Robert De Niro Opens Up About His Three Loves: Film, Philanthropy & New York


“This should be the first commandment: Don’t fuck with nature,” declares Robert De Niro. It is a rainy April evening in Manhattan and the 70-year-old actor, director and producer is at Tribeca’s Three Sixty° celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Mohonk Preserve, New York state’s largest non-profit nature sanctuary. “Mohonk Preserve is a shining example of the good that can come from the smart, sensitive care of our natural resources. Not long ago, that seemed like a good choice, now it’s a matter of life and death,” he continues, a fervor in his voice so resounding that it is hard not to nod along in agreement.

Dressed casually in a navy blue jacket, a sky blue button up and charcoal trousers, De Niro looks nothing like the dark characters he embodies in his movies, but the underlying seriousness and intensity is still there. When I reach out to shake his hand before our interview and accidentally brush his skin with my spiked cocktail ring, making him flinch, I half-expect him to scream, “Jesus, Focker,” but he graciously ignores my mishap and begins talking about the things he loves the most: film, philanthropy and New York.


Having starred in more than 90 films throughout his 40-plus year career, running the gamut from mob dramas to raucous comedies, De Niro is widely considered a force to be reckoned with in the entertainment industry, forging collaborations with a laundry list of industry giants including Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Marlon Brando. He has served as a producer, director, writer, and of course, actor, and when he is asked if there is anyone he has always wanted to work with (that he has not already), he responds with a clear, resounding “no.”


“People always ask me about my most challenging role, but I can never say because they are all challenging for different reasons,” he muses. “Darker characters are more interesting to write, and they are more interesting to act because they are not aspiring to be a good guy at the end of the day, saving the day. It’s about playing parts that are more interesting, and understanding the complexity of people. It’s not black and white to say the least. It’s many shades of grey, many shades of black, and many shades of white.”


It is this understanding of human nature and unabashed willingness to go to those dark places and tap into other realms of his psyche that separates De Niro from other actors of today. Interestingly, it is also this intensity that leads to him typically being cast in serious roles. “Probably part of what I give off as a person, which is not always who I am as a person, but what I give off, or what people perceive, is serious,” he admits.

Another attribute that distinguishes De Niro from other performers is his ability to effectively communicate without words. Like Meryl Streep and her signature eye roll, De Niro has mastered the art of the dramatic pause, carefully choosing to add it in the beginning of his soliloquies rather than the end, crafting it into a mechanism to convey meaning and emotion. “I haven’t worked on it, it’s just…” he says, pausing for dramatic effect. “I haven’t mastered anything, but I try my best.”

With an enviable career spanning more than four decades, De Niro has clearly mastered plenty of skills, so many so, that it begs the question: is there anything left on his bucket list? “I haven’t done a lot of things, but I always try to do as much as I can,” he divulges. Recently, that entailed creating a film about his late father, Robert De Niro Sr., an acclaimed abstract expressionist painter who was endorsed by famed art collector Peggy Guggenheim. Today, several of his paintings hang in De Niro’s Manhattan restaurant, Tribeca Grill. “I always wanted to do a documentary about my father. I just did it for myself, and then HBO picked it up,” he reveals. “It was really for me, my family, my kids and my grandkids. I wanted them to know who their grandfather was because, to me, he was a great artist. And more importantly, not a great artist, but a real artist.” The touching documentary, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, will air on HBO in June.



When De Niro is not busy working or raising awareness about environmental issues, there is no place he would rather be than in his hometown of New York City. “New York is a really special place,” he states emphatically. “I run into people around the world and they love coming here. I guess it gives them the sense of freedom and anonymity… doing whatever they can do, whatever they want to do, and succeeding at it. When you come to America, which is what we’re famous for, you can do anything. You can become whatever you want and succeed wonderfully, if you’re lucky, and you’re enterprising, and you’re smart.”

Mohonk Preserve protects and manages more than 8,000 acres of mountain ridges, forests, fields, streams and ponds in New York. Located 90 minutes outside of Manhattan, the preserve boasts carriage roads and trails perfect for hiking, running, mountain biking, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing. In an effort to protect the breathtaking region, which attracts nearly 165,000 visitors each year, the preserve conducts programs in four key areas: environmental education, land protection, land stewardship, and conservation science. To learn more, visit