NEW YORK, Aug. 29 (UPI) -- Robert De Niro doesn't act like a superstar. Come to think of it, he doesn't look like one either. Yet, watch any one of his dozens of electrifying performances -- or talk to any of his awestruck co-stars -- and that is exactly what he is.
Unassuming in dark, casual clothes, De Niro is sitting in Manhattan's posh Drake Hotel, ready to talk about his latest crime drama, "City By the Sea," which is based on a true story and which once again casts him as a big-city cop facing a moral dilemma. This time out, he plays a Brooklyn homicide detective investigating his estranged son for murder.
"What I was taken by was the script. Because no matter who you do a story about ... it could be about Christ, if the script, at the end of the day, is not there, then there's nothing," the "Goodfellas" star explains in a soft voice completely devoid of his trademark, on-screen intensity. "Everybody wants to make a story about this and that. 'I have a life story and it's great and this and that,' but you have to have the script ... and (director) Michael Caton-Jones had it."
"City By the Sea" is not the first time De Niro has worked with Caton-Jones or Eliza Dushku, the young actress who plays his son's girlfriend in the film. The trio previously collaborated on the 1993 drama, "This Boy's Life."
For Dushku, the chance to work with De Niro twice in a lifetime was a dream come true.
"Yeah, well you know, Bob's a good actor and stuff," quips the pretty 21-year-old. "I worked with these guys when I was pretty young -- 11 years old on that first movie. I was a bit of a brat, huh?" she says, looking at De Niro.
"He's like, 'Was?' Yeah. So, they were pretty cool. It was nice to come back and do it again. It was really exciting because I didn't really know who he was the first time around, so I got another chance."
Noting that De Niro is one of the most generous, talented actors she has ever worked with, Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand echoes Dushku's praise.
"He's a master at improvisation and I'm really bad at it," McDormand observes. "I was like, 'The script, the script.' But it was also interesting because there were some heavy, heavy monologues, like major technical stuff that Bob had to have down.
"I mean, most of our scenes were long and it was about the dialogue and the monologues," she says. "He had major monologues and so I think it was more in scenes where we had dialogue that went back and forth faster that we had improvisation.
"It was exciting. It was really exciting for me because I'm not good at in cinema. I'm more of a 'stick to the script kind of actress.' It was great being thrown off. ... Even if it doesn't end up in the movie it feels like it changes the characters' dynamic."
"We had a very good relationship in 'This Boy's Life,'" De Niro says of his experience with Caton-Jones and Dushku, "so when I read the script, we talked a little and there was, sort of like, we were just going through formalities in a sense of a few things about the script, and then I said, 'Let's figure out when we can do it.'"
Even though the cop on whom De Niro's character was based is alive and well, the actor chose not to meet him until after production was completed, a curious decision given De Niro's penchant for thoroughly researching his film roles. Asked to explain the choice, Deniro admits he is not really sure why he did it.
"I just don't know why I didn't see him, meet him or want to meet him because, of course, I always want to meet the person," says the 59-year-old Oscar winner. "I was very satisfied with the script. ... There's always a benefit to meeting the person on whom a character is based) to say the least, to say the very least, even if you get one bit of information and I guess in this case, I was so into the script that I never (felt the need). ... We didn't do it this time. I'm very happy to meet him now and I'm happy that he's happy."
Invoking the recent words of Al Pacino -- that other American acting legend who seems to play cops and gangsters equally well -- De Niro confesses that he, too, is mellowing with age and taking show business a little less seriously these days. Hence his recent affection for the lighter side of life, as demonstrated in the hit comedies "Analyze This," "Meet the Parents" and "Showtime."
"As you get older, you realize what's important, what's not important, you don't put as much energy into things that you would think would ... help you (career wise), whatever," he says. "In fact, the less you do, you can actually get more out of, it can go deeper, than if you have that intensity. ... So, I know exactly what (Pacino) is saying. ... It's better to be relaxed about approaching those things. ... It makes things easier. You're gonna get there anyway. It's best not to worry about it."