Robert De Niro, a man who means what he says
“Are you talkin’ to me”? is one of the most famous lines of Hollywood! It is none other than the great Robert De Niro, who utters them in the movie “Taxi” (?? Need to check the facts). I have been a huge fan of De Niro for a long time. He can be funny, dangerous or down right mean! I saw him for so many years on the celluloid hat I never thought that I would ever meet him in person.
Some time in 1995. I was at Intel, working on a strategy for introducing technology in media companies. We were working with a lot of actors, directors, producers to see how we can use the power of the new medium called Internet in entertainment. Mind you! This is way before Internet was popular. DVD technology was just coming in & the entertainment industry was very reluctant to adopt this new technology because of the ease with which one could copy information from this digital format. It is natural for the entertainment industry to doubt any new technology that makes its way into general public. They fought the talking movies, they fought the TV, they fought the VCR and now they are fighting the Internet & other new technologies. A small group of us at Intel were working on this plan to establish good relationship with media companies so that we could exchange ideas more freely and work on blending the best of the two disciplines. Silicon Valley and Hollywood are worlds apart in every way possible. SV crowd thinks that HW crowd is full of air & HW crowd thinks that SV has no sense of personal relationships & sense of aesthetics. One look at SV cubicles, taste in clothing and general lack of interest in the fine arts can support the HW perception. Also, one look at the valet parked cars costing six figures, personal tours on private jets, vacations in vineyards also attest to the flamboyant life style sported by HW that is abhorred in the corridors of the traditional SV industry. You have to remember that this is early 1995 & the fast paced life style of the Dot bombers has not come and gone yet! Both parties were right in their criticism but neither one of them seen the positive side of the possible union. The power of the new medium fostered in the corridors of SV merged with the creative capabilities gracing the studios of HW had the capability to witness the birth of a powerful new form of entertainment. We prepared a list of creative people that we could contact and talk to them about the possibility of doing some projects together. We also had a technology lab at Creative Artists Agency (one of the top talent agencies in Hollywood) so that artists could play with technology and get familiar with its usage.
One day, my boss called and told me that we were going to be visited by Robert De Niro in a week’s time. He might have as well said that we were going to be visited by God!! It was one of those tough situations. He was going to visit us as a possible business associate. So, I could not quite drool over like a teenage girl (at least not in front of him). Also, his visit was requested to be kept a secret because we did not want to attract a huge crowd. So, you can imagine my plight! I could not share my excitement with anyone .. especially not in front of him. Finally the day arrived. Robert De Niro himself came to visit us with his colleagues. We went through the usual business discussions. Fortunately for me, the only thing that can make me forget that I am sitting in front of my idols is be totally engrossed with the mission at hand. Once I start talking about technology & how it can be applied to various aspects of life, the personalities almost blur in front of my face. So, we got through the meeting without making a fool out of myself. After the meeting, we took them to see Intel museum, which goes through the history of Intel, the infrastructure of the fabrication labs, applications of technology etc., I love that museum and was only too happy to talk to them about the various aspects of technology. At one point, I was aware that only De Niro & I were talking to each other & everyone else had left to continue the business discussions. He was so curious about the details of the technology that I felt as though I finally found someone who was equally interested in the application of technology as I was fascinated. After we finished the meeting, he asked me if I would mind talking to his script writer more about technology. He said that he could ask his writer to call me and visit me so that he can document some of the things that I was talking about. I told him that I would be delighted to host his writer but I had my doubts. In Hollywood, there is a term called “Let’s do lunch”, which means pretty much “Good Bye”. I always take a comment made by anyone from Hollywood with a grain of salt. But, true to his word, De Niro’s writer called me a few days later, visited me, and collected a lot of information.
This encounter made me understand why De Niro is a great actor and how he survives being on screen year after year. It is because nothing is trivial for him and because he is an eternal student. When he wants to learn something, he will employ all his resources to really gather the data. That is why, whether he plays the member of mafia or the suspicious father putting his so in law thought hell or a psychopathic killer, he is equally believable. It is the home work that he continues to put in, that makes him a star in my eyes!