While introducing De Niro at the 65th anniversary of the A Celebration of Film gala benefitting the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, Streep recalled thinking De Niro was a Southern “non-actor” in John D. Hancock’s 1973 film “Bang the Drum Slowly.”
“We thought they must have scoured Appalachia to find this guy,” Streep said (via The Hollywood Reporter), before seeing De Niro two months later in Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” and being shocked at his method acting range.
“There’s the guy, there’s the same kid,” Streep recalled thinking at the time. “And only he’s not slow. He’s not Southern. He’s a New York punk. He’s absolutely mean, this fast-talking street smart guy and we were blown away. We scoured the credits and saw his name. I said, ‘Oh my God.’ He’s Italian. He’s Robert De Niro. He’s an actor. And it really blew me away.”
Streep said, “Over the years, people have always said to me, ‘What actress do you most admire? What actress’ career would you like to emulate?’ But, really, the second time I saw Robert De Niro, I said to myself, that’s the kind of actor I wanna be. That’s what I wanna do. And I wanna do it with the commitment and the passion and the skill and the beauty with which he applies to it. And he’s been my beacon for 50 years.”
The “Mamma Mia” actress praised De Niro’s “seismic power” of determination and loyalty.
“He’s a man whose presence in my life for 40 years has been a consoling constant,” Streep said. “But I don’t see him very often. We don’t chat. But I know he is, without question, always there for me and he always will be. He’s a man who lives by his loyalty to his ideals, to his country and to the people that he loves.”
The Harry Ransom Center is a a humanities research library and museum that has hosted De Niro’s personal archive since 2006. This year, the center founded the De Niro Curator of Film to honor the “Amsterdam” actor.
Streep and De Niro co-starred in “The Deer Hunter,” 1984’s “Falling in Love” romance, and 1996’s “Marvin’s Room.” The duo were also slated to star together in “The Good House” adaptation in 2013, but the film fell through.