Are you talkin’ to me? Well, I’m the only one here.” The collaboration with Martin Scorsese on eight films has been more than enough to make Robert De Niro an enduring icon. Really, it took only Taxi Driver, searing his alienated, homicidally furious cabbie Travis Bickle into the appalled but fascinated collective consciousness, and Raging Bull to seal his reputation as greatest actor of his generation. Then there are the other pictures he’s made with directors like Coppola, Leone, Kazan, Tarantino, De Palma, Cimino and Bertolucci to consider.
“He can’t do Shakespeare and he can’t do comedy.” Mario Puzo said years ago, and it’s still a perception. Evidently De Niro has never been terribly interested in doing Shakespeare. So what? Nor has he been compelled to play pre-20th century period characters. It’s a tall order to become them, inhabit them, when he hasn’t been able to hang out with and observe people like them in a bar, a mill town or a boxing gym. De Niro’s work is rooted in transforming himself through detailed preparation, observation and empathy that frees him to improvise (example: where the Taxi Driver script simply proposed “Travis talks to himself in the mirror”, De Niro found the words). And he is no natural bundle of mirth or witty sociability, so it took some disasters before he found a footing in comedy. What he can do – so intensely that it has overshadowed some of his subtler, sometimes tender and funny work – is rage. When he snaps his spring, it’s as nakedly scary as it gets.
We think of him as the actor who embodied emotional and physical realism in the ’70s cinema of the street, the De Niro of violence, despair and disenfranchisement – the muse of filmmakers stoked on existentialism and overstimulating substances – rather than the De Niro who got older and breathed a bit easier, was arguably too up for doing some things and certainly wasn’t above taking a job for the money ($20 million in 2002 for the comedy sequel Analyze That; so much for Puzo’s opinion). But charging him with profligacy with his talent – underwriting his producing and entrepreneurial ambitions by mugging in mainstream comedies or trading on his signature performances in formula films – has barely cooled the ardour and awe with which he long has been regarded, so great is his dark aura and dangerous allure.
As Travis Bickle in Scorsese's Taxi Driver, with Bruno Kirby in The Godfather II, alongside long-time acting partner Joe Pesci in Raging Bull
A screen actor’s genius is measured by his impact on the audience, on colleagues, and on those who come after him. It almost always revolves on a handful of performances in key films of their time. De Niro would matter even if you only looked at a sampling of him in his thirties: electrifying as feckless, reckless prankster punk Johnny Boy in Mean Streets; quietly making his way through the American immigrant experience to dispassionately plot his ascent and settle old scores as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II; venting the spleen of the lonely misfit with a bloodbath as Travis Bickle; fiercely trying to hold things together in the chaos assailing courage and friendship in The Deer Hunter; or painfully confronting the demons of sexual jealousy, maladjusted machismo and sadomasochistic self-loathing as boxer Jake La Motta in the monochrome brutality of Raging Bull.
The child of bohemian New York artists, De Niro’s bloodline is more Irish than Italian, but it seems he got his looks, temperament and diffidence from his father and his father’s father. One can deduce the impression made on him by watching the driven, Abstract Expressionist Robert Senior rework his paintings over and over again. Like Brando, De Niro is assumed to be a Method exponent because his legendary preparations for a role – whether taking beatings or eating his way across Italy – are considered an eccentricity of an obsessive modern thespian, rather than the practical groundwork it has proven in ‘earning the right’ to a character (how ‘indulgent’ or ‘crazy’ is it when the actor actually delivers the goods?). But, also like Brando, he was trained and inspired by Stella Adler, a fierce opponent of Lee Strasberg’s ‘sense memory’ and self-analysis ideology. Only when he fretted that contemporaries like Pacino were getting the breaks in ’60s New York did De Niro, for the professional cachet, become a sometime observer and performer at the Actors’ Studio. In the televised love-in that was Robert De Niro Inside The Actors’ Studio, he carefully distanced himself from the disciples and the jargon. His polite, practical responses to questions about how he ‘protects his space’, ‘stays in the moment’ and ‘tunes his instrument’ indicated, more intelligibly than one might expect from his rare interviews and excruciating awards appearances, that he is of the ‘you just have to get up and do it’ school. He has, in one respect, more in common with old school titan Olivier, who famously said he started building a character by finding the right shoes. De Niro, who hoarded every costume, prosthetic and significant personal prop from his films (eventually offering the collection to the American Museum Of The Moving Image), wore Paul Schrader’s jeans and boots as the screenwriter’s alarming alter ego Travis Bickle, found a thread to La Motta in a flea market jacket and spotted Rupert Pupkin in the eyesore of an ensemble displayed on a Broadway window dummy.
With Martin Scorsese and Joe Pesci on the desert set of Casino
By the early ’70s, he had already been discovered by Brian De Palma, mentored by Shelley Winters into Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama as junkie Lloyd, introduced to Scorsese by De Palma, and gutted when he failed to get a lead part in The Godfather. Attention finally came from superior terminal disease weepy Bang The Drum Slowly (1973), in which he played innocent hick Bruce Pearson, a dying catcher enjoying a last baseball season under the wing of Michael Moriarty’s star pitcher. Scorsese offering him the ‘mook’ role in Mean Streets began a symbiosis of director and actor rivaled only by Akira Kurosawa’s collaboration with Toshirô Mifune and Jean Renoir’s with Jean Gabin. While De Niro wasn’t burdened by Scorsese’s Catholic guilt, they instinctively understood what the other was about. In Scorsese’s musical drama New York, New York, he may have come closest to what that is: his misogynist musician Jimmy Doyle is unsympathetic but spontaneous, magnetic and right on the money as a selfish creative artist. De Niro legend has it that he becomes possessed and remains in character for the duration of a shoot (imagine if he’d made a film with Kubrick!), but while he was doing Taxi Driver, he also auditioned (unsuccessfully, thank God) for the role that went to James Caan opposite Barbra Streisand in Funny Lady, and between takes as Travis he was trying on dapper suits for the part of Monroe Stahr, the film producer in the adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel The Last Tycoon. He may have done whatever it took, but it couldn’t have been actually certifiable if he could juggle career-mindedness with inhabiting a psychotic.
De Niro legend has it that he becomes possessed and remains in character for the duration of a shoot.
The Last Tycoon is a faltering film with a completely uncharacteristic De Niro as the well-dressed studio executive. But as Stahr, modelled on MGM wonderboy Irving Thalberg, De Niro was handsomer and more wistful than in any other film. It’s interesting to watch his only screen encounter with Jack Nicholson, a brief and prickly discussion of a labour dispute – mano-a-mano, it’s a draw. The hardcore who see De Niro as less effectual playing ordinary guys should also take another look at Tycoon and the Brief Encounter-ish Falling In Love, in which he and Meryl Streep transcend the ordinary.
Because he was a character actor first, and rarely, barely a conventional leading man, De Niro’s career hasn’t followed the typical Hollywood trajectory of a star – particularly once he’d exorcised Raging Bull, won the two Oscars and entered a phase when he struck some as doing too little. Nonsense. He shows a still perception as Noodles, the returned-from-exile Jewish racketeer in Once Upon A Time In America, that recurs in several of his subsequent criminal guises. When Scorsese gave him the script for GoodFellas – theoretically with his choice of role – De Niro knew he was too old to play Henry, recommended Ray Liotta and took a back seat as Jimmy Conway. Jimmy was the most cold-blooded of the principals and it would have been inappropriate to show off, so he only really flips his lid when he hears of Tommy’s murder and smashes the phone. Playing in a low key in Heat – which had the added bonus of sobering Pacino into his most restrained turn in years for their historic screen meeting, the mutual moment of peer recognition between cop and crook in the coffee shop (“I don’t know how to do anything else.” “Neither do I.”) – and The Score was absolutely right: successful career thieves don’t draw attention to themselves. He could do that in cameos, japes and favours for friends: his bizarre terrorist repairman in Brazil, a talon-nailed Scorsese lookalike as the devil Louis Cyphre in Angel Heart, or flamboyantly at odds with the rest of the picture but memorably grotesque as Al Capone, delivering a panegyric to baseball and making his point murderously with a bat in The Untouchables.
The sour fiasco of escaped convicts impersonating priests that was We’re No Angels indicated the folly of three men (director Neil Jordan, Sean Penn and De Niro) with plenty of talent but not a sense of humour between them undertaking a comedy. And who knows what anyone thought they were doing making The Adventures Of Rocky & Bullwinkle, in which De Niro’s Fearless Leader worryingly spoofs Travis Bickle? But when he played Jack Walsh, the bounty hunter saddled with Charles Grodin’s fugitive accountant in Midnight Run, he showed that he had comic timing when the other elements were in place. In the succession of odd couple/buddy comedies that have followed, he’s funny when his character is resolutely in earnest and unaware he’s funny: a delight as meek Wayne Dobie grooving to Louis Prima on the jukebox at a homicide scene in Mad Dog And Glory – an offbeat treat for the reversal of expectation in Bill Murray as the mobster to De Niro's sweet nerd; poker-faced Washington spin doctor Conrad Brean finding neat logic in a crazy lie in Wag The Dog; dimwit con Louis losing all patience with Bridget Fonda’s stoner moll in Jackie Brown; neurotic, conflicted mobster Paul Vitti misinterpreting his shrink’s advice to express frustration by “hitting” a cushion in Analyze This. If Meet The Parents was beneath him, he was still ideal for the role of the dangerous dad displeased with his prospective son-in-law, bringing such intimidating baggage that he realised he didn’t have to invite laughs – he just had to be there to get them.
On set of Raging Bull with Jake LaMotta and Martin Scorsese, as Paul Vitti in Analyze That, with John Savage in The Deer Hunter
The ’90s and on, in fact, were rich with ripe De Niro, expansive of mood and genre; he’s also made an impressive, heart-on-his-sleeve directing debut with A Bronx Tale. Who knew? Had he been more sparing of himself, he could have called it quits after speaking in tongues as Max Cady in Cape Fear – the last word in evil, iron-pumping serial rapists covered in dread biblical tattoos – and still be reckoned a genius, but then we wouldn’t have had Casino or Heat, seen Mad Dog get laid or been able to watch Father Bobby’s face as he learns what has happened to his kids in Sleepers. Since then, despite being treated for prostate cancer, a De Niro weary of his heavy persona put himself about in his new character as property developer and post 9/11 civic leader of his lower Manhattan neighbourhood. He showed up to accept tributes: in 2003 the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award, then one from the DGA. He made absurd horror thriller Godsend, voiced a marine mob boss in Shark Tale, directed Leonardo DiCaprio in CIA-insider story The Good Shepherd, returned for two Fockers sequels, did work experience for Anne Hathaway in The Intern and donned the gloves once more to face off against Stallone in Grudge Match. Did his diagnosis prompt a compulsion to do everything in sight, anything he hasn’t done before? We may see him as Prospero yet.
De Niro by his peers
"Robert De Niro is the reason I became an actor."
~ We're No Angels co-star Sean Penn
"De Niro was it. He was who everybody in my acting class wanted to be. He was the ideal. He was the focus the way Brando was the focus, and his work affected you in very much the same way. People idealised him, and the way young filmmakers now want to be Scorsese, that's the way actors felt about De Niro. You ran to see his new movie."
~ Jackie Brown director Quentin Tarantino
"He has a certain stature – plus the compassion to play characters who are flawed and dangerous and still find the humanity in them."
~ Martin Scorsese
"De Niro moved in and never left Jake alone, until my husband lost track of reality, started reliving his whole life a quarter of a century ago and left me. Mr. De Niro is a pest."
~ The ex-Mrs. Jake La Motta
"What makes his work so moving and so complicated is that it doesn't go through his head first. It goes through every other part of his body."
~ Taxi Driver co-star Jodie Foster
"I learned so much from working with De Niro. I'd be in a scene with him where I was supposed to be acting and I was just watching."
~ This Boy's Life co-star Leo DiCaprio
"The man made the blank stare into an artform."
~ Angel Heart director Alan Parker
"When Robert De Niro says yes, you'd better be on your game to act with him. If he smells sentimentality he gets squirrelly. He hates it."
~ Analyze This co-star Billy Crystal
"De Niro has a way of using his star charisma and immersing it in the character to make that character charismatic. There is no other actor quite like that."
~ Greetings director Brian De Palma
"Bobby is always pictured as this very reclusive guy with angst, and he isn't. A lot of his fooling is done among friends. He's a terrific mime."
~ Goodfellas co-star Joe Pesci
"Bobby De Niro is a director’s dream. Considering his incredible talent, he is one of the most humble people in the business."
~ Ronin director John Frankenheimer
"He only exists when he is in somebody else's skin."
~ Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader
"He has a concentration level that goes into the stratosphere."
~ The Deer Hunter co-star Meryl Streep
"If you dance, he'll come and dance with you. A man of finesse, depth, contained violence but also… of perversity. A very secret guy. He'll give you what he thinks you need to work with him and you will discover exactly what he wants you to."
~ Ronin co-star Jean Reno
"Meet The Parents for me was about working with Robert De Niro. He's just a warm, funny, goofy guy who loves his kids. And he's got a great sense of humour. Even if the movie had sucked, I'd have still thought, ‘You know what? I don't care. I got to work with Robert De Niro."
~ Meet The Parents co-star Ben Stiller
"Bob... is just great, he's one of those people who live up to the hype in the best way. He's serious and meticulous and he's maintained just an incredibly impressive level of discipline about his approach to the work after so many years of doing it."
~ The Score co-star Edward Norton
"I like him. There's a tendency with actors when they're asked to play a villainous part to send little signals to the audience that say, ‘I'm not really like this.’ De Niro doesn't."
~ The Untouchables co-star Sean Connery
Life lessons: the world according to Bob
On comedy vs. drama... "Some people say that drama is easy and comedy is hard. Not true. I've been making comedies the last couple of years, and it's nice. When you make a drama, you spend all day beating a guy to death with a hammer or what have you. Or you have to take a bite out of somebody's face. On the other hand, with a comedy, you yell at Billy Crystal for an hour, and you go home."
On The Method... "A moment might come that something will flash in your head and it will make the take. That's my ‘Method’. The Method is whatever works for you, as long as you don't hurt yourself or anybody else."
On the Big Apple... "I go to Paris, I go to London, I go to Rome, and I always say, ‘There's no place like New York.’ It's the most exciting city in the world now. That's the way it is. That's it."
On the movie that influenced him the most... "Can-Can, the movie with Sinatra and MacLaine. It had a sort of glamour. I remember coming away from seeing it and telling a friend right then that I was going to be an actor. I told Shirley about that much later on, but no, I never said it to Frank."
On The Bard... "Shakespeare is great. But I'd rather have the same problems in a contemporary situation where people can relate to them more directly."
On character roles... "I like to do a supporting part because you can go a little further. A cameo can be more effective."
On privacy... "I had to decide whether I was to be an actor or a personality."
On acting vs. directing... "The actor is the one who has to get up and do it – grovel in the mud and jump through hoops. The trade-off is you have a few days free. But if you're directing you have no time from morning to night."
On starting his own production company..."I think Hollywood has a class system. The actors are like the inmates, but the truth is they're running the asylum. You've got to look at the whole studio structure. There's these guys, we call them ‘suits’. They have the power to okay a film. They're like your parents, going, ‘We have the money.’ But at the same time, they say to us actors, ‘We love you. We can't do without you.’ You know, I've been around a long time. I've seen the suits run the asylum. I think I can do it as good or even better. Let me try it. That's why I have TriBeCa."
On losing his temper... "You get a little more relaxed as you get older. Anger? I guess I can still get quite angry in certain situations, if I feel I'm being taken advantage of, or if a photographer pops a camera in my face. These days I try not to react – I’ve learned that if a situation develops, the best thing to do is just wait until it passes. Things have a way of sorting themselves out."
On Scorsese... "We're friends, but we're best friends when we work together. Marty and I have a special way of communicating. He's very open, and I can't tell you as an actor how important that is. If you work with certain directors, all of a sudden you start closing down and don't want to do anything: you think whatever idea you're going to come up with is not going to get a good response. With Marty, it's the opposite – the more you come up with, the more enthusiastic he gets. That's what makes it a joyous experience as opposed to a job."
On talking politics... "As I see it, the people who say the most know the least."
On never playing charmers... "I would like to do those characters. But I don't like that Gone With The Wind type of acting. Clark Gable was a good actor, but he always played himself. It's the same with Humphrey Bogart – he just plays Humphrey Bogart. I prefer actors like WaIter Huston in The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. He is a real actor. The problem is finding the right script. If there was a good script, I would do those charming characters too."
On what offends him... "There's nothing more offensive to me than watching an actor with an ego."
On Critics... "I don't dislike critics; sometimes they're the only people you can trust. I've been kind of fortunate with them in the past. They do try to be supportive, contrary to what you hear. But when critics say nasty things, they do it with a vehemence."
On life... "There's nothing more ironic or contradictory than life itself."
On misconceptions... "There are so many misconceptions about me. Like, people think I'm an intimidating person. Maybe, I don't know. But it works both ways. I mean, I can be intimidated by a little kid, you know, in some situations."
De Niro's 10 greatest roles
10. Heat (1995)
In Michael Mann's clash of the titans, Pacino has the hoo-hah bluster but De Niro delivers the more consistently impressive work as cold-as-ice career criminal Neil McCauley. The cat-and-mouse antics are terrific, but the actor shines in his tentative relationship with Eady (Amy Brenneman), brilliantly conveying mixed feelings of regret for a way of life he forfeited years ago. One of De Niro's quietest creations and, in the gloop of his '90s performances, one of the best.
Most memorable moment: The coffee shop scene.
9. Greetings (1968)
An indication of the breadth of talent De Niro has worked with, this early, freewheeling effort saw the actor hook up with Brian De Palma, assaying aspiring filmmaker-cum-pervert Jon Rubin, desperate to skip the ’Nam draft. His approach and energy are as fresh as his face and, taken with its sequel, Hi, Mom! – in which he does a terrific improv as a violent cop – this is vintage De Niro before there was vintage De Niro.
Most memorable moment: Rubin creates a new form of porn – peep art.
8. Goodfellas (1990)
The sixth film with Scorsese and still no sign of an impasse. De Niro assays wise guy Jimmy ‘The Gent’ Conway as a man as comfortable garotting a wig salesman as he is playing avuncular mentor. Watch him play Conway as an older man, holding in the emotion after learning of Tommy's death or allowing his reading glasses to magnify his eyes to ridiculous proportions. Egoless and virtuoso.
Most memorable moment: Jimmy's murderous machinations play on his face as Cream's Sunshine Of Your Love kicks in. A film acting masterclass.
7. Midnight Run (1988)
A more subtle riff on his hard man persona than Analyze This, this is proof that De Niro's magic shines even in that most mainstream of Hollywood genres, the buddy comedy. As bounty hunter Jack Walsh, looking to collect the moolah on embezzling accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin), his arsenal of double takes, sly smiles and expressions of mock surprise are delivered with the intensity of an Al Capone or Travis Bickle.
Most memorable moment: Walsh on the phone, threatening to kill Mardukas yet throwing him a little grimace to connote he's lying. Comedic gold.
6. The Deer Hunter (1978)
The standout in a cast of standouts (Walken, Cazale, Streep), De Niro is a calm centre in the eye of Michael Cimino's hurricane. There are big unforgettable moments like the game of Russian roulette, but equally affecting are some of his smaller moments: the scenes with Meryl Streep after he has come home from ’Nam – getting his medal caught in his sweater – see precision work worthy of Swiss watchmakers.
Most memorable moment: “This is this.” De Niro's characters are often at their best expressing complex truths in limited language.
5. Taxi Driver (1976)
Travis Bickle might be the poster boy of De Niro's career but there is so much more to him than just Mohawk cool. While any old ham can inhabit rich, full characters, it takes a particular kind of genius to embody blankness. Also, from his complete lack of cultural awareness to his joshing with a Secret Service agent, De Niro creates a comic edge to the psychopath that probably wasn't on the page.
Most memorable moment: We'll take “Are you talkin’ to me?” as given, and plump for his porn theatre date with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd).
4. The King Of Comedy (1983)
Deluded, disturbed and with a similarly bad dress sense, Rupert Pupkin is Bickle in a blazer, a vivid rendering of a warped worldview. While the creepiness and the obsessiveness are nailed beautifully, Pupkin isn't an obvious nutter. De Niro has the sense to play him smart, and delivers throwaway moments – “Is that cork?” he asks about a reception ceiling – that describe a whole world of disengagement.
Most memorable moment: Rupert's final stand-up – De Niro delivers a perfect rendition of mediocrity.
3. The Godfather II (1974)
The year after Mean Streets, De Niro delivered the polar opposite to his live-wire Johnny Boy. Quiet, softly-spoken and unsmiling, his Vito Corleone nods to Brando's without ever imitating him (even if he did get his prop teeth made at the same dentist), etching a gentle family man, an immigrant finding his feet in turn-of-the-century New York and an emerging criminal mastermind in a portrait of slow-burn intensity and self-containment.
Most memorable moment: As Vito shoots bigwig Don Fanucci, the towel acting as a silencer catches fire.
2. Mean Streets (1973)
If you've only seen post-GoodFellas-era De Niro, watch this now. His Johnny Boy, an unhinged petty hood who torments wannabe neighbourhood player Charlie (Harvey Keitel), is crazed but not crazy and gleefully self-destructive, the embodiment of NY Italian-American cool. His expression of inarticulate energy is astonishing, his bluster and bravura completely charismatic, the character created frame by frame.
Most memorable moment: Too many to mention: the Jumpin’ Jack Flash intro, the backroom improv with Keitel, the dance scene, the pool room fistfight...
1. Raging Bull (1980)
The genius of De Niro’s Jake La Motta isn’t the mindblowing weight fluctuation or the pugilistic brilliance, but the way he never lets either dominate his performance. For all the commitment he invested into the character’s exterior, this is a performance built from the inside (De Niro also retooled Paul Schrader’s script with Scorsese), inhabiting and exposing a cockroach soul but never soft-peddling or judging La Motta’s ugliness. Like Taxi Driver, it’s also easy to forget how funny De Niro is in this, his wordplay with Joe Pesci reminiscent of the best of Abbott & Costello. Possibly the greatest performance ever committed to celluloid.
Most memorable moment: La Motta in a police cell, bashing his hands against the wall, facing himself for the first time.
Meet The Parents: the polygraph test
SETTING THE SCENE
The character of retired CIA operative Jack Byrnes perfectly suits De Niro's ability to get laughs from quiet menace and intimidation. Jim Carrey was originally slated to star as much-maligned nice guy Gaylord ‘Greg’ Focker; but it was Ben Stiller at his hapless, put-upon best who finally brought life to the role. Still, the film – and in particular this scene – belongs to De Niro.
INT. JACK'S PRIVATE STUDY. NIGHT. Greg is already struggling to make a good impression on his girlfriend's parents – particularly her father, Jack. Having just discovered a concealed door leading out of the guestroom, he decides to investigate. Beyond a dark passage is a small room adorned with pictures of Jack with the likes of Colin Powell. Norman Schwarzkopf and Bill Clinton. But Greg's attention is drawn to an odd-looking machine on a table...
Jack: (offscreen) Looking for something, Greg?
Greg spins around, startled. Jack is standing in the passageway.
Greg: Jesus, Jack, you scared me...
Jack: Well, I heard a noise, so I came down to see if everything was okay.
Greg: Everything's fine. I'm sorry, I saw the light on in here and I kinda stumbled in... and I didn't realise...
Jack: (grinning) That's okay. See anything interesting?
Greg: No, not at all. I mean, I mean, I mean... this is great, though. I love this, what you've... this cosy little nook.
Jack: (indicating the machine) I noticed you were looking at that when I came in.
Jack: It's an antique polygraph machine.
Greg: Is that what that is? 'Cause I, I've seen these before, but I never saw one actually up close.
Jack: (stepping forward)You know what? Why don't you try that on?
Greg: (nervously surprised) Oh, that's okay...
Jack: Oh, come on, we'll have some fun. I'll show you how it works.
Greg: I... I shouldn't.
Jack: Oh, why should you be afraid, you have nothing to hide...
Greg: (laughs) No, I know.
Jack: I know you know, so there shouldn't be any problem?
Greg: No. There's no problem...
Jack: So try it on.
Jack: I'll help you.
He attaches various pulse-monitoring devices to Greg's fingers and body, with wires leading to the machine. Greg sits facing away from Jack, looking very unhappy.
Jack: Don't worry, you'll enjoy this.
He unwinds his reading glasses, and tunes the dials on the machine.
Greg: Looks complicated. These aren't a hundred per cent accurate, right?
Jack: Well, you'd be surprised how accurate they are. They can tell fairly easily if someone's lying or not. Now I'm gonna ask you some questions, and all you have to do is answer yes or no.
Jack: Right, let's give it a whirl. Did you fly on an airplane today?
Greg: Yes, I did.
Greg looks over his shoulder at the graph.
Jack: No peeking. Did we eat pot roast for dinner tonight?
Jack: Was it undercooked?
Greg: (pauses) No, it was... rare.
The needle jerks.
Greg: (looking terrified) It was a little rare for my taste, but I, I wouldn't...
Jack: I'm just kidding.
Greg laughs with Jack, a little too hard and for a little too long to be convincing.
Jack: Relax, relax. The needles are jumping...
Greg tries to compose himself.
Jack: Have you ever watched pornographic videos?
Greg hesitates and the needle begins to flicker. They both notice. He tries to relax, but tenses further.
The needle goes berserk.
Greg: I mean...well, I don't...
Jack: (staring at him) Yes or no?