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Robert De Niro and Al Pacino on Reuniting for Netflix’s Oscar-Tipped Gangster Movie

Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, Al Pacino

Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese, and Al Pacino, at The Irishman International Premiere and Closing Gala during the 63rd BFI London Film Festival. Photo: Getty

On the eve of their European premiere of The Irishman, Hollywood superstars Robert De Niro, 76, and Al Pacino, 79, sat down with Vogue Man Arabia at London’s Corinthia Hotel to talk Oscar rivalry, “Marty” Scorsese and their enduring 50-year friendship.

In the movie based on Charles Brandt’s compelling 2004 memoir I Heard You Paint Houses [code for killing a man], De Niro plays former hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran reminiscing about his past, while Pacino plays notorious mob-connected union boss Jimmy Hoffa.

Alongside his movie career, De Niro is also an astute business who co-owns Japanese eatery Nobu (which has Dubai and Abu Dhabi outposts) and with plans to launch Nobu hotels in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, fans will see a lot more of the veteran actor in the region.

Until then, his star turn in Scorsese’s highly anticipated gangster epic, with a reported budget of US$175million, is already creating a buzz as Netflix’s hottest Oscar hopeful.

The Irishman. Courtesy of Netflix

How did you work on the relationship of your characters and getting that dynamic right?

Pacino: Well we know each other very well. I don’t know how many people realise that, but we’ve known each other since the sixties. We met when we were just young actors and throughout the years we’ve grown to know each other very well, especially as we were experiencing almost identical things at the same time.

We were both in the Godfather II but we’re not in the same scenes.

We worked together in Heat and Righteous Kill and it feels like some sort of intervention to be able to work together again in The Irishman.

The Irishman. Courtesy of Netflix

With the digital revolution and it being a Netflix production, does it feel like a new era of film, similar to the seventies when you were working in the new Hollywood?

Pacino: Bob and I were players in the seventies, as were Marty [Scorsese], Harvey [Keitel] and Joe [Pesci]. Does it feel reminiscent of the seventies style? Well I’m not aware of the influence of the seventies as I was there. Actually I don’t remember the seventies for a lot of reasons [laughs].

De Niro: You know where we are now, right? We’re in the nineties… [laughs].

The Irishman. Courtesy of Netflix

The de-ageing technology used to transform the cast into younger versions is impressive. What did it change on set?

Pacino: It was hard but it’s all about accepting what’s going on. You’ll do anything within the context of making a film. There was this R2D2 little guy that we got to know and like after a while. You just get used to it as there are too many other things to think about.

De Niro: Actually, the most complicated part was putting the actual prosthetics on for playing the middle-aged version of my character, which took a little more time. For our younger characters they told us to act ourselves and they would de-age us.

Robert, tell us about those final, touching scenes of the movie when your character seeks forgiveness…

That scene was in the book and that’s why I felt it was so great. Frank’s gone through his whole life and winds up confessing to the priest and getting it all off his chest as an old guy in an old age home.

There’s already been a lot of Oscar talk about the film. Is there any friendly rivalry between you?

De Niro: For me, it’s just nice to be nominated…

Pacino: I think we’ll be in different categories so that will definitely help us there [laughs]. 

The Irishman premieres on Netflix on 27 November

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