Robert De Niro is an Oscar-winning actor with Irish and Italian heritage on his father’s side. Given his Italian roots and his numerous roles as Italian characters (mainly of the mafia variety, some of which have caused controversy), people might wonder if De Niro actually speaks Italian.
Robert De Niro can speak some Italian. Despite his heritage, he did not grow up with the language, as his father and mother separated when he was young, and he was raised mainly by his mother in New York City. However, when he was cast as a young Vito Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II, De Niro immersed himself in the role and began studying the Italian language.
Read more below about Robert De Niro’s Italian heritage and how he prepared for one of the most famous roles in Hollywood history.
New Yorker with Italian Roots
Italy, a country is western Europe, is one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Famous for its natural beauty, food, architecture, art and for being a religious focal point, Italy draws millions of people from all over the world annually.
The official language of Italy is Italian, though there are numerous dialects throughout the country. Despite having Italian heritage, both Robert De Niro and his father, Robert De Niro Sr. were born and raised in New York state.
Speaking Italian Leads to Oscar
Despite not speaking the language, De Niro gravitated towards parts that saw him playing the quintessential Italian New Yorker. When he was cast in 1974’s The Godfather Part II, the character spoke with a distinct dialect and only had a few lines of dialogue in English, so De Niro spent four months mastering the Sicilian dialect for the role.
By the time filming had started, De Niro had traveled to Sicily to better understand the language and the culture of the character he was portraying. While there, he fully embraced his roots and wound up giving one of the best performances in cinematic history, going on to win an Academy Award for his role.
Not only was De Niro’s accent and articulation spot on, but it was the first time an actor had won a major category at the Oscars ceremony for a role that was almost exclusively spoken in a foreign language.
You can watch Rober De Niro’s impressive Italian in this scene from The Godfather Part II in the YouTube video below.
A Lifelong Love Affair with Italy
This would not be the last time De Niro used his foreign language skills for a film. He has also spoken Italian in two other roles, in the 1970’s Bertolucci film 1900 and more recently in Manuala d’Amore (Ages of Love), opposite Monica Bellucci, who herself is a native Italian.
Despite not speaking the language on a consistent basis, De Niro’s skills are such that he is beloved by most people in Italy. In fact, the prolific actor was honored with Italian citizenship in 2004 and still maintains his dual citizenship nearly two decades later.
Even though Robert De Niro’s native language is English and he does not use his Italian on a consistent basis, there is no doubt he holds great affection for the language and its mother country
When he was granted the honor at the Venice Film Festival, De Niro told reporters, “ I’m part Italian, part Dutch, part French, part Dutch, part German and part Irish, but I probably identify more with my Italian side than other parts.” De Niro went on to say, “Italy is such a great and wonderful country, I’m very proud and honored to be asked to be a citizen.”
There is no word if or when Robert De Niro will next use his Italian in a film, but it’s likely we could see him doing so in the future.