My dear friend Raju Patel took a young actor by the name of Tom Hanks put him in a film he was producing called “Bachelor Party” and the rest was history. While Tom Hanks went on to become a great film actor Raju died at a young age of 45 at his home in Long Beach, California. So if you are about to sit down with Robert De Niro you better be able to talk about something, and a bachelor party was a good place as any to start.
Robert De Niro’s widely credited as one of the finest actors of his generation, De Niro has starred in more than 90 films in a career spanning half a century, including classics Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter and Raging Bull, and, more recently, Meet The Fockers and Silver Linings Playbook.
The 70-year-old star chuckles when recalling the filming of Last Vegas, shot in Sin City with an army of bikini-clad beauties as eye-popping extras.
The comedy, also starring Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, chronicles the ageing foursome’s trip to the Strip to throw a stag party for Douglas’s character, a committed bachelor who is finally about to make it up the aisle… with a woman half his age.
‘I’d never been to a bachelor party, I didn’t really know what a bachelor party was,’ confesses De Niro, taking off his wire-rimmed spectacles and popping them in his top pocket before putting them back on a second later. And Las Vegas, he sighs, has changed almost beyond recognition.
‘The first time I went to Vegas, I was 17,’ he says. ‘I had a friend who was a dealer in a casino. It was real desert, still like the Wild West.
Apparently, there’s a nightclub scene now. Back then, you gambled and then, at 4am, you went to the lounges to see Sinatra sing.’
In person, he’s diffident, almost shy, but genial – a far cry from the menacing characters he’s most famous for, along with the ‘method’ acting techniques he uses to prepare for them.
Decades before Christian Bale and Matthew McConaughey made headlines with their physical transformations for films, De Niro gained more than 4st and learnt to box for Raging Bull, lost almost the same weight again for The Last Tycoon, lived in Sicily for his role in The Godfather: Part II, learnt to play the saxophone for New York, New York and worked as a cabbie for his role in Taxi Driver.
No such serious preparation was required for Last Vegas, however, in which he plays a depressed widower, permanently clad in a dressing gown and drowning in grief. Does it bother him that the roles he is now offered are so dramatically different to those he has played in the past?
‘That’s just life,’ he shrugs. ‘We can’t play certain parts any more. We’re playing the father or the grandfather or the great-grandfather and that can be written in a funny way, so it’s fine. But you’re not
carrying the movie as the young romantic lead – those days are gone.