De Niro channelled a crab as cabbie in Taxi Driver

Robert De Niro (above) reflects on his iconic portrayal of the mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran in Taxi Driver (1976).
Robert De Niro (above) reflects on his iconic portrayal of the mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran in Taxi Driver (1976). PHOTOS: DPA, COLUMBIA PICTURES
Robert De Niro reflects on his iconic portrayal of the mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran (above) in Taxi Driver (1976).
Robert De Niro reflects on his iconic portrayal of the mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran (above) in Taxi Driver (1976). PHOTOS: DPA, COLUMBIA PICTURES

LONDON • Legendary Hollywood actor Robert De Niro revealed he had occasionally used the so-called "animal exercise" in which actors channel an animal to play a character.

In a wide-ranging question-and-answer event at the London Film Festival last Friday, he was bombarded with queries from several budding actors looking for tips on his fabled performances.

The 76-year-old actor, whose performance in the new movie Joker has drawn comparisons to his past roles in Taxi Driver (1976) and The King Of Comedy (1983), shared snippets of an acting career which has spanned more than 50 years.

"I thought of Travis as a crab," he said of his iconic portrayal of Travis Bickle - a mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran driving a yellow cab in New York - in Taxi Driver. The movie won the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival.

De Niro's character in the film is a social outcast who feels misunder-stood and turns to violence to resolve immediate problems.

"He's out of his cab, which is his protective shell - he's outside his element. I got the image of a crab, moving awkwardly, sideways and back, " he elaborated in De Niro: A Life, a biography by Shawn Levy.

"I haven't done that much recently, but it's something to do (to) make yourself think about this character. It can give you behavioural things," said the New York-born actor, whose award-winning career began on Broadway before he discovered cinema at age 20.

Asked how he stays in character with a camera centimetres from his face, the double-Oscar-winner (The Godfather Part II, 1974, and Raging Bull, 1980), said he channels the energy of the moment. "When the camera is closer to you... somehow, the energy will change even more and you do it the best you can do it," he said. "You try and be as honest as you can at that moment."

He also renewed his criticism of Mr Donald Trump, telling a London audience the United States President was trying to "destroy" American institutions "to save himself".

De Niro has been a frequent critic of the leader, using an expletive to criticise Mr Trump at the televised Tony Awards in June last year.

Speaking ahead of his new Martin Scorcese-directed movie The Irishman, which closes London's 12-day film festival, De Niro said Mr Trump was attempting to "upend" Americans' views of typically non-partisan entities like the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

"We have to defend these institutions - plus the fourth estate, the press - because he's trying to destroy them and for only one reason: to save himself," the actor said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2019, with the headline 'De Niro channelled a crab as cabbie in Taxi Driver'. Print Edition | Subscribe