By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Robert De Niro, considered one of the finest motion picture performers of his generation, was saluted on Sunday with a lifetime achievement award from his acting peers, and used the occasion to take a veiled jab at U.S. President Donald Trump.
The two-time Academy Award winner and star of Oscar-nominated mob film “The Irishman” received the annual Screen Actors Guild (SAG) tribute celebrating a 50-year career in films ranging from dramas like “The Deer Hunter,” “Raging Bull” and “The Godfather: Part II” to comedies such as “Meet the Parents” and “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Stepping onto the stage to a rousing standing ovation and cheers at the Shrine Auditorium on Sunday evening, De Niro took another swipe at Trump, without mentioning him by name, as the president faces a Senate trial this week on impeachment charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“There’s right, and there’s wrong and there’s common sense, and there’s abuse of power, and as a citizen I have as much right as anyone else … to voice my opinion,” the actor said. “And if I have a bigger voice because of my situation, I’m going to use it whenever I see a blatant abuse of power. And that’s all I’m going say about that tonight.”
He then went on to thank his “comrades in arms” for bestowing the life achievement honor, presented by the SAG-AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Actors) union.
A versatile actor with more than 100 films to his credit, De Niro, 76, also is co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, established to help revitalize lower Manhattan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that reduced the World Trade Center to ruins.
Although known for his often-taciturn demeanor in public appearances while strictly guarding his private life, De Niro has emerged as one of Trump’s most vocal critics outside of political circles.
In 2018, he launched an expletive-laden attack on Trump on live television as a presenter on stage of the Tony Awards for Broadway theater. Trump responded on Twitter by calling De Niro “a very low-key individual.”
A frequent collaborator with director Martin Scorsese, De Niro built his career with haunting portrayals of loners and tough guys – a deranged ex-convict in “Cape Fear,” a disturbed vigilante in “Taxi Driver,” a disillusioned Vietnam War veteran in “Deer Hunter,” a ruthless gangster in “Goodfellas.”
A method actor and perfectionist who trained at the Stella Adler Conservatory and the American Workshop and with Lee Strasberg, De Niro earned a reputation for intense preparation.
He learned to speak a Sicilian dialect to play the young mobster Vito Corleone in “The Godfather: Part II,” a role that earned him his first Oscar in 1975. And he famously gained 60 pounds (27 kilos) for his second Oscar-winning performance as boxing great Jake LaMotta in 1980’s “Raging Bull.”
He also found success playing his hard-bitten screen image for laughs, in such comedic roles as an insecure mob boss in “Analyze This” and a retired CIA operative in “Meet the Fockers.”
Nevertheless, De Niro has been largely overlooked this awards season for his acting work as hitman Frank Sheeran in “The Irishman,” failing to garner nominations as a performer in the Golden Globes, Oscars, or SAG contests. He did, however, share an Academy Award nomination in this year’s best picture race as one of four named producers of “The Irishman.”
De Niro joins previous SAG lifetime recipients including Alan Alda, Elizabeth Taylor, Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood and Debbie Reynolds.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Steve Gorman and Nick Zieminski)