Robert De Niro is scary. That's the line, anyway. In addition to his storied accomplishments, he's quiet and careful with words, loath to open up - qualities that, at least for journalists hoping for a chatty interview, paint him as formidable. Indeed, he recently walked out on an interview (if perhaps not undeservingly) for his new film, “The Intern.” Even Anne Hathaway, his costar, was initially at least a little terrified.
“I couldn't talk around him for the first three weeks. I just felt like an idiot with everything I said,” Hathaway recalls. But she soon found that his reticence was, as their director, Nancy Meyers (“Something's Gotta Give,” “It's Complicated”), had told her, more zen than menace. “Bob's good at having chemistry with people. So I assumed that as long as I didn't mess up I'd be OK.”
As it happens, in “The Intern” their characters have something like the opposite arc. He plays Ben Whittaker, a widower who takes advantage of a new trend towards hiring retirees as unpaid interns. He winds up at an online clothing startup founded and largely run, or at least micromanaged, by Hathaway's Jules Ostin. She's overworked and remote, but Ben finds a way to earn her trust and is soon offering her advice.
“I think it is [Meyers'] love letter to us, our generation,” De Niro says. “When you're a certain age, you get older, you're less relevant in some ways. That's just not the case.”
Hathaway herself learned a few things, not just from De Niro but also from Meyers. “When we started we saw the character in two different ways,” Hathaway remembers. “I wanted her to be wearing her stress on her sleeve; Nancy wanted her to have it more together. And then I thought, 'Idiot. Who knows a Nancy Meyers character better than Nancy Meyers?' It became this wonderful experience in being guided through a character, which is very new for me.”