Earlier this week, MTV’s Josh Horowitz had the rare privilege of speaking with screen legend Robert De Niro. The subject for much of the conversation was the Tribeca Film Festival, New York City’s annual celebration of film which the actor co-founded in 2002 as a way to aid the recovery of the once-vital neighborhood. Josh did get to probe De Niro with a few questions about upcoming projects. He mentioned one particularly intriguing adaptation he’s been working on with Martin Scorsese, called “The Irishman,” which could have a unique twist that hearkens back to one of the director’s great influences: Federico Fellini.
“It’s based on a book called ’I Heard You Paint Houses.’ It’s a very simple, terrific story about [mobster Frank Sheeran], who supposedly killed [Jimmy] Hoffa and Joe Gallo and so on,” De Niro said. The story might be simple, but the plans that the actor is cooking up with Scorsese are anything but.
“We have a more ambitious idea, hopefully, to make it a two-part type of film or two films,” he continued. “It’s an idea that came about from Eric Roth to combine these movies using the footage from ’Paint Houses’ to do another kind of a [film that is] reminiscent of a kind of ’8 1/2,’ ’La Dolce Vita,’ [a] certain kind of biographical, semi-biographical type of Hollywood movie — a director and the actor — based on things Marty and I have experienced and kind of overlapping them.”
The two films De Niro references — “8 1/2″ and “La Dolce Vita” — are works of the late, great auteur, Federico Fellini. The director is known for his unique style, blending reality and fantasy, fact and fiction. Echoes of his influence can be seen in Scorsese’s formative work, “Mean Streets,” which served up a semi-autobiographical story of Italian-Americans finding their way in mid-20th century New York City. The film also featured a notable early role for De Niro, his first collaboration with the director.
I think “8 1/2″ is a big clue here for what we might expect. That film follows a fictional Italian director who is struggling with his latest effort, an elaborate sci-fi production. As he labors to bring his dream together, viewers are taken through a series of flashbacks and fantastical dreamscapes which weave their way into the director’s present-day reality; as an added layer, much of the story features autobiographical elements from Fellini’s own life.
This is pure speculation, but a Fellinian treatment of “The Irishman” could come in some way address Scorsese and De Niro’s long history of collaborations in the telling of the mob assassin’s story. Sheeran is not a great stretch for De Niro, who has frequently done wonders in wiseguys roles for Scorsese. So perhaps “The Irishman” will feature some meta elements, taking into account the duo’s long history together and weaving it into the based-on-truth tale.
From the sound of things, “The Irishman” is coming along. “Steve Zaillian wrote the first script, which is terrific,” De Niro said. “The other part, Eric [Roth] is supposed to do it. And we’re hoping to move these things together.”
What could a Fellinian reading of “The Irishman” look like if it incorporates elements of Scorsese and De Niro’s past collaborations together?