Dec 3, 2008

Entertainment - De Niro lifts lid on Hollywood

Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Film star Robert De Niro's latest big screen outing takes a wry look at the tears and tantrums that go on behind the scenes of the very industry he inhabits.

Based on the book by Art Linson, What Just Happened follows two stress-filled weeks in the life of Hollywood producer Ben, played by De Niro.

With his latest film on the rails and another one threatened by a volatile star, the relentless cut and thrust of Tinseltown comes bristling to life.

Oscar winner De Niro had no qualms getting involved in the project, which has its basis in real-life events.

"I read the book and laughed all the way through it," he explains.

"I said to Art he should make a movie out of it and I would play the part."

The film sees his character, based on movie producer Linson, fight against a tide of events which see his Hollywood stock dwindle.

He also encounters other strung-out Hollywood players, including an agent who is so scared of his own clients he has developed a stomach complaint which makes him gag.

De Niro, whose stellar career has progressed smoothly for decades, admits he has yet to experience Hollywood angst first-hand.

"But everybody on the movie knew this world from their perspective and made it real fun," he says, calling it a "funny film with elements of drama and struggle".

'Rude beginning'

Art Linson, the man who decided to write about his experiences, says the picture "allows you to see what it's like to be in Hollywood. It's treacherous, it's funny".

"It's just like any other place, but multiply it by 10 and add another zero," he explains.

"Everyone is like a snail hanging on a pane of glass for dear life. They don't care if they go up - they just don't want to slide down."

"Other people's bitterness often makes me laugh."

Linson, whose producing credits include The Untouchables and Fight Club, says Hollywood is "filled with jealousy and ambition" and has been a rollercoaster ride for him.

"It's happened to me so many times I don't like to recall the pain - it must be like childbirth for women," he quips.

"I got a rude beginning and that continues all the way through your career," adds Linson, also the film's producer.

What Just Happened is at times a tense watch, but is notable for the performance of Bruce Willis, who plays a star prepared to scupper an entire movie because he doesn't want to shave off his beard.

While credited as himself, Willis's persona relates to actor Alec Baldwin, who pulled a similar stunt on Linson.

De Niro pays tribute to the Die Hard star, saying: "We were lucky to get him. He was great and and got the joke.

'Bobby! Bobby!'

"He didn't just send himself up, he did it with real rage and elevated it," adds Linson.

Asked whether he considered approaching Baldwin to take on the role, he laughs: "I have too much regard for my own health! He has a true temper."

"I started with Alec and said 'I got something I wanna show you' and thought he might have a sense of humour about it, but I let it go," jokes De Niro.

Linson says it is "perversely funny" when actors, agents and diva directors are the butt of humour.

"But when it's happening to you, it ain't that funny," he adds.

While Ben's latest production in the film is taken to Cannes, What Just Happened was also aired at the French film festival.

The fictional film's star is Sean Penn, who plays himself, and asks for a private jet to France so he can smoke on the transatlantic flight.

Their real-life Cannes experience prompts Linson to pay tribute to the star quality of De Niro.

"They kept saying in that accent, 'Bobby! Bobby! Are you talking to me?

"And they look at him while they're taking my order for dinner," he adds.

While Robert De Niro plays a man who is in danger of seeing his Hollywood dream sink without a trace, the actor's place in the movie-making town's royalty seems assured.

What Just Happened is released in the UK on 28 November.

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