Scorsese and De Niro Talk ‘The Irishman,’ and DiCaprio Is in the Audience

The director Martin Scorsese and his frequent star Robert De Niro shared a few small details about their forthcoming film, “The Irishman,” as part of a wide-ranging discussion Sunday at the Beacon Theater, where audience members were surprised to learn that Leonardo DiCaprio was in their midst.

For the event, part of the Directors Series of the Tribeca Film Festival, which the actor helped found, De Niro loosely played the role of interviewer. He asked Scorsese about specific elements of “Mean Streets,” “The Last Waltz,” “Raging Bull,” “Casino,” “King of Comedy,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and his recent drama about faith, “Silence.” As clips from those movies played on a huge screen behind them, the colleagues, both in sport coats and open-collar shirts, turned around in their seats onstage and leaned back to watch.

Sprinkled throughout the conversation were names like Terrence Malick (who wrote Scorsese after seeing “Silence” and asked, “What does Christ want from us?”), Michael Powell (the “Red Shoes” director whom Scorsese consulted when he was working on “Raging Bull”) and Norman Mailer (the author and fight fan who urged a reluctant Scorsese to make that film).

Scorsese spoke at length about his hesitance when it came to “Raging Bull,” in part because he didn’t know how to shoot sports. “If there’s a ball involved, forget it,” he said onstage, going on to explain that De Niro pushed for the film and broke down the boxing scenes at length for him.

In fact, many of the filmmaker’s reminiscences involved the star urging him to take on a project or try out a performer. Late in their discussion, the two remembered that when De Niro was reading with potential cast members for the 1993 adaptation “This Boy’s Life,” he called Scorsese.

“You said this kid, DiCaprio, is really good to work with sometime,” Scorsese said onstage, “and you don’t usually say that.”

After explaining that DiCaprio was actually reading for a secondary part, not the lead role he eventually landed in that film, De Niro said, “Leo, are you out here?”

It turned out the actor, in a Los Angeles Dodgers cap, had been in the audience all along. But he stayed seated and didn’t talk about his work in five Scorsese features.

Scorsese and De Niro didn’t divulge much about “The Irishman,” the drama about organized crime and Jimmy Hoffa that also stars Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, a frequent collaborator of theirs. But the movie came up at a few points in the discussion (though neither addressed the fact that Netflix is releasing it). For instance, while talking about scores that borrow themes from other movies, the director mentioned that “The Irishman’s” mix includes borrowed elements.

De Niro recalled telling the director he had to read “I Heard You Paint Houses,” the 2004 book on which it’s based. And Scorsese told De Niro onstage, “You really felt the heart of this character and this situation.”

The director acknowledged that the material represented a return to the milieu of mobster tales like “Goodfellas” and “Casino” that the two are well known for, “but I think and I hope from a different vantage point. The years have gone by and you see things in a special way.”

In Scorsese’s view, the film is dealing with “the essence of who the people are, not necessarily the trappings around them.”

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