Robert De Niro
"I don't know him that well," says director Frank Oz of Robert De Niro, with whom he worked on the 2001 heist flick The Score. "I'm very friendly with him, but I don't think I could call myself his friend," he added.
Robert De Niro, presumably, has close friends. But don't expect to hear about them, or the star himself for that matter. The notoriously private icon is an "Actor", not a celebrity. And just because he's been in a few comedies of late -scoring with Analyze This and missing with The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle -don't think he's gone soft.
Robert De Niro was born on August 17, 1943, in New York City, to Robert De Niro Sr, an abstract expressionist artist, and Virginia Admiral, a painter. An actor from age ten, Robert appeared as the Cowardly Lion in a local production of The Wizard Of Oz, and then, after dropping out of high school, went on to study with renowned figures in the world of theatre.
De Niro flourished under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg - one of the greatest forces in method acting - and then at the famed Stella Adler Studio Of Acting. He paid his dues off-Broadway but soon established himself as a master of disguise, utterly inhabiting his roles in a string of acclaimed films.
After several small movie roles, the Manhattan native's career took off with 1973's Bang The Drum Slowly - for which he picked up a New York Film Critics Circle Award - and Mean Streets, his first film with celebrated director Martin Scorsese. De Niro went on to find Academy Award glory in 1975, picking up a Best Actor In A Supporting Role trophy for the sequel to The Godfather. Oscar nominations followed in 1977 for Taxi Driver and again in 1979 for The Deer Hunter. He took home the Best Actor gong for 1980's Raging Bull - for which he gained 60lbs - and a decade later found himself nominated yet again for the Robin Williams weepy Awakenings and 1992's Cape Fear.
Scorsese - who directed the legendary actor in eight films, including 1976's tour de force Taxi Driver, says De Niro "doesn't look at you; he considers you". And that may be the secret to his commanding performances and longevity. His staying power has also been boosted by a new-found career as the king of comedy in hits such as Meet The Parents with Ben Stiller and its sequel, Meet The Fockers.
Unlike some of his equally esteemed contemporaries, De Niro is also extemely prolific, completing 24 films in the Nineties alone. He has also worked on the other side of the camera, making his directorial debut with the well-received 1993 film A Bronx Tale.
Often intimidating on screen, in real life De Niro is prone to leaving long pauses while apparently editing his speech, a habit believed to stem from his distaste for interviews. "I believe the work should speak for itself," says the notoriously guarded actor. "Let me do what I do, and you can judge me based on my work rather than me explaining my work."
He employs a similar approach to his private life, ensuring it remains private. He wed actress Diahnne Abbott in 1976 and two years later the couple had one child together, Raphael. The couple were together for 12 years and Robert later adopted Drena, Diahnne's daughter from a previous marriage, before the pair finally divorced.
In 1996 he and former girlfriend Toukie Smith had twin boys through artificial insemination. The couple had split years earlier but he had agreed to father the children. The following year he walked down the aisle with former model and flight attendant Grace Hightower. The relationship was not without its difficulties, as the pair split and reunited on several occasions, but despite the hard times they have remained together to this day. They have one child together, a little boy called Elliott.
The actor-cum-entrepreneur - he owns New York's trendy Tribeca Grill and TriBeCa Film Center plus Nobu London in the British capital among other outfits - seems less restrained these days, a change which he credits to his comedy work. "You're freed because you have no restrictions or limitations to speak of. It's silly. Crazy, silly stuff," he explains.