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DeNiro and Pacino: Actors Second, Friends First

Credit: New York Times

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino both have long, prolific careers. For half a century, both men have become household names in Hollywood in landmark films like “Taxi Driver,” “Scarface,” “Raging Bull,” and the “Godfather” series, which they co-starred in.

The series known as one of the best series of films of all time forever entwined Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. When one invokes one of the men’s names, the other often comes up, despite the fact that the men have only shared the screen three times.

Credit: Variety

“The Irishman” reunites the legends in a crime drama about Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Frank Sheeran (De Niro), the mobster who claimed credit for Hoffa’s murder. The film came to fruition over the course of a decade. De Niro read Charles Brandt’s book, I Heard You Paint Houses, a novel that chronicles Sheeran’s rise to crime and how his life intertwined with the Hoffa and Kennedy families.

“It had this grand size to the story,” De Niro says. “It had historical figures whose outcomes had been unresolved, and this story had those answers, according to this character, which I believed.”

 The nearly four-hour drama seems like quite the undertaking for any actor, and it most certainly is. While most actors in their late 70s take on easier, more fun roles, Pacino and De Niro continue to take on roles such as these to hone their craft. The two actors see working together as a motivational challenge.

“It takes the edge off,” Pacino says about working together. “And puts the other edge on.”

Even though the two have only worked together a handful of times, the actors have a close and dear friendship. The pair met back when they were both young, struggling actors. They lost roles together. They experienced failure and success together. They even had similar upbringings— the men were raised in a post-World War II New York City, were children of divorce, and both attended acting schools.

Credit: USA Today

“We were in an unusual position,” Pacino says. “It was a whole different idea, being well-known. Not quite the way it is now. It was not as accessible, to be famous. It hadn’t caught on yet.”

“It was a good thing that we had each other to talk about stuff,” De Niro agrees.

Despite their similarities, the men have wildly different approaches to acting. “I suppose I could say that Al tends to go toward fluidity and music while Bob likes to locate states of mind and being, settling in,” Martin Scorsese, director of “The Irishman,” says. “But that’s just a matter of their instincts and personal orientations, I think. They’re both tremendous artists with powerful ‘instruments,’ as an acting teacher might put it.”

Michael Mann, director of “Heat,” a crime drama both Pacino and De Niro star in, echoes Scorsese’s sentiment. “They both have a total artistic immersion — the way they get to that is radically different.”

Credit: Polygon

For both actors, “The Irishman” explores a level of existentialism that they’d been starting to consider as they age. They agree that looking back is “natural” at their respective ages, and that it is a film that couldn’t have done, and wouldn’t have even considered, even ten years ago.

To learn more about the film, read the New York Times interview with the two iconic actors.