There's a sweet irony to mafia film
He has portrayed some of the silver screen's meanest, most memorable gangsters in movies like The Godfather II (1974), Once Upon A Time In America (1984) and Goodfellas (1990).
Now, Robert De Niro, 70, is taking on the role of a mobster again in the Luc Besson-directed crime-comedy We're A Nice Normal Family, also starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Glee's Dianna Agron.
De Niro recently spoke about playing a mafia-boss-turned-snitch who relocates to France with his family under the Witness Protection Program.
Can you describe your character in the film?
He's a guy who's from New York - a crime boss, if you will - but he turned in his whole group. So, he was placed (in the) Witness Protection Program.
He's in France and he's moving from place to place with his family because they get into trouble. But there's a nice, sweet irony about the whole thing.
When you discovered the material, did you feel that it was a fresh take on the mobster genre?
It's an interesting take - I don't know what will happen and I hope it will be received well, obviously. It's an unusual story, a funny one, so I'm very anxious to see how it all turns out.
Did you do any research on the Witness Protection Program?
I did. Luc (Besson) asked people to do their research in the United States, and I did the same over there (in France). We didn't get exactly what we wanted, and I don't know if, at the end of the day, it would have mattered.
But I do know that something like (the programme) has to exist. There's a very real reason why someone would be placed in France, as opposed to the US.
It's more politically oriented in some way, but it's not spoken about because it's a more unorthodox (issue).
Regarding Luc Besson's sense of pace as a director, does he give any leeway to the actors?
He's very good, because he knows what he wants. There are some directors who you know have it all in their heads.
If you do a line reading literally, or a movement reading, it's okay, because it's intelligent and smart - it's totally right and believable. The timing he has is very important.
He's behind the camera and so he's more in control of things, he's got the whole canvas in his head.
How was working with Michelle Pfeiffer like, as you'd already been in two films with her?
I asked Michelle years ago to do a film I was doing, because I thought she'd be great in it. I kept calling her but, eventually, she didn't want to do it. I feel very comfortable with her and I figured (this film) was a good match for us. So, I'm very happy that Michelle did it.
Tommy Lee Jones (who plays an FBI agent in the film) said it was a humbling experience for him to play opposite you.
He was great, too, very easy to work with. I didn't have to say much and we'd do scenes very nicely.
We're A Nice Normal Family opens in cinemas tomorrow.