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The Good Shepherd - Robert De Niro interview

Robert De Niro in The Good Shepherd

Compiled by Jack Foley

ROBERT De Niro talks about directing CIA drama The Good Shepherd and why he feels so drawn to the subject matter…

Q. Is it true that you were working on your own CIA story and decided to combine it with Eric Roth’s?
A: Yes, it was another story, not necessarily CIA. I was trying to find what it was about and it was going in another direction that I wasn’t as keen on as the whole Cold War, East versus West, the traditional CIA-KGB thing. Mine was a later period and when I read The Good Shepherd I asked Eric Roth if he was interested in working on this other project. He wasn’t interested but we then agreed that if I direct The Good Shepherd, he’d write a second installment, if we were that lucky. That’s not guaranteed; it’s not so easy.

Q. What went into the decision to jump back and forth through the time periods?
A: The original script was linear, and then over the years it morphed into a back and forth thing, which I liked. That always seemed to be the way to approach it, as complicated as that is.

Q. You say that the CIA basically came out of the Skull & Bones at Yale?
A: That’s kind of it. More than a few of the OSS guys from the Second World War, like Matt’s character were from Yale and Princeton and some from Harvard. They were from the upper classes and had more investment in the future of America in terms of what they were, kind of this royalty. That’s what it was in the beginning.

Q. Why was this film easier to get made after 9/11?
A: I’m not sure it was easier to get it made after 9/11. I had been working on it for a few years before then, trying to get it going. Once 9/11 happened I thought that was that. But then it started getting momentum. I’m not even sure how, but it was revived.

Q. Is the story more relevant now, considering what the CIA is doing now in combating terrorism?
A: The CIA’s been getting a lot of attention as we know, so this movie coming out now, it’s sort of interesting.

Q. Do you think the stigma attached to the CIA now is warranted?
A: I personally don’t so. I think it’s much more complicated than that. You don’t hear the things that they do and what it’s all about. They don’t take credit for certain things, but they do make mistakes, as we’ve seen, and hopefully things will be improved. And because of the exposure, at the end of the day it might be a good thing.

Q. Tell me about your global CIA tour with Milt Bearden?
A: We went to Pakistan and into Afghanistan a little bit. It was quite a trip. We also went to the former Soviet Union and met Milt’s ex-counterparts from the KGB who he was in touch with in the early 1980s. They had certain common interests, working against terrorism and that was an interesting trip. These guys were very real, human beings and very smart.

Q. Did you gain an appreciation of the sacrifice these men and women make?
A: Yes I did. Absolutely, and they never get any credit for it. That’s the whole point of it – and that’s special.

Q. Why so long in-between directing gigs, with A Bronx Tale, released in 1993?
A: Because I was working on The Good Shepherd for seven or eight years, and another project for a year or two, so that makes 10 years. Actually it wasn’t that much time. It took a long time to get this going.

Q. Did you meet the real guy upon whom your character in the film was based?
A: Donovan. No, he passed away in the mid-70s, certainly a while ago. But I’d have loved to have met him, yes.

Read our review of The Good Shepherd