Robert De Niro is one of the most celebrated screen actors of all time. He continues to expand his boundless range with performances spanning from comic to serious and everything in between. Robert De Niro is back to his gangster ways starring in films like Goodfellas, Casino, The Untouchables, Once Upon Time in America and The Godfather II, De Niro has proven time and time again that he is at home in gangster genre. And while he’s starred in a few bad titles over the last few years, it’s always good to see him come back home, and that sentiment can now be extended to Luc Besson’s new crime comedy-thriller‘The Family’ (aka Malavita).
Based on the book “Badfellas” by ToninoBenacquista, The Family centers on the Manzino family, a mafia clan that has to go onto witness protection when the patriarch , Giovanni (De Niro), testifies against his associates. Hiding as Blakes, the family.
De Niro says he was attracted to the film’shumour and original point of view. “It’s an unusualtake on the mobster genre with a novel storyline,” he says. “My character was a crime boss in New York, but he turned in his whole crew. When he entered the Witness Protection Program with his family, they were sent to France, but every place they have been resettled, they end up in hot water. Now they are in the middle of nowhere and it might as well be Mars. The situation can seem a bit surreal, but the character is very real and relatable.”
Always attuned to small points of authenticity, De Niro researched life in the Federal Witness Security Program, or WITSEC, prior to the shoot to see if an ex-crime boss from the East Coast might really end up in a small French village. “I learned that this situation could exist, especially if it were politically oriented in some way.”
He also asked an expert to weigh in on life in the mob. “When we started really dealing with
the story, there were some little things that I felt weren’t entirely accurate about Fred’s world,” says
A key turning point in the film comes when Fred shocks his FBI handlers—and surprises even himself—with his plan to write a memoir that will set the record straight about exactly how he lived his life—and which could have disastrous results if it ever got out. “I think when you get older, if you feel you’ve done something unusual, good or bad, you want to tell your side of the story,” says De Niro. “That’s what motivates Fred. He wants to express his own take on this world and why he did what he did. He is in a sense trying to redeem himself. He wants to document how things went down and justify his decisions so he will have some peace of mind.”
Fred also begins telling locals that he is working on a book about the Allied landing in Normandy during World War II. As an American writer, he is asked to speak at the local film club, which is screening, of all things, Goodfellas, a sly nod on Besson’s part to both De Niro and Scorsese‟s involvement in MALAVITA. The audience’s enthusiasm for the movie inspires the ex-gangster to share a few stories of his own. “And he likes the attention,” says De Niro. “Finally, he’s getting validation for all the things he’s done, not by people of his secret world, but by the larger legitimate world.”
While on the set, De Niro had to adapt to Besson’s trademark breakneck pace of shooting, a quality he found energizing. “Luc works very fast. He has it all in his head when he comes to the set and he’s behind the camera, so he’s completely in control. He’s got the whole canvas in his head. I like the way he works a lot—there’s no wasting of time. It’s important for spontaneity.”
The director says he was a bit in awe of working with the Oscar® winner. “I mean, I saw Mean Streets and Taxi Driver when I was 15,” says Besson. “But at the same time, I just had to roll up my sleeves and get to work. What’s the point of having Robert De Niro if you do nothing special with him? We worked hard. He’d be asking me questions all the time, calling me on the phone, and that was fine by me. He can wake me up any time.”