Celebrity Portrait

Food for Thought

Robert De Niro

Photograph by Brigitte Lacombe

By Shep Morgan

Robert De Niro keeps coming back to Las Vegas, and Vegas welcomes him every time. He first won over the city with his no-nonsense portrayal of hotel boss Sam “Ace” Rothstein in Casino, the 1995 film directed by his longtime pal, Martin Scorsese. He’s now getting ready to film a new movie, Last Vegas, about four friends in their sixties who descend on Sin City to throw a bachelor party for their aging friend.

But of late, the two-time Academy Award®-winning actor has been working on another, much larger, project: helping to create the world’s first Nobu Hotel, and bringing it to Caesars Palace.

It’s the next act in his long-standing partnership with Japanese super chef Nobu Matsuhisa, with whom he has opened a string of hugely popular restaurants around the world. “It’s like having chemistry with your co-star on a movie,” De Niro says of their teamwork. “The thing I’ve always respected most is his concern for quality.

“We started over twenty years ago,” he remembers, “when I went to Matsuhisa, Nobu’s first restaurant in Los Angeles. It was a real hotspot and what he was doing in the kitchen was very special. I had never tasted Japanese food like it. I told Nobu having that kind of place in New York would be a no-brainer. And so we eventually got together.”

The Newest Nobu

Eventually, De Niro explains, it seemed time to go beyond the restaurant. “I kept seeing that people wanted Nobu to open restaurants in their hotels because it was a drawing card. So I asked, ‘Why are we not doing our own (hotel)?’ It just seemed like a logical next step.”

And Vegas was the logical location. “It’s a place where things are always happening,” he observes.

The Caesars Palace venue will be a “a hotel within a hotel” he says, adding, “It’s going to have an elegant Asian feel. It will include the first Nobu restaurant on the Strip, which you can order room service from. I think that really is going to set it apart.”

Surprisingly, even while making his mark in Hollywood, De Niro was dreaming of hotels.  “Actually, I used to think about building them in a variety of places where you could have distinct experiences, from the Tropics to a winter resort,” he says. “I’d have fantasies that if I had enough money I’d give it a shot and work to make them the perfect places to stay.”

De Niro pauses to consider how much input he’s had in the creation of Nobu Hotel. “I designed every room,” he continues, before breaking into a chuckle. “I’m just kidding. My contribution includes not being afraid to say, ‘This is not going to work.’ When people start going, ‘This is going to cost too much,’ I say, ‘It’s worth the cost.’ You have to be ready to fight with the money people to create something and make it the best it can be, whether it’s a hotel or a movie. My motto is, ‘If you don’t go, you never know.’ Sometimes you’ve got to take a chance to move forward; otherwise, you won’t even get a chance to fail.”

He’s confident of Nobu’s chances, however. “I don’t gamble,” he says. “I’ve taken other kinds of gambles in my life, but not at a casino.”

Reel Deal: On Filmmaking

De Niro has taken a lot of risks in his career, and they’ve paid off with respect to his total immersion in the characters he portrays—most notably the tortured Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull, the psychopathic Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and the shrewd young Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Part II. He has been equally committed as a director and producer for both TV and film. Now, he’s trying to find a better balance.

“As you get older, you realize what’s important and what’s not,” he muses. “I used to be obsessive and that could be a tremendous drain. Now, I am more relaxed. I think that’s what happens when you get older and more experienced.”

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