Robert De Niro and Anne Hathaway promoted their new film “The Intern,” along with director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated”) recently at a press conference at the Crosby Street Hotel in SoHo.
De Niro’s hair was long and curly over his ears, not a very flattering look. He told me he grew it long for his role as disgraced financier Bernie Madoff in an upcoming HBO movie directed by Barry Levinson (Michelle Pfeiffer will play Ruth Madoff) that he’s shooting now in New York.
In this generation-gap fable, De Niro plays Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old widower and once successful businessman who is bored with retirement and takes a senior internship at a Brooklyn online fashion site founded by Hathaway’s character, Jules, a driven entrepreneur with anxiety-inducing work and family pressures.
One of the pleasures of the film is watching De Niro’s low-key performance as the likeable Ben Whittaker, whose gopher-like duties include fetching coffee and chauffeuring Jules around in a town car. Ben bestows work-life guidance to Jules and everyone else in the office. “Love and work, work and love, that’s all there is,” is his mantra in the opening voiceover.
During the press conference, De Niro was asked if his computer skills were as lacking as Ben’s, and did he ever have a mentor? “I’m a little less technically challenged, but I’m not far behind,” he grinned. “I never had a mentor. I don’t envy (it), but I do think that it’s a great thing if you are lucky enough – especially if you’re in a certain untenable situation and you have a mentor who will change your life. They can do that. I mentored myself in a lot of ways.”
“But I think it’s a great thing, and I like to give advice to younger people if they ask me. At times, I’ve asked people who were further on in their careers, like Kazan or certain actors who were a generation ahead of me, I’d ask them questions about what to look out for because they’re experienced, because I want to take a short cut in some things,” De Niro said. “I don’t want to have to experience something if it’s going to be a negative one, or just get some words of advice. So I do that if they ask me. I don’t volunteer it, but I’m certainly there,” said the legendary actor. “I enjoy doing that.”
A journalist commented on the great chemistry between the leads and asked what they did to create that dynamic.
“Bob and I did some extreme bonding at the Century 21 mall,” Hathaway cracked. De Niro laughed.
Hathaway added, “You know, that’s a funny thing, I just trusted everything would be ok. Bob’s an easy guy to get along with.”
She added,”Once I got over the fact that I couldn’t talk around him for the first three weeks – I just felt like an idiot at everything I said – and once I calmed down about that, I just trusted the words. Bob’s good at having chemistry with people, so I assumed that as long as I didn’t mess it up, we’d be okay.”
De Niro’s response to the chemistry question: “She just said it.”
Of the movie’s themes and timeliness, De Niro said, “We tend to sort of think people getting older, they’re kind of sidelined in a way, and the point is that Ben is someone very important if you stop and listen. He has advice that only somebody that’s been on the planet a lot longer can give, and it’s really that simple. So she gets that from me, my character, and I get certain things from her. I wish I’d said it more eloquently, but that’s it.”
To a question about angst and whether they still experienced it, De Niro replied, “As long as you’re alive you’re going to have anxiety about something. (But) the things that were important 15 or 20 years ago are less important today, because I know that I can get the same results,” he said. “It doesn’t warrant as much angst or anxiety about that.”
“He’s a really kind of Zen guy,” commented Meyers.
“Sometimes,” De Niro replied.
“He’s a Jedi,” said Hathaway.
Meyers recounted a set story about De Niro: “There’s a gazillion people running around, and he’s just sitting in a chair having a little tuna sandwich, on the phone. The world can be going by, he’s just got it down. He’s always there when you need him. And by the way, that really helped, I think, everybody in the movie, seeing that calmness.”
As to what the stars learned about themselves making the film, De Niro replied, “I don’t know if I learned anything about myself that I didn’t already know. It was a just a really terrific experience.”
Hathaway said that up to now, she’s made many movies out of “a place of insecurity and neurosis and self doubt,” and maybe “because of Bob’s Zen or what,” she “decided to make one from a more positive place and to feel good about what I’m doing and to embrace the unknown.”
She added, “I actually had a wonderful time making this movie, and I think it yielded a more relaxed performance. It turns out that you can make a movie without having nonstop sleepless nights.”
The movie premiered Monday night at the Ziegfeld Theater in Manhattan, with a glamorous after party at Tavern on the Green.