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How Robert De Niro Won Over Millennials in 'The Intern'

Meriah Doty
·Editor
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Robert De Niro isn’t ready for retirement — onscreen or off. Just ask Nancy Meyers.

Meyers (Baby Boom, Private Benjamin, Something’s Gotta Give) is the writer-director behind The Intern, a dramatic comedy starring De Niro (see the new trailer debut above), and she tells Yahoo Movies that her leading man is quite a Hollywood specimen, even at 71.

“There’s one scene — it’s not in the trailer — where they’re all running down street together,” recalls Meyers over the phone. “No joke, [De Niro] was faster than everybody — and in a wool suit!

"At the end of each take when we get to the end of their run, the kids were all sweating and he would just sit in the chair, get on his iPhone. One of the kids said to him, 'Why don’t you sweat?’ He said, 'Years of practice.’ They just adored him. He’s also in amazing shape.”

In the film, De Niro plays Ben, a widower bored out of his skull after retiring. So he finds a new gig as an intern at a fashion-minded startup run by working mom Jules (Anne Hathaway); soon enough, Ben endears himself to Jules and her staff. The cast also includes Rene Russo, Workaholics stars Adam Devine and Anders Holm, Andrew Rannells (HBO’s Girls), and Nat Wolff, who had a memorable role in The Fault in Our Stars and whom Meyers calls “a real gem.”

“I can’t tell you how many times I would look over and see Bob laughing with these kids,” Meyers says. “Everybody was so excited to work with him. He was so cool with them.”

Read on to learn how Meyers recruited De Niro, where the premise for The Intern came from, and how the new film updates her 1987 Diane Keaton-fronted hit Baby Boom.

Did you have Robert De Niro in mind from the beginning?
Very close to the beginning, yeah. First I had to form the character in my own head. I wanted to do an homage to a generation of men. Because women have changed so much men have changed, too. What’s it like to be that man? I was very interested in all of that. He’s a gentleman; he’s retired; he’s smart. There’s no way he wouldn’t have value to Anne Hathaway’s character, who’s starting out.

Once I figured out the character Bob [De Niro] came to mind very quickly. … He can bridge the drama world and the comedy world. He’s hilarious in movies and he’s done some of the great cinematic dramas of all time. He can bring everything to the movie.

How exactly does someone talk Robert De Niro into playing an intern?
I didn’t know him, I’d never met him. I sent him the script and he really responded quickly. That was really fantastic. I adored working with him. I think he’s the greatest guy. He brought so much to this character — really, I can’t even tell you how he embodied this guy.

Where did the concept for the film come from?
It occurred to me that senior [citizens] working as interns would be a wonderful thing for them because they have so much value. I wanted to explore what that would be like for somebody that age who’s working in an environment where everyone is close to 50 years younger than him.

I’ve written my share of movies over the years about women in the work world and the struggles. I found it was different than when I wrote Baby Boom, which was in 1987, but in some ways there are real issues that are the same. … Like in Baby Boom, Diane Keaton played an employee of a big company. In this movie Annie [Hathaway] is the founder of a startup. That’s the big difference. Domestically there are still some of the same issues.

After all these years it remains difficult to be a woman in the workplace, especially a mother.
The big dramatic difference is when I wrote Baby Boom — which I wrote with my daughters’ father, Charles Shyer — it would not have occurred to us to make her the head of the company. Her struggle at work — there’s a scene in that movie where her boss takes her out to lunch and they discuss having kids. He says, “I can do that. I have a wife. It’s not going to be that easy for you.” When I was writing [The Intern] it never occurred to me to make her the employee. I thought, of course she’s the founder of the startup. That’s great. But how men and women live their lives and handle the pressures of children — some of that struggle is still there. And it’s certainly more of a struggle for women than men. That hasn’t gone away.

You have two daughters. Did they inform Hathaway’s role in any way?
Neither of my kids are in the Internet, part of a startup. But I do have girls that age. We’re a very close family. It’s closer than a bird’s-eye view. I’m close with some of their friends. I have a great affection for women that age. I’m watching them go off into the world and have children now and start their work lives. To me it’s all so interesting.

There’s an element of The Intern that plays like a sequel to The Devil Wears Prada — the next natural step for Anne Hathaway’s character. Was that intentional?
Not at all. If there’s any wink I’d say it’s to Baby Boom. But I see what you mean. [While she works in the fashion industry] this girl’s an entrepreneur, not so much a fashionista… From the research I did, the women who are CEOs of these companies, they live in that fashion world. There’s no doubt Annie looks beautiful in great clothes — so that was fun.

For Gen Y — an “always-on” generation — it may be difficult to realize they have a lot to learn from their elders.
Bob’s character is an homage to certain kind of guy who’s starting to not be around anymore. Men are very different these days. I have one shot that starts on four pair of sneakers and one pair of wing tips in the middle — because he’s walking with the boys. They’re always asking him questions like, “What do you mean, you shave every day?!” He’s a different kind of person. The boys look up to him and admire him. I thought the kids really got something out of it because, obviously, being around Bob is something to look up to.

The Intern arrives in theaters on Sept. 25.