Robert De Niro does precious few interviews, and when he agrees to do them, he doesn’t really do them!
It’s the ultimate irony, isn’t it? A celebrity agrees to come on a “talk” show, and then he doesn’t talk.
That’s what happened Friday night when De Niro, 69, was Jay Leno’s guest on “The Tonight Show.”
The New York-based actor appeared on the L.A.-based NBC late-night show ostensibly to promote his current movie, “Silver Linings Playbook,” for which he’s been nominated for an Oscar.
The pattern was familiar: A late-night host — in this case, Leno — is excited that his show has finally booked this enigmatic actor who is sure to boost viewership, and then he enthusiastically promotes the appearance all week long. But when De Niro finally shows up on the last show of the week, Leno struggles to get a complete sentence out of him.
And we watch anyway. Why? Well, for one thing, there’s the obvious reason: De Niro is one of our most revered actors, as a montage shown on the “Leno” show demonstrated. The brief clip collection, which was shown just before De Niro came on stage, showed the actor in “Taxi Driver” (saying the classic line, “You talkin’ to me?”), “GoodFellas,” “The Godfather, Part II,” “Raging Bull,” even one of the “Fockers” movies.
And the other reason is: Because of those great movies (plus a few they didn’t include in the montage such as “The King of Comedy” (a movie about late-night TV, as a matter of fact), “The Deer Hunter,” “Casino” and others), we’re always keenly interested in what De Niro might have to say about those electrifying, memorable roles — how he acted in them, what it was like to work with Martin Scorsese, why his career ranges so widely from drama to comedy.
But no — on the “Leno” show, De Niro sat in the guest chair looking ill-at-ease and, for the most part, answered Leno’s questions with yeses, no’s, shrugs and I don’t know’s. And Leno sure gave it his all. For example, he asked De Niro at one point if he enjoys telling jokes, and if so, would he share his favorite joke. And for a split-second, it seemed as if we might actually get a joke out of him. But a millisecond later, De Niro demurred.
There were occasional moments where De Niro actually did answer a Leno question, as when Leno asked the actor if he is aware that so many comedians and other actors come on “The Tonight Show” and do their own De Niro impressions. De Niro said he is aware of that, and singled out Alec Baldwin for special praise in that department.
And in Part Two of their interview (watch the clip, above), De Niro even attempted to do something funny — when he “arranged” his and Jay’s “Tonight Show” mugs.
Strangely, De Niro’s charisma is so great that, even when he was being uncooperative on “The Tonight Show” (and really, he has never been cooperative on any of the late-night shows we’ve seen him on), he didn’t come across as unlikable. Instead, he was kind of amiable.
One moment that seemed to border on rude, though: When the appearance was over, De Niro was in such a hurry to get off-stage that he seemed poised to sprint off even before the show went to a commercial. Leno essentially blocked him from exiting completely.