Robert De Niro on Finding ‘Silver Linings’ in Mental Illness – but Not in Football

Movie icon Robert De Niro on how his character differs from the book, why actors have it better now and working with Bradley Cooper — again

Robert De Niro’s performance in "Silver Linings Playbook," in which he plays an obsessive-compulsive Philadelphia Eagles fan trying to reconnect with his bipolar son when he’s not busy making elaborate playoff bets, has been hailed as a comeback for an actor who long ago entered his profession’s pantheon.

Though "Silver Linings" is largely a comedy, it’s also the meatiest role in years for one of the preeminent actors of the 1970s, with blistering work in the likes of "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull." It also could earn the two-time Oscar winner his first nomination in more than two decades.

What drew you to this project?
I’ve known [director David O. Russell] over the years, and I’ve seen some of his things he’s made. I saw "The Fighter," and I thought it was terrific. This came along, and I was certainly more than happy to be part of it. I’m not sure if I read the original script first or the book, but then David came along and he wrote his own version and made it his own.

Also read: 'Silver Lining Playbook's' Bradley Cooper Goes Mental

Your character is very different in the film than he is in Matthew Quick’s novel.
Matthew made the father more solemn and taciturn and non-communicative. He’d go to his room and just wouldn’t talk much with the family. He wasn’t angry, just reticent. He was good in a way, but not as colorful as the way David envisioned him.

This film is such an interesting mixture of comedy and drama — often in the same scene. Was that one of its attractions?
I always feel that kind of behavior is normal in families, certain families especially. That’s probably what people like about it. The highs and lows are part of the charm of the way David wrote this story. It’s the way people relate to each other.

Also read: 'Silver Linings Playbook' Review: Mental Illness + Ballroom Dancing = a Madcap Surprise

Is this film trying to make a deeper point about the millions of Americans who struggle with mental illness?
I don’t know about any message or the way David saw the story and the circumstances. I don’t know if it de-stigmatizes anything. But in that situation, you can feel helpless. The way a family member deals with another family member who has these issues is hard. It can be funny, too, ironically — even when the situation is stressful.

You play an Eagles nut. Are you a football fan?
I’m not into football. Sometimes I wonder why not. I don’t really like spectator sports other than tennis or a basketball championship or maybe a prize fight.

Along with "Limitless," this is your second film with Bradley Cooper. Why do you like working with him?
Bradley is very smart and committed. He’s not only interested in himself in a movie but how the movie is being put together in total. So that’s very important, to be concerned about things that maybe actors don’t have to be concerned about. He has the clout especially to get things moving.

Has the state of the movie business declined substantially from the 1970s, when you were starting out?
I’d like to think there are more opportunities for actors. There are so many more independent films than there were when I was in my 20s or 30s. You had Brian De Palma, Robert Downey and some other people, but the independent films being made then were a different type of thing. They were done on a Super 8, not a feature like they are today, and they didn’t get studio distribution in the same way.

You haven’t directed since "The Good Shepherd" in 2006. Would you like to go behind the camera again?
I would love to, but I have to find something that I would want to commit so much time to. I wanted to direct a "Good Shepherd 2," but we’re doing it in a television format, a cable format. I thought it would make a good feature, I thought it had the capability and size, but the cable format is good because it will allow us to have more time to tell the story.

Will Matt Damon and the rest of the cast return?
Hopefully, but we haven’t gotten to that point. I hope that Matt and Angelina [Jolie] and Eddie Redmayne will.