Happy birthday to two of the greatest actors alive. Robert DeNiro, born on August 17, 1943, turns 70, and Sean Penn, born August 17, 1960 turns 53 today. De Niro and Penn are icons of American acting and can trace their lineage as great American actors all the way back to the grandfather, or godfather of them all, Marlon Brando. Just as De Niro and Penn were judged in comparison to the master Brando's work, so will young actors today be judged by the work of De Niro and Penn.
A brief look at their resumes is all it takes to see why they reside on the Mount Rushmore of American actors. Shockingly, De Niro has only won two Academy Awards, one for Best Supporting Actor (Godfather part II) and one for best Actor (Raging Bull), but his work is so phenomenally great it is beyond being measured by awards. His work with director Martin Scorsese alone is better than some of the greatest actors entire careers.
De Niro gave astoundingly memorable performances in the Scorsese films "Mean Streets", "Taxi Driver", "Raging Bull", "The King of Comedy", "Goodfellas", "Cape Fear" and "Casino". His non-Scorses directed films are nearly as impressive, "Godfather Part II", "The Deer Hunter", "Brazil", "The Mission", "The Untouchables", "Midnight Run", "Awakenings", "Heat" and "Silver Linings Playbook".
Sean Penn also has only won two Academy Awards, Best Actor in "Mystic River" and "Milk", but his work is also well beyond being judged by mere awards. Penn burst onto the scene as a twenty-one year old with a fantastic performance in the film "Taps". He then gave great performances in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High", "Bad Boys", "The Falcon and the Snowman" and "At Close Range". His work in "Colors", "Casualties of War" and "State of Grace" showcased his immense talent and skill.
He then seemingly disappeared for three years, only to reemerge with a supporting role in "Carlito's Way", soon after he starred as Matthew Poncelet in Tim Robbin's "Dead Man Walking". His mesmerizing performance in that film re-esteablished Penn as the greatest actor of his generation. He reinforced this position with stand out performances in "She's So Lovely", "The Thin Red Line", "Sweet and Lowdown" and "I Am Sam". Then came his two Oscar winning performances in in two very different roles in "Mystic River" and "Milk".
The amount of powerful performances De Niro and Penn have given is staggering. The one trademark of both of their work is simply: Commitment. Physical, emotional and mental commitment to the character and the work. What we can learn from both Robert De Niro and Sean Penn it is that we should take what we do as actors seriously, and take our craft seriously. When we do act, to commit to it, like a man who's hair is on fire commits to finding a lake. These men both teach us that if we want to act, and act well, we must commit to not only the part we are playing, but to the art and craft of acting.
My respect and admiration for both of these men, their work, their skill, their talent, their commitment, knows no bounds. I wish both of these iconic actors a very happy birthday, and I hope we see more of them on screen in the years to come.