from the other side of the ring, looking at it as a trainer rather than being in the ring itself?
De Niro: The trainer I played is a really great trainer named Ray Arcel. I had a trainer with me, training me in Grudge Match, that I met through [Sylvester] Stallone, named Bob Sale. And Bob came on to Hands of Stone to help me play Ray Arcel. He not only knows boxing as a trainer but also the history of boxing. I couldn't have anybody better.

Shanken: Do you enjoy boxing?
De Niro: Yeah I do, as an exercise. But not that often anymore. It is a great exercise.

Shanken: I don't know if you watch TV. I assume you watch TV.
De Niro: Not much, but it depends.

Shanken: Did you ever watch "The Sopranos"?
De Niro: No.

Shanken: Interesting. So my next question might not apply—did you ever think of being on "The Sopranos"?
De Niro: No, Sopranos came out right after Analyze This or Analyze That. I forget. No. I heard about it, it was very good.

Shanken: Martin Scorsese was the executive producer of "Boardwalk Empire" on HBO. You could have had a part or two in there. Was that ever discussed?
De Niro: No, Marty didn't ask me, but that's fine.

Shanken: You don't watch TV, that's why he didn't invite you. (laughs)
De Niro: No, he had his reasons, and it might not have even occurred to him to ask me about it.

Shanken: Tell me about The Irishman. I asked [Hollywood producer] Arnon [Milchan] about it, and he didn't know what I was talking about. [Slated for future production, The Irishman will reunite Martin Scorsese with De Niro, and it also will star Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel.]
De Niro: No, he doesn't know about it.

Shanken: I told him to call you. (laughs) I said, with Al Pacino, Joe Pesci and Martin [Scorsese] again, it's gotta be a home run.
De Niro: We're doing it in another way, we're getting it all set now. It's been a long time coming.

Shanken: When would that be shot?
De Niro: We probably wouldn't start that for another year, year and a half.

Shanken: That should be an unbelievable movie.
De Niro: And nobody knows about that. We're just getting everything underway, schedule wise.

Shanken: OK. Let's get a little deeper. You, over the years, have done roles on what I call the dark side. A mobster. Vietnam War veterans. A psycho. A drug addict. Then all of a sudden 15 years ago you do Meet the Parents. Which is comedy. What happened? What caused you to go 180 degrees from serious, tough movies to family entertainment?
De Niro: It didn't bother me, and I never thought about it. Billy Crystal asked me, with Analyze This, and I just said ‘Let's have a reading of this.' Actually, Pacino got me on that, because he liked to have readings too. He was influential in that. So you have a table reading to just kind of lift it off the page a little bit. You have a bunch of actors, who are not necessarily going to be in it, you have a reading, you have a director, or sometimes no director, you sit, and you have somebody in charge of where it's going to go financially. And you just read it. Sometimes you see you have to work on it more, or you say let's get it ready and do it.

Shanken: But did you wonder if this was a good or bad move for your career?
De Niro: No, I didn't worry about that too much. After Analyze This, Jay Roach asked me if I wanted to do Meet the Parents. I liked Jay a lot, so that's how it started.

Shanken: I doubt there's anybody on earth who hasn't seen you as Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II. So how did the role come about, that you got the part? It's a great part. You did a great job.
De Niro: I had known Francis [Ford Coppola, the director of The Godfather trilogy of films] a little bit before. Mean Streets had come out and he was talking to Marty [Scorsese] the way I understand it. Marty, I think, showed him that, and Francis wanted me to come out and read for him in San Francisco. Then I got a call a week or two after, don't bother, the part's yours. That was it.

Shanken: How did that role impact your life?
De Niro: Getting the part changed my career, or revved it up, if you will. Then winning the Academy Award, you're kind of guaranteed that you're going to work again as an actor. The way I remember it, the movies that were becoming the blockbuster type films, Godfather part one was the first one that I remember in my lifetime as a young man. Then there was Jaws, then there was Godfather II, so these movies started coming out that were huge. The anticipation of Godfather II was really big. Luckily, Francis wanted me to do it.

Shanken: Apparently, you auditioned for [the role of] Sonny in The Godfather, and James Caan got the part.
De Niro: [Coppola] had already wanted him, I think, but he was reading people. He had wanted Al [Pacino], he had wanted James Caan, Bobby [Robert] Duvall, I think. I never confirmed this with Francis.

Shanken: Were you upset?
De Niro: No, not at all. Everybody in New York wanted those parts.

Shanken: I was surprised, and I said this to Francis when I spoke to him. I don't understand. This was an epic movie for him, The Godfather Part II, and for you, and yet you have never done movies together since.
De Niro: Mmm.

Shanken: When I said that to him, he said he offered you the lead role in Apocalypse Now. He doesn't know why you turned it down, but he thinks it's because it was being shot in the Philippines.
De Niro: No, no, the reason I couldn't do that, as I remember it, I was with Michael Philips, and Randy Julia Philips and Marty in the Sherry Netherland Hotel. We were having dinner there one night. Francis called. As I remember, and I could have it wrong, I said 'Francis, I'm about to do Taxi Driver with Marty. I can't.' He wanted Al [Pacino], he couldn't get him. That's what it was—I couldn't do it. I wasn't inclined to do it, but if I had been in a situation where....ah, you never know. At that point I just couldn't do it as I remember.

Shanken: You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? How'd I do? (laughs) Why is that considered your most famous line?
De Niro: Sometimes things strike a chord with people. Simple stuff.

Shanken: I have my own favorite line of yours. It's from The Untouchables. "I grew up in a tough neighborhood. And we used to say, you get further with a kind word and a gun than you can get with a kind word." That's a powerful, powerful line.
De Niro: Well, that's David Mamet. He's great.

Shanken: How many takes was that?
De Niro: I don't remember.

Shanken: Do you remember how many takes You talkin' to me was?
De Niro: Well, we probably...Marty would remember better. We did it with different setups. It was improvised in some ways. Some of it was script. So how many takes? I don't know.

Shanken: Of all the movies ever made, what's your favorite?
De Niro: People ask me that question, I find it difficult to answer. To go on record.

Shanken: What's your favorite movie of your movies? You have 95 to choose from.
De Niro: Is that how many I've done?

Shanken: That's how many I count. And I want to put on the record, I couldn't watch them all.
De Niro: Of course not.

Shanken: And I was watching movies morning, noon and night. And some of them I watched multiple times.
De Niro: I can't say. I know it's an answer you don't want to hear, but some of the movies I enjoy doing for one reason, others they were hard to do but more gratifying.

Shanken: Do you ever watch your own movies?
De Niro: Not now. I've always thought of possibly watching them all one more time to go through and give me ideas to go in another direction.

Marvin R. Shanken interviews Robert De Niro
De Niro spoke of his long history in front of the camera, which has won him two Academy Awards, as well as his growing and impressive business empire.

Shanken: But you can't mention one movie that you really love? Even if it's not your favorite. One that you loved a lot.
De Niro: It's hard.

Shanken: I'm easier than you, because I have a favorite.
De Niro: Tell me.

Shanken: [Takes out his phone and presses a button; the solemn strings of Once Upon a Time in America theme music begins playing.]
De Niro: Well.

Shanken: You obviously know what it is.
De Niro: Sure.

Shanken: The music plays throughout the whole movie, and it's so powerful. What part does music play in your films?
De Niro: A very important part. They are essential to movies. I feel. And the two movies I directed I was very, very involved with the music, and how it's used in the film to tell the story. It's very, very important.

Shanken: My favorite movie is Once Upon a Time in America. You played this incredible role of Noodles. And first there was the kid, who wasn't you, then there was you growing up, and that was you, and then you came back and you didn't look anything like the same guy. It's like they took the picture over a 30-year period. The two of you were great. It had to take a long time to film that movie.
De Niro: It did. It took almost a year, on and off.

Shanken: And where was it shot?
De Niro: It was shot in Rome, it was shot in the lake district of Italy, Lago Maggiore, it was shot in Venice, it was shot in Paris, it was shot in Montreal, it was shot in New York.

Shanken: That's what I didn't understand. There were so many street scenes in New York. Were those shot in New York?
De Niro: Some of those were shot by the Williamsburg Bridge, others were shot in Montreal. And they built a street for the younger stuff in an area of Rome.

Shanken: I've seen the movie at least five times in its entirety. As a Jewish kid, I relate to growing up and seeing the ghetto scenes. The casting was unbelievable. Now Sergio Leone [who directed the film], unfortunately I never met him.
De Niro: Sergio was great.

Shanken: He was described to me by people as a crazy genius. Is that fair?
De Niro: I don't know what to call Sergio except he had a terrific sense of humor. He was a good guy, very simpatico, and I enjoyed working with him.

Shanken: I read in a book on you [De Niro: A Life, by Shawn Levy], that Sergio was asked a question to compare De Niro to Clint Eastwood, a frequent star in his spaghetti westerns. And he said: "Bobby, first of all, is an actor. Clint, first of all, is a star. Bobby suffers. Clint yawns." What does that mean? (laughs)
De Niro: Sergio has a great sense of humor. Clint's great.

Shanken: Is the story true that you had a meeting [with Sergio] in the hotel room at the Mayflower, and he came into your room and he peed on the toilet seat? And you said to Arnon ‘I ain't going to do this fucking part, the guy peed on my toilet seat?' (laughs)
De Niro: Nah, he didn't pee on the seat he kind of let it go all over the porcelain, it was kind of a sloppy thing. Sergio had approached me to do the movie maybe seven, eight, nine years earlier. We met at a hotel. And he wanted Gérard Depardieu and myself to do it. It must have been after 1900 [the 1976 film starri­ng De Niro and Depardieu], but I remember him talking about it with us, and I wasn't that interested at that time.

Shanken: Well also, going away for a year for the movie.
De Niro: Well you didn't know it was a year, but it turned out to be a year because of this and that, and Sergio was trying to figure out the ending, and how to see Manhattan from my character coming back. I think in the end he didn't want to let go.

Shanken: I've heard that before the movie begins shooting, you are argumentative and try and postulate your role as you think it should be, but once the camera starts rolling you are totally cooperative.
De Niro: Oh yeah, yeah. What I felt about the movie, and I was younger then, I felt certain things are not for me to worry about. That Sergio, he was doing another type of film, he wasn't doing a real film about—it was his vision, through his prism, being Italian.

Shanken: An Italian doing a film about Jews.
De Niro: Yeah, that and doing the stylized kind of movie that he does, and does so well. That's a certain type of film. I had thought of something else. It just wasn't applicable to that situation. So it was fine. As I say, he was great. And once you start, you commit to something and move on. I was concerned about certain things, I was concerned about the reality of certain situations, of the characters. But then, again, it was his movie and his style of doing things, and it had nothing to do with what I was talking about and I let that go. It was based on a book, originally I didn't know. Arnon originally gave me the book, before, when he was trying to get me to do the movie, and I read it, oddly enough called The Hoods, by a guy named Harry Gray. The book is a different thing. The book is very interesting. It's written by a guy who knew that world.

Shanken: But was the story in the book similar to the movie?
De Niro: It's what Sergio made of it. It's not—you could do a separate movie of what that book is about today. You'll see it when you read it.

Shanken: Are you ready? [Shanken takes out his iPad, puts it in front of De Niro and presses play, launching a series of film clips of De Niro's many cigar smoking scenes: Cape Fear, The Untouchables, Once Upon a Time in America, Raging Bull. De Niro watches, looks skeptical at first, laughs a bit and nods at the scenes as they unfold.] So the obvious question: How important were cigars in those roles? And did they make a difference in your performance?
De Niro: In The Untouchables and Cape Fear, I think they were good to have, appropriate for the character and for the scenes.

Shanken: Were they part of the script?
De Niro: I think for The Untouchables it might have been written in, but for Cape Fear it may have been added. I don't remember.

Shanken: Did you ever smoke cigars?
De Niro: I did, from time to time, but I stopped.

Marvin R. Shanken interviews Robert De Niro
Shanken playing a montage of De Niro's on-screen scenes, from Raging Bull to Cape Fear.

Shanken: So you were an occasional cigar smoker. Do you remember what you smoked?
De Niro: I liked to smoke Quai d'Orsay, which you could only get in France, and I liked Partagás No. 4. But I don't smoke so much. Rarely, rarely.

Shanken: So Drew [Nieporent] used to say you kept a humidor at Tribeca Grill filled with Cuban cigars that all your friends used to dip their hands into. Is this urban legend?
De Niro: I don't remember that.

Shanken: Martin Scorsese. Obviously he's your preferred director. You've done eight movies with him; some of the most dramatic performances in film history. Why is it that you and he together can create such incredible drama?
De Niro: Ask any actors who work with him. They love Marty because he's very easy, he goes with your ideas, he's very, very flexible, and takes whatever he can from every actor. Yet he's very clear as a director, and guides it, the piece, in the direction he feels he should. He gives you a lot of support. I think that we were just lucky to work together all those times. Sometimes he would have a project and I'd have a project and we would just get together and do it. It was always a joy.

Shanken: [Shows him a list of movies, each of which was directed by Martin Scorsese: Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Cape Fear and Casino.] If you look at these six movies, does one of them ring a bell for you?
De Niro: In what way?

Shanken: Personal memories. Points in your life. Cast. Something. Because they're all legendary. Do you have a favorite movie that you have made?
De Niro: I don't like to pick out one best movie. I'm not comfortable doing that.
 
Shanken: Come on, there's gotta be something personal to say about one movie?
De Niro: There is one possible movie. I'm not saying it's the best movie but it was a movie that meant a lot to me.
 
Shanken: And?
De Niro: Everybody's Fine. Directed by Kirk Jones. It's about a father who is estranged from his children who takes a road trip to try to reconnect with them. It was released by Miramax a few years ago [2009]. They did a lousy job promoting and distributing it. Miramax was being sold by Disney around this time. I only wish it was Harvey Weinstein who represented it. It died in America.

Shanken: What actors, or actor, have you not done a movie with that you'd like to?
De Niro: I'd like to do something with Leonardo DiCaprio.

Shanken: But you've done that.
De Niro: I did something when he was very, very young. [This Boy's Life, 1993.] That was a long time ago.

Shanken: What about directors? You've been with a lot of the great directors, Ron Howard, Brian De Palma, Coppola, Bertolucci, Michael Mann, Quentin Tarantino, but are there others?
De Niro: Well now I'm fortunate enough to be working with David Russell. David's great. I've worked with Jonathan Jakubowicz, he's a young director, he did Hands of Stone. He has a lot of heart, he did a terrific job.

Shanken: Directors you haven't worked with.
De Niro: Paul Thomas Anderson [director of There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights].

Shanken: So, when I ask people about you, they describe you as humble, shy, uncompromising, true perfectionist, and most loyal to your old friends. Nice descriptions. Which ones are accurate?
De Niro: Uh, I'd like to think they're all accurate. (laughs)

Shanken: Are there other adjectives you would use to describe yourself?
De Niro: It's hard to describe yourself. You try your best in life to do the right thing, and you can't always do the right thing—you can always disappoint somebody.

Shanken: So, doing the dark movies, doing the comedy movies, is it a different mindset? Do you prefer being Al Capone, in The Untouchables, or Jack Byrnes, in Meet the Fockers?
De Niro: They're both fun to play in some ways.

Shanken: So most actors align with Hollywood. Robert De Niro is "all in" with New York City. What's so special to you about New York?
De Niro: I am a New Yorker. I just feel that you have so many things in New York that you don't have in other places. But New York is just a unique place, that's why a lot of people come here to find themselves. They come from all parts of the world, from all parts of the country. And I understand it. My own parents did that. It's a place where you can find your identity, if you will, and you can be anonymous if you want, or be part of a community. I like New York because it has seasons. There's something about L.A. that's just too spread out and you drive all the time. It's just not the same experience. I'm a New Yorker. I like to stay here.

Shanken: Mayor Giuliani said you and your neighbors in Tribeca played a major role in feeding and caring for the volunteers after September 11. What was that experience like?
De Niro: It felt like something incomprehensible, when it happened. You couldn't imagine it. I saw it from my apartment. [In 2001, De Niro was living in Tribeca, less than 10 blocks from where the World Trade Center was destroyed in downtown Manhattan.] When I saw the building go down I had to look at my TV to see CNN that it was real. I couldn't believe it. I had to see it on a big television to my left, and I had to look there to confirm what I saw with my own eyes.

Shanken: You directed only two films, A Bronx Tale and The Good Shepherd, out of roughly 95 films you performed in. What are the differences between directing and acting, and which do you prefer?
De Niro: Directing is a much more consuming thing, which I like very much. You have to make all the decisions, you have to make them quickly at times, you're under the gun schedule wise, budget wise, it's hard to give up certain things, but you have to. When you shoot them you might have to give them up anyway for the overall story, the overall picture, and sometimes it's hard to give them up because you've put so much effort into those scenes and you don't have enough objectivity. And you have to balance what is good for the picture and what you want. It's a constant give and take that's always there when making films, because they cost a lot. Even the lower-budget films.

Shanken: Do you have any plans or ideas of directing another film?
De Niro: I would but it has to be something that I really want to do. I wanted to do a sequel to The Good Shepherd but we just never got there unfortunately.

Shanken: When you were a young actor, did you ever envision becoming involved in the business world? Becoming an entrepreneur?
De Niro: No, I'm not sure. I might have thought about it.

Shanken: So I sit here realizing I'm interviewing a part-time restaurateur. At the time that we first talked, I had no idea. The Tribeca Grill earned a Grand Award from the Wine Spectator, which is one of only 81 restaurants in the world [to get that award]. It's a great honor. And I'm further reminded that you had a restaurant in San Francisco called Rubicon with Francis Ford Coppola that also had a Grand Award, quite an accomplishment, and you're not even in the goddamn business so to speak. What would cause you, a successful actor, to invest in the high-risk business of restaurants?
De Niro: When I started the Tribeca Film Center I wanted to have a restaurant in the building. So Drew [Nieporent] had, at the time, Montrachet, where he currently has Bâtard. And so I asked him if he would be interested in doing that. He was so close he could actually handle the two restaurants. That's how it started.

Shanken: And it's had a great run.
De Niro: Yeah it's still going.

Shanken: Rubicon. I used to go to Rubicon in San Francisco all the time and it had a great wine list, especially California wines, and all the winemakers would go there. What was it like being partners with Francis Ford Coppola, and did you spend any time out there?
De Niro: Actually, as I remember it and I could be wrong, Drew asked me to go into that, and I asked Francis to go into that. I think. He became a partner. Maybe I got it wrong.

Shanken: But why restaurants? Tribeca Grill I can understand, you wanted it in your building, but in general, most restaurants if they last two or three years it's a big deal.
De Niro: I just—like it. It's like when I met Nobu Matsuhisa many years ago I said if you ever want to come to New York to open a restaurant let us know. That's how it was.

Shanken: We're going to get to Nobu in a minute. These two restaurants had a huge
investment in wine. Unlike 99 percent of all restaurants in the world. What was the motivating factor to be willing to make a considerable investment in a wine cellar for a restaurant?
De Niro: That's a question that Drew has to answer. I forget how that came about. Whether that was a given, that we had to put this money in to do this, or if he did it without telling me. He might have to remind me.

Shanken: (laughs) On to Nobu. I think I've heard that there's 26 worldwide locations?
De Niro: I think there's over 30 now. [Note: At press time, there were 32 locations.]

Shanken: I was on the Internet over the weekend, and it reported that you were in the Philippines last week opening up a Nobu Hotel. And I said what the fuck is this guy doing?
De Niro: Trying to make a living.

Shanken: And that you have another in Cabo San Lucas?
De Niro: We're opening one there.

Shanken: What's with the hotels?
De Niro: Well, I felt very simply that [hotel operators] would always ask Nobu restaurants to be in hotels to give them a certain cache and credibility. Why are we not saying, ‘look we want to open our own hotel?' We're doing that around the world.

Shanken: So you have 30 different cities?
De Niro: Well, there are some restaurants where there are two in the city, like London, and there are three in New York.

Shanken: How many hotels are there?
De Niro: There are only two, we have one in Caesars' Palace [Las Vegas] in the first tower, and we have one in the City of Dreams in Manila. 

Shanken: I assume you are not the major investor in the hotel itself.
De Niro: No, we are pulling in partners.

Shanken: Next: hotels, restaurants, real estate and all of a sudden, VDKA 6100 from New Zealand. Your partner is James Packer, from Australia. It appears that you're becoming a mini Warren Buffett with all these different ventures.
De Niro: Not really. (laughs)

Shanken: So how do you have time for acting?
De Niro: Believe it or not I do.

Shanken: Imported vodka is a very crowded category. What would cause you to get involved with a distilled spirits product, and what is your thinking of its future?
De Niro: This vodka is really good, and when they first had me taste it and compare it to others I said it's great, and I'd like to see what we can do, and that's how it started.

Shanken: Right now it's sold in just Metro New York, from what I know.
De Niro: We're just working stuff out. We made a transition and it's not fully there.

Shanken: So the question is, do you plan on having national distribution eventually? Or is it really a word-of-mouth brand?
De Niro: They're talking to people. I'm not doing that. It's in transition, so I want to be careful what I say. Because I don't want to be inaccurate.

Shanken: Tribeca Film Festival. People say this is one of your great legacies. How did that come about, and what was its goal, and have you reached it?
De Niro: After 9/11, a few months after, we started to try to have a festival to bring back life downtown, business and so on. And that's how it started.

Marvin R. Shanken interviews Robert De Niro
De Niro and Shanken in the Cigar Aficionado offices at the end of the interview.

Shanken: I'm going to mention some people. Say the one word about the individual that flashes into your mind. Al Pacino.
De Niro: A friend.

Shanken: Marlon Brando.
De Niro: Great actor.

Shanken: Joe Pesci.
De Niro: Friend.

Shanken: James Woods.
De Niro: A friend.

Shanken: Sharon Stone.
De Niro: Well—a friend.

Shanken: (laughs) Harvey Keitel.
De Niro: A friend.

Shanken: (laughs harder) This is not where I was hoping to go! Sylvester Stallone.
De Niro: A friend.

Shanken: Billy Crystal.
De Niro: A friend.

Shanken: But you gotta talk about—
De Niro: How can I describe—Billy's a great comedian, he's just is so great, smart and special. He's something.

Shanken: Matt Damon.
De Niro: Matt's a friend and a wonderful actor.

Shanken: So Marlon Brando, Joe Pesci, James Woods, they're not wonderful actors, they're just friends. (laughing)
De Niro: No, Brando's a great actor, I always mention him, James Dean, Montgomery Clift as the three that I was affected by.

Shanken: Bradley Cooper.
De Niro: Bradley's a dear friend.

Shanken: He's a dear friend, the others are just friends?
De Niro: He's a dear friend, some of them are my best friends.

Shanken: Obviously I was looking for—
De Niro: Description, ahh, it's too hard.

Shanken: Martin Scorsese.
De Niro: He's a friend and I'm fortunate enough to have done eight movies with him, and we will do one more and I hope we do more.

Shanken: For years you've been an extremely private person. But lately I've seen a lot more pictures of you out in the public at charity events, at the Tribeca Film Festival last month, even giving a commencement speech at an NYU graduation. What's changed? Why are you more willing, pardon the expression, to expose yourself?
De Niro: Probably as you get older you just feel, you know, what's the difference? It's not going to change anything. I think it's that simple. People try to do things and everybody's trying to get by in some way and it doesn't mean to let people take advantage of you. But some things just become less important.

Shanken: I watched you receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award in 2011, which showed a trailer with many of your movies. What did it feel like when your peers gave you a standing ovation?
De Niro: It was very nice. That simple.

Shanken: Very nice. Did anything go through your mind, in terms of your life's accomplishments?
De Niro: I consider myself very lucky to be where I am today. Period.

Shanken: Is there anything you haven't accomplished as an actor you wish you had?
De Niro: I can't think of anything that I didn't do. I mean, I'm very lucky.

Shanken: What's the one thing you haven't done yet that you want to do before you die?
De Niro: [knocks emphatically on the table] I want to live as long as I can for my kids.