At Sundance Robert de Niro debuted a documentary about his father. However what few people realised until then was that his dad was gay. The actor’s father and mother divorced shortly after he was born, as Robert De Niro Sr. had realised his sexuality.
Now the doc, Remembering The Artist, is coming up to its first airing on HBO, so De Niro sat down with Out magazine to pay tribute to his father.
Speaking of the documentary, the actors says that while documenting his dad’s legacy was important to him, it wasn’t originally going to be for public consumption. “I felt I had to. I felt obligated. It was my responsibility to make a documentary about him,” he says. “It was not intended to be on HBO. It was just something I wanted to do.”
Despite his desire to make the documentary, he says “We were not the type of father and son who played baseball together, as you can surmise, But we had a connection. I wasn’t with him a lot, because my mother and he were separated and divorced… He was absent in some ways. (But) he was very loving. He adored me… as I do my kids.”
As for his father’s sexuality, de Niro adds, “Yeah, he probably was [conflicted about his homosexuality], being from that generation, especially from a small town upstate. I was not aware, much, of it. I wish we had spoken about it much more. My mother didn’t want to talk about things in general, and you’re not interested when you’re a certain age.
“Again, for my kids, I want them to stop and take a moment and realize that you sometimes have to do things now instead of later, because later may be 20 years from now — and that’s too late.”
Interestingly, although de Niro has starred in several movies about LGBT characters (such as Flawless), he’s never played gay himself. When asked whether his own past played into that fact, he says, “No, they weren’t offered to me. If they had been offered to me by a good director, that’s something I would have considered.”
De Niro Sr. was a successful figurative painter whose work is included in many important collections of American art. However he had trouble with gallery owners and fell out of favour when his art didn’t adapt to the emergence and popularity of pop art in the 1960s. The documentary covers this, as well as revealing more about De Niro Jr’s upbringing and relationship with his dad.
Remembering the Artist: Robert De Niro Sr. premieres on HBO in the US June 9th. You can watch the trailer below.