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You Talkin’ Like Him? A Convention Lets De Niro Fans Get in on the Act



You Talkin’ Like Him? A Convention Lets De Niro Fans Get in on the Act
You Talkin’ Like Him? A Convention Lets De Niro Fans Get in on the Act

Amy Cakes has dozens of tattoos, but the one she got on Friday would stand out simply because the ink was applied amid a celebration of all things Robert De Niro.

As Cakes, 32, an operations coordinator at the Tribeca Festival, rolled up her sleeve, the eerie glow of the actor’s face played on a loop in the background, a sequence of shots of Max Cady, the character with cryptic, ominous tattoos De Niro played in “Cape Fear.” Participants could choose from five tattoos he sported in that 1991 drama, including a panther and the phrase “Time the avenger.” Cakes selected a clown with a gun, as De Niro’s mien scowled on the screen above.

This was the inaugural tattoo of De Niro Con, a three-day series of events honoring the 80-year-old actor and coinciding with the final days of the 2024 Tribeca Festival, which he co-founded. The convention, held in Spring Studios in Tribeca, drew more than 1,000 fans to displays of movie memorabilia; a re-creation of the dingy bedroom of Travis Bickle, his unhinged title character in “Taxi Driver” (1976); and that tattoo parlor. For passes that ranged from $150 each to $3,500 for two, participants could make videos of themselves reciting lines from “Taxi Driver,” shadowbox as Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull” (1980), or sip complementary Starbucks energy drinks before emerging from the Rupert Pupkin Hall of Fan Experiences.

Some attendees arrived wearing De Niro shirts or bought them there. Others purchased $25 toddler onesies with “You talkin’ to me?” (Travis Bickle’s signature line) emblazoned on the front.

At Friday’s opening, Patrick McCartney, a 53-year-old actor hired for the event, administered mock polygraph exams, just as De Niro’s retired C.I.A. officer does to Ben Stiller in “Meet the Parents” (2000). McCartney was surrounded by an assortment of espionage books that event workers thumbed through during less bustling moments. “It’s like ‘Sleep No More,’ but De Niro,” he said, referring to an immersive, choose-your-own-adventure theater in Chelsea.

A full-length mirror with “You talkin’ to me?” in white lettering signaled the entry to the “Taxi Driver” corner. As the original score played, fans could inspect a partial re-creation of the cabby’s bedroom and utter his well-known quote, impressions that would be turned into clips on an iPad that they could text to themselves.

Nicholas James Reilly, 34, created the “Taxi Driver” alcove. After finding the scene on YouTube, he zoomed in behind Travis Bickle’s head to focus on the set components. Some were easier to identify and source than others. Reilly realized that the makeshift pantry cabinet was a repurposed milk crate, which he found on Etsy. But other objects, like red-rimmed vintage Budweiser cans, were more difficult to come by. The hardest element was the Army jacket Bickle wears. Two were hung on pegs for participants to try on. “Believe it or not, there was a lot of competition,” Reilly said, referring to a market of bespoke Travis Bickle jackets that he discovered online. The initial choice sold out on Etsy before he could place his order for one small and one large, to accommodate different De Niro Con attendees.

Beyond Travis Bickle’s bedroom was the tattoo station. The festival teamed up with Allied Tattoo of Brooklyn, and two people were inked each day of the festival, for $180 to $300 each. An adjacent station offered free temporary tattoos to all.

On Saturday evening, a conference room was repurposed to host the De Niro Con’s trivia event, where more than a dozen participants vied for the top spot. The questions ranged from the personal (“What is Robert De Niro’s middle name?” Anthony) to the professional (“What position does De Niro’s character play in the 1973 baseball film ‘Bang the Drum Slowly’?” Catcher). The winning team had perhaps a competitive advantage: One member, Marisol Acevedo, 28, of Staten Island, runs an Instagram page dedicated to the actor. The account, Robert De Niro Daily, has half a million followers. Acevedo was there with her boyfriend, Ralph Santiago, 25, of Jersey City, who was not surprised by their team’s victory. “I never doubted her,” he said, biting into a slice of pizza.

The weekend held other less-interactive attractions, including film screenings, panel discussions and several appearances by De Niro himself. The exhibition of personal and film-related memorabilia from his various roles included correspondence with filmmakers like Elia Kazan, and the actor’s costumes in “The Last Tycoon” (1976) and “Killers of the Flower Moon” (2023).

There was also a multiscreen compilation of De Niro’s work, sound bites and all, that offered an impressionistic take on a career of nearly six decades. For Acevedo, this 15-minute video was her favorite part: “Just going through every single era — all that was really cool to see.”

On Sunday evening, the soundtracks were silenced. The vintage polygraph machine was packed up to be returned to its Brooklyn home. And the “Taxi Driver” iPad, with more than 200 impressions of “You talkin’ to me?” saved in its gallery, was put away.

Brandon Wright, a 22-year-old bartender who had traveled from his home in Massachusetts for the convention, emerged from a De Niro-themed stand-up performance with his luggage in tow. A day earlier, he’d gotten a tattoo at the “Cape Fear”-themed parlor. He had removed the gauze wrapping, and his shaved forearm exposed a cross doubling as a scale of justice: a Bible on one side and a dagger on the other. Initially, he was interested in the clown tattoo, but after further reflection and a call to his father, Wright reconsidered. “I wanted to have a permanent souvenir,” he said. “I also just like getting tattoos.”

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