What Makes Robert De Niro the Archetypal Italian
Robert de Niro may be only one quarter Italian, but is always identified as an Italian-American. His great-grandparents, Giovanni De Niro and Angeline Mercurio, emigrated from the Molise region of southern Italy, yet family history comes full circle with De Niro claiming Italian citizenship in 2006. Despite objections lodged by the Order Sons of Italy, protesting that De Niro always portrayed Italians as criminals, he became one of Italy’s most famous citizens.
There is no doubt that De Niro’s Italian roots played as important a part as his acting talent in securing him his early Hollywood roles. Collaborating with two other directors of Italian descent, Martine Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, his early films included The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight (1971), Mean Streets (1973), and The Godfather, Part 2 (1974). The latter netted him his first Oscar for his convincing portrayal of Sicilian Mafia Chief, Don Vito Corleone, rewarding him for the time he spent learning the Sicilian dialect.
De Niro went on to prove his versatility in the boxing-themed Raging Bull (1980), playing a Jewish New York Gangster in Once Upon a Time in America (1984), playing Al Capone in The Untouchables (1987), displaying a convincing southern drawl in Cape Fear (1991), his dry humor in the American comedy Meet the Parents (2000) and speaking fluent Italian in the romantic comedy The Ages of Love (2011).
Following his success in front of the camera, De Niro has also proved himself a talented director, producing A Bronx Tale in 1993 and The Good Shepherd in 2006. His Tribeca production company has allowed independent filmmakers to produce some visionary movies while his role in developing the Tribeca Film Festival has proved a valuable showcase for independent storytellers and movie-makers.
Despite turning 70, Robert De Niro’s career is far from over. His next role is to play the legendary Enzo Ferrari in a biopic about the Italian founder of one of the world’s most prestigious sports car marques.
De Niro reportedly says he cherishes his Italian connections and regularly travels to Italy, the homeland of his great-grandparents. He has proved himself a master at filtering his Italian heritage into the characters he has played over his 45-year Hollywood career. Perhaps the parts he chooses to play reveal a great deal about where De Niro’s heart truly lies.