“We’re in such a dire situation, so deeply concerning to me and to so many others, I have to say something,” De Niro said, going on to reiterate comments he made to Variety: “There’s right and there’s wrong, and there’s common sense, and there’s abuse of power. And as a citizen, I have as much right as anybody, an actor, an athlete, a musician, anybody else, to voice my opinion. And if I have a bigger voice because of my situation, I’m going to use it whenever I see a blatant abuse of power.”
His speech comes at a critical political moment, as President Trump has officially been impeached by the House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Trump now faces potential removal from office, as the Senate began his impeachment trial this past week.
De Niro also praised performers’ union SAG-AFTRA for “tirelessly working” on actors’ behalf, noting, “That especially bears remembering these days when there’s so much hostility towards unions.” He then voiced his endorsement of “political leaders who support unions,” adding, “We owe them our moral support, and we owe them our vote.”
This lifetime achievement honor was presented in the wake of De Niro’s CGI-enhanced performance in The Irishman, which earned him a substantial wave of critical acclaim, if not as many award nominations as one might have expected — he was shut out of the Best Actor category at both the SAG Awards and the Oscars. (It was a crowded year for that category, to be fair.)
SAG-AFTRA annually bestows the Life Achievement Award for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment to a performer who “fosters the finest ideals of the acting profession.” A long line of actors have received the honor, beginning with Eddie Cantor in 1962. Marriage Story‘s Alan Alda won the award last year; other recent recipients include Morgan Freeman in 2018, Lily Tomlin in 2017, Carol Burnett in 2015, and Debbie Reynolds in 2014.
De Niro’s five-decade career has included some of the most iconic and acclaimed performances in film history, including The Godfather Part II, Raging Bull (both of which earned him an Oscar), Taxi Driver, and The Deer Hunter. Lauded for his intense and immersive acting style, he earned SAG Award nominations for 1997’s Marvin’s Room (also starring DiCaprio), 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook, and the 2017 HBO film The Wizard of Lies, but has never won.
Offscreen, De Niro co-founded the annual Tribeca Film Festival in 2002, reportedly to help revitalize the Manhattan neighborhood in the wake of 9/11, and has supported the work and stories of underserved filmmakers through his Tribeca Film Institute, of which he is the co-chair.