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Robert De Niro a ‘generous’ co-star, says Michelle Pfeiffer

Robert De Niro Michelle Pfeiffer 'The Family.'

Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer in "The Family."

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Updated: October 15, 2013 6:53AM

NEW YORK — Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer already had shared credits in two films when Pfeiffer received the script for Luc Besson’s “The Family.” But the stars had never actually appeared in a scene together.

“It was disappointing,” says Pfeiffer, 55. So when Pfeiffer learned that De Niro, 70, had signed on for the movie, “I thought, ‘OK, there have to be scenes with both of us in this one.’ The third time was the charm.”

In “The Family,” which opens Friday, she and De Niro play a long-married couple whose bond is strengthened by shady activity. De Niro’s character is a New Yawk-based mob-boss-turned-snitch who has been forced to relocate several times.

When we meet them, they have just settled into a small French village, and before long the expatriates are engaged in culture clashes — some of which turn graphically physical.

“I had never read anything like it,” Pfeiffer says of the script, which Besson and Michael Caleo adapted from a novel, “Malavita,” by Tonino Benacquista. “There was this mix of violence and humor and humanity.”

The actress drew inspiration from her portrayal of another Mob wife, Angela de Marco, in the 1988 comedy “Married to the Mob.”

“In some ways, [Maggie] is what Angela would have become if she hadn’t left that world.”

De Niro, of course, has portrayed a posse of memorable Mob figures. “They’re always a lot of fun,” he says, “if you can find truth in them.” To help Besson do that, De Niro enlisted “Wiseguy” author and “Goodfellas” screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi to provide notes.

“Nick helped us get things in focus,” he says.

De Niro has six children, ranging in age from daughter Drena, 46, to Helen Grace — one of two with current wife Grace Hightower, his companion since the late ’80s — who turns 2 in December. Pfeiffer, married to TV producer David E. Kelley for nearly 20 years, is mom to John and Claudia, respectively 18 and 20.

“It’s something that you automatically draw on” when playing other parents, Pfeiffer says. “That degree that you would go to in order to protect your family, and how complicated families and long relationships can be — you innately understand that.”

Motherhood has also influenced her career choices, says Pfeiffer, who is based in Los Angeles. “I’m dropping my son off at college on Saturday, so I’m in an interesting place. I just got offered this movie that shoots in New York. Before, when he was with me, it would have been, ‘Oh, God, how long is the shoot? When would I have to be there?’ It would have been stressful. But this time my response was just, ‘Great — I get to go to New York!’ ”

Pfeiffer wasn’t disappointed by her first shoot alongside De Niro. “I was surprised by how accessible and generous he is. I wasn’t really sure what to expect.”

De Niro, likewise, “didn’t know what Michelle would do, but working together was easy. Hopefully we’ll do something together again.”

Gannett News Service

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