Hollywood star Robert De Niro has frequently collaborated with Martin Scorsese throughout his career, and Taxi Driver was his first starring role in a Scorsese film, having appeared in a supporting role in Mean Streets before this. Having just won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work in The Godfather Part II, De Niro was a hot commodity in Hollywood at the time of filming, and proved his versatility with the iconoclastic and complex part of Travis Bickle.
Having studied Method acting with renowned acting coach Stella Adler, DeNiro was so committed to getting the role of Travis Bickle right that he would actually spend 12-hour shifts driving a cab through New York to prepare for a role. Indeed, Robert De Niro was so firmly rooted in the character of Travis Bickle that the scene in which Travis talks to himself in the mirror, and says the iconic line, "You talking to me?" was completely improvised and made the final cut. Taxi Driver did more to make DeNiro a star than even his earlier Oscar-winning performance. The film was also a surprise box office powerhouse that nabbed a Best Oscar nomination for DeNiro.
De Niro also collaborated with Martin Scorsese on the films Mean Streets, New York, New York, Raging Bull,The King of Comedy, Goodfellas, Cape Fear, and Casino. In addition to his Oscar for The Godfather Part II, De Niro won a Best Actor Oscar for his work in Scorsese's Raging Bull. A lifelong New Yorker, De Niro was born in Greenwich Village to the painters Virginia Admiral and Robert De Niro Sr.
Jodie Foster was a teenager at the time she played Iris, the pre-teen prostitute, and she received her first Oscar nomination for the role. At first the Los Angeles Welfare Board resisted the casting of Foster, deeming it inappropriate, but her performance ended up being one of the most iconic in film history, and Foster grew up to be a well-adjusted and talented filmmaker in Hollywood as an adult. The worst effect of the film was that five years after the film’s release, Foster was stalked by a crazed man named John Hinckley Jr. and served as an obsessive inspiration in his failed attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan; in this instance, rather than a cautionary tale, Taxi Driver became a violent inspiration.
Foster successfully made the notoriously difficult transition from child star to adult actress with her role in The Accused in 1988, for which she won her first Oscar. Since then, she has had many starring roles, winning another Oscar for her performance in The Silence of the Lambs, and transitioning into directing in the 2010s.
Shepherd secured her role on the strength of her performance in the 1971 drama The Last Picture Show, but the skinny from the set was that Scorsese grew so frustrated with the performance that he eventually just started showing her exactly how to say her lines just before he shot each scene. Robert De Niro was also notoriously frustrated with Shepherd on set, but that was perhaps because she had turned him down for a date during the process, an anecdote she wrote about in her autobiography.
Shepherd was a notorious Hollywood beauty in the 70s, having started her career as a model. She has won three Golden Globes for her television acting.
While the collaboration between director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro is widely regarded as one of the most fruitful in film history, it must be remembered that Taxi Driver was Scorsese's fourth film with Harvey Keitel; their previous collaborations include Who's That Knocking at my Door?, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, and Mean Streets. The role of Iris’ pimp does not get a lot of screen time, but his presence looms large, in part because of Keitel’s wonderfully modulated performance. He flips from manic energy in one scene to quiet seduction in another with perfect ease.
A student of Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg, Keitel has been nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe, and has appeared in dozens of films.
The philosophical taxi driver who serves as a mentor of sorts for Travis is not exactly invested with magic powers, as his name suggests. A jolly and unique character actor, Peter Boyle portrays Wizard with a soulfulness and a warmth that is missing from much of the rest of the film. After a comic turn as the Creature in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, Boyle took on the role of Wizard in Taxi Driver, and further solidified his reputation as one of the most versatile actors of his generation.
Noted comedian Albert Brooks seems almost out of place in a violent Martin Scorsese film, but his performance is often scene-stealing. The political campaign operative, Tom, didn’t have many lines at all in Paul Schrader’s original screenplay, but through his magnificent improvisational skills, Brooks succeeded in fleshing out the character into a vital supporting player.
Taxi Driver Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Taxi Driver is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.