“There is a certain combination of anarchy and discipline in the way I work.” – Robert De Niro
Martin Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece Taxi Driver is often regarded as one of his finest works, of course, but also as one of the most influential films in the history of cinema. Scorsese’s searing investigation of masculinity and disillusioned aggression is a rebellion against the emptiness of the universe and at the centre of it is Robert De Niro’s iconic performance as Travis Bickle, an ex-marine and Vietnam veteran who works as a cab driver in New York City.
While speaking about De Niro’s performance, Scorsese had once said, “Bob (De Niro) was very instrumental because he pointed out to me that the first line of dialogue was ‘Turn off the meter.’ And I did one take, and he said to me, ‘When you say – Turn off the meter – make me turn it off. Just make me turn it off.
“I’m not going to turn it off until you convince me that you want me to turn off that meter.’ So, I learned a lot. He sort of acted with the back of his head, but he encouraged me by not responding to me. And using that tension of the inherent violence, I was able to able to take off and riff some dialogue.”
In order to research for the role, De Niro got a hold of a cab driver’s license and worked 12-hour days as a cabby for a month. According to anecdotal accounts, he would drive around and pick up passengers even while they were on break during the film’s shooting. It has also been claimed that on one such occasion, a passenger who was also an actor recognised De Niro and told him, “Well, that’s acting. One year the Oscar, the next you’re driving a cab!”
The Taxi and Limousine Commission released a digital copy of De Niro’s cab license which expired on May 31, 1976, and has a picture of the actor who was 32 at the time. “Even 38 years later, the images of Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver are still indelibly etched in people’s minds,” TLC Chair Meera Joshi said in an interview. “It’s very much to Mr. De Niro’s credit that he spent weeks behind the wheel of a real cab to get into character, and as we suggested in our recent tweet, if someone remembers hailing and riding with him, we hope they will share that experience with us.”
Check out Robert De Niro’s cab driver license from 1976 here: