Tribeca Film Festival founder Robert De Niro and writer-director Judd Apatow have done some of their best work under the Universal banner. On Thursday they helped celebrate the studio's 100th anniversary with a talk about its culture and history.
De Niro has enjoyed a long relationship with Universal, having starred in "Cape Fear," "Mad Dog and Glory," "The Deer Hunter" and the brilliantly prophetic "Brazil." More recently he's served as Ben Stiller's foil in the "Meet the Parents" franchise (Universal is part of NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC 4 New York, one of the sponsors of the Tribeca Film Festival).
Though Apatow's name seemingly appears on the poster for every comedy made these days, he's directed only three feature films, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" and "Funny People," each of them at Universal. And that relationship continues with his next film, the "Knocked Up" spin-off "This Is 40," starring Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow's real-life wife). "Five-Year Engagement," which Apatow produced, opened this year's festival.
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The two filmmakers spoke for more than an hour with Mike Flemming of Deadline serving as moderator. De Niro was his typically reticent self, while Apatow was a stone-cold cut-up.
Flemming opened by asking De Niro about his first film with Universal, "The Deer Hunter," for which he won Best Actor at the Oscars. It's a brilliant but dark film that had Apatow wondering what he was doing on the same stage.
"I want to know how you're going to transition from 'Deer Hunter' to 'Knocked Up,' said Apatow. "There's no way that I'm not going to look like a jackass...I could talk about 'Deer Hunter' for a half hour. Here's my interpretation of it… It came out and I was about 10 years old. We had a VHS of it. I watched it. And thus I became this."
While talking about "40-Year-Old Virgin," which Apatow said was star Steve Carell's idea, Fleming asked the director about his own experience losing his virginity.
"I'm going to tell you in detail--it was near senior year of high school and I thought it went over really well. And I said, 'Was it good for you too?' which I thought was a funny thing to say. And she said, 'Well, I hope it gets better.'"
Somehow, Fleming turned the conversation back to De Niro, asking how it is that he's "so good at playing tough guys and murderers?"
"That's between me and my therapist," quipped De Niro.
There were, however, a few serious moments, as Apatow spoke about how supportive Universal was of his film "Funny People," which received mixed reviews and did comparatively poorly at the box office.
"In all honesty they always loved the movie and were always supportive throughout the process and when it came out. Because they want me to grow and get better at what I do. And part of that is to try and take risks. It's never been weird. ," he said.
De Niro in discussing his transition from some of the darkest dramas ever made to comedy, argued that "'Taxi Driver' there are funny things in it. 'Mean Streets,' but the comedy was out of situations…"
Apatow couldn't resist.
"'Goodfellas' was hilarious! In theaters it just rocked the house!"
As a final nod to the studio, Tribeca will host an outdoor screening of the film hailed as the first summer blockbuster in Hollywood history, "Jaws," the Steven Spielberg masterpiece that had Americans fleeing the oceans in 1975. The film will be showing at 8 pm, at the World Financial Center Plaza. But they'll start letting in folks at 6, and there will be pre-screening activities beginning at 6:30.
If you haven't seen "Jaws" lately, it remains a masterpiece--scary, exciting, paranoid and funny, and featuring one of the greatest scores in film history.