Dear Mr. De Niro,
I am writing because you decided to once again turn an award ceremony—this one, the American Icon Awards—into an obscenity-laced attack on President Donald Trump. It’s not the first time you’ve done it. It won’t be your last. I wish I could say I’m angry about it, but I’m not. I’m disappointed. I expected so much more from one of the great acting talents of the 20th century.
Watching you turn into a caricature of yourself is tragic. Because if there's one thing your acting life embodied, it was your uncanny ability to avoid caricature. You brought characters to the screen in their most complex and complete form. Without judgment. It was, in the end, your humanity that so impressed me.
I’ve been a fan since I first saw you in “Mean Streets.” You were a star. And it was your intensity and intelligence that drew us in and your ability to make unlikable characters human—particularly, complex alpha-male characters. You had remarkable empathetic powers. And empathy is what acting is all about. Actors don’t judge the characters they play. They become them.
And what characters you became: Bruce Pearson in “Bang the Drum Slowly,” Vito Corleone in “The Godfather,” Jimmy Doyle in “New York, New York,” Father Spellacy in “True Confessions,” Rupert Pupkin in “King of Comedy,” Jimmy Conway in “Goodfellas,” Leonard Lowe in “Awakenings,” Neal McCauley in “Heat,” Jack Tiberius Byrnes in “Meet the Parents”—and my favorite, Lorenzo Anello in “A Bronx Tale.”