In truth, there are very few roles in which Robert De Niro would not be able to excel in. The critically acclaimed actor, who has been thriving within the film industry for over five decades, has reached the pinnacle of Hollywood after countless pioneering performances. However, like many trying to make their way in a cut-throat business, De Niro has been dealt his fair share of setbacks over the years.
While the actor is remembered fondly for his prolific partnership with director Martin Scorsese, one that has produced award-winning pictures such as Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and more, De Niro’s ability to perform on the highest level has always been a mainstay of his artistic output—even perhaps when things didn’t always go to plan.
“A lot of young actors have the idea that, ‘I’ve got to do this right. There’s a right way to do this’. But there’s no right or wrong,” De Niro once commented. “There’s only good and bad. And ‘bad’ usually happens when you’re trying too hard to do it right. There’s a very broad spectrum of things that can inhibit you. The most important thing for actors – and not just actors, but everybody – is to feel loose enough to create what you want to create, and be free to try anything. To have choices.”
While cutting his teeth in the movie business in the late 1960s and early ’70s, De Niro was climbing his way up the ladder to success and his work on Scorsese’s 1973 hit Mean Streets had the actor bubbling with confidence. In a bid to make the next big leap in his career, De Niro rocked up at an audition for Francis Ford Coppola’s mega-budget gangster film The Godfather. Reading for the role of Sonny Corleone, the oldest son of the mafia don Vito Corleone and Carmela Corleone, De Niro would find himself being overlooked for the position—Coppola instead opting to cast James Caan, an actor who would ultimately earn an Oscar nomination for his performance.
While De Niro lucked out on his audition, his performance left a lasting impression on director Coppola. Given the unprecedented success of the film, The Godfather Part II was quickly commissioned and the filmmaker had one name at the top of his casting list. De Niro would go on to play a pivotal role in Francis Ford Coppola’s second crime epic as the young Vito Corleone, a performance which would see De Niro win the Academy Award in the category of ‘Best Supporting Actor’.
For now, see a sample of his first attempt in the footage below.