Robert De Niro improvised the taxi driver mirror scene

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Often the best movies are pure lightning in a bottle from the right collaboration at the right time. This is the case of Taxi Driver, with Robert De Niro who has just won an Oscar under the direction of Martin Scorsese. In one of the drama’s iconic scenes, Scorsese just let De Niro riff, giving us cinematic history.

The track in question is De Niro talking to the mirror as Travis Bickle. You know the part, where he says “Are you talking to me?” – that’s pure Hollywood history. “There was no dialogue, I believe, in the scene, and I remember going, ‘Can you say something to yourself? In the mirror?'” Scorsese recalled on Today. “It was the last week of shooting – it was very difficult, and we were like, ‘OK, we’re just going to shoot this scene’.”

They were running out of time with the location, and Scorsese recalled De Niro continuing, “Are you talking to me?” again and again. “He kept repeating it, repeating it, and the [assistant director] knocking on the door saying, ‘Come on, we have to get out of here,'” he says. “And I said, ‘No, that’s fine, that’s fine. Give me another minute”. It was like a jazz riff. Like a solo.

This scene is indelible in the legacy of Taxi Driver, not only as the high point of Scorsese and De Niro’s careers, but of American cinema in general. They made history that day, even though they were just finishing the scene.

“You never know any of this, you just did it,” De Niro says when asked about Taxi Driver’s infamy. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine anything other than the greatness emerging from Scorsese and De Niro, two incredible filmmakers in their prime at that time. They have collaborated on several occasions since, in Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino and, most recently, the Netflix film The Irishman.

It’s all great, but there’s a special magic to Taxi Driver. Check out our list of the best thrillers if you’re looking for more gems.

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