Centuries from now, if nobody knows the name Robert De Niro anymore, his image will still continue to influence the world’s understanding of what it means to be a New Yorker. From the image of the New York City tough guy (we doubt anyone will ever forget which city the phrase “You talkin’ to me?” was spoken in) to the immigrant experience of Vito Corleone, Robert De Niro’s roles have become nearly synonymous with the New York temperament.
Mr. De Niro grew up in Greenwich Village and Little Italy. He dropped out of school at 16 to pursue acting, and went to study drama at the acclaimed Stella Adler Studio of Acting and Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio, both in Manhattan. After his debut in 1969’s Wedding Party, Mr. De Niro went on to star in some of the most famous films of all time, many playing memorable New York characters: Johnny Boy in Mean Streets (1973), young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II (1974), Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver (1976), Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull (1980) and Jimmy Conway in Goodfellas (1990). These roles have become such a dominant part of American culture that Mr. De Niro has been able to enjoy a second (and probably more lucrative) career in comedic roles satirizing his embodiment of the tough New Yorker.
He has also made a substantial contribution to the cultural atmosphere of Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood: he is co-owner of the famed restaurant Nobu, and there is hardly a bar in the area where you won’t overhear someone saying “I hear De Niro is supposed to show up later” on any given night. He has also worked to bolster New York’s presence in the international filmmaking scene. In 1989 he co-founded the film studio Tribeca Productions—a move that encouraged other production companies to start filming in New York City again. In 2002 he co-founded the annual Tribeca Film Festival, which, like his production company, shows off New York as a viable center for filmmaking. But it is his quintessential tough-guy roles for which Robert De Niro will forever be associated with the legend and notoriety of New York.