Robert De Niro is supporting comedian Michelle Wolf’s performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner last Saturday – despite backlash from some journalists, politicians, and even President Donald Trump.
At the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Chaplin Award Gala in New York on Monday evening, where Helen Mirren was honored for her impressive body of work, De Niro, who was last year’s recipient, took to the stage and began a passionate three-minute long rant about his dissatisfaction with President Trump’s policies and how Wolf was unfairly criticized for mocking Trump and his administration.
“Congratulations Helen on being honored with this year’s Chaplin Award,” he began his speech. “This is what happens when you have weak immigration laws. Would we be honoring Helen Mirren tonight if that wall had been built? Please, don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for you, Helen. I just feel a little bad for Scott Baio. I had a feeling this was his year!”
The Oscar-winner then warned the audience that he was “going to digress for a minute,” to which they responded with nervous laughter.
“When I was here last year, we commiserated over the government’s hostility toward the arts and entertainment and how that mindset made it easy for them to ignore the basic needs of all the people. And that was before Charlottesville, where Trump saw fine people among the neo-Nazis and white Supremacists … before ending DACA and ending other protections from dreamers of the undocumented. And just two days ago, trashing a comedian for making uncomfortable jokes at the White House Correspondents Dinner. There was a lot of truth in Michelle Wolf’s jokes and the bullies and the liars are still intimidated by the strength and the truth. Where we run into trouble is when we allow the bullies and liars to dictate the conversation.”
Then De Niro called out the White House Correspondents Association for distancing themselves from Wolf’s performance and jabbed White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “Shame on them!” he yelled. “Stand up and strap on your balls and deal. It was the only time that I ever had any sympathy or empathy for Sarah [Huckabee] Sanders. They cut to her and all of a sudden she looked like she was hurt. I said, ‘Geez, maybe she’s a real human being.'”
De Niro was referring to the statement WHCA president Margaret Talev released in response to the controversy. “Last night’s program was meant to offer a unifying message about our common commitment to a vigorous and free press while honoring civility, great reporting and sponsorship winners, not to divide people,” read the statement, in part. “Unfortunately, the entertainer’s monologue was not in the spirit of that mission.”
De Niro continued by criticizing Sanders: “I thought she’s got two or three kids. What is she going to tell her kids in 10 years about how she represented or protected Donald Trump? How is that going to come through? I don’t know. How could she justify, rationalize her behavior? What does it take to just walk away from that situation?”
The actor went on, “Sean Spicer is another jerk and hypocrite. He said this was terrible what happened Saturday night. I just don’t get it. As artists and citizens we all are looking for the truth and in our work and in our lives.”
Ahead of the political jabbing, Mirren, who has appeared in over 100 projects on film, television, and the stage in a career spanning five decades, spoke about her key to wowing both critics and fans with her versatile performances.
“It’s turning up on time and always being prepared,” Mirren told Variety on the red carpet. “There’s nothing that I particularly do other than coming to set on time and having studied the material and ready to take control of the role.”
Mirren explained that her process and preparation for a role has slightly changed over the years. “I think as you get older, you learn to strip things away. When you are younger, you have all kinds of theories and habits maybe, but as you get older you drop those things and rely on your excitement and passion,” she said. “You must always be excited, whether it’s the excitement of learning a new skill for the role or the excitement of fear or the excitement of fascination. If you don’t have the excitement, why do the performance?”
During the evening’s ceremony, Mirren’s husband, Taylor Hackford, and friends Mikhail Baryshnikov and Julie Taymor praised her work ethic and versatility. Vin Diesel recalled being on the set of “The Fate of the Furious” with her as “one of my favorite days in my career” and a memory that he “will take with me for the rest of my life.” The two had an instant connection and, according to the actor, became fast friends. “She has the ability to, just by acknowledging you, to make you feel validated,” Diesel said. “She makes you feel important. That’s the magic of who she is.”
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