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Acting Tips from Hollywood A-Lister Robert De Niro

Academy Award–winning actor Robert De Niro does not need an ID to go anywhere in the world—whether or not you are a fan, you know his name and his face, and that’s because he’s established himself as a figure in Hollywood and as a master of his craft.

Recently, he gave a graduation speech at the Tisch School of the Arts, where he gave the fresh graduates an honest, no-nonsense reality check about the real world—and how their arts degree will not get them any nearer to their Oscars, Tonys, or Emmys and that in fact, they just opened themselves up to new doors for rejection.

Still, telling the NYU graduates that they’re “fucked” doesn’t mean he’s telling them to give up on their dreams. He even went on to give them advice about their careers; many of them you can use for yourself as well. Here are some.

Put effort in making choices

In an interview, the actor quoted acting coach Stella Adler, who emphasized on the importance of making the right choices—it is, after all, the starting point of how well you can act. Second comes with the comfortable relationship with the director.

“I’ll work with a director if I think I’m going to get into a comfortable situation, and if it’s someone I respect and who respects me, even if they’re not so well known,” De Niro shared. “Movies are hard to make, and you have to work toward a common ethic and do your best. You don’t want to work with people who don’t care or who are acting out some neurotic, crazy thesis on the set. Who needs it? Life is too short. But I’ve been very lucky in that area.”

Do the part

Most people make the mistake that they are too good for some roles, and according to De Niro, this should not be the case. He shared, “As an actor who’s starting out, you can’t say, ‘Hey, I’m too good for this.’ You gotta do it, because people see you, your name gets around, and it has a cumulative effect. Auditions are like a gamble. Most likely you won’t get the part, but if you don’t go, you’ll never know if you could’ve got it.

Act out of love, not money

At a talk at the Doha Film Institute, De Niro noted that love for the craft is even more important than the money that comes with it. He shared, “I always say—you’ve got to really love what you do. Don’t expect to be famous, do it because you really love doing it and have fun doing it. I’ve always said if I can make a living at it, I’m happy.”

Take feedback constructively

When it comes to your craft, De Niro said that family and friends can never be honest to you about it, which is why you have to rely on the words of your critics. Mean and nasty critics can never be totally off the table, but if you happen to have critics that are constructive in their judgment, you always end up learning about something.

“Those who are with you and know what you went through can never be honest with you. So they’ll always find a positive thing to say,” he said. “So the people who you’ll get real feedback from are critics. Especially good critics.”

Do not judge your characters

De Niro believes that as an actor, you should not judge the character that you are playing. He shared, “In order to be an artist, you have to be able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. Only then can you understand their emotions and reasons, even though you do not agree with them. I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to taste the lives of interesting personalities without having to pay the price for it. My advice is to be true to your character and to yourself.”

Bonus: don’t be obdurate

In his commencement speech at Tisch, De Niro shared something that he said he will tell his children if they go on to follow his footsteps: “Do not be obdurate and do not be afraid to fail. Take chances, keep an open mind, look out for new experiences and new ideas. If you don’t go, then you never know.”