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Animal Acting

Universal’s “Midnight Run,” which never quite took off at the box office last summer, might have benefited from some extra publicity. Say, an interview in Playboy with the film’s elusive star, Robert De Niro. But the interview--which Playboy originally wanted for its August issue--won’t appear until Dec. 2, when the magazine’s 35th anniversary issue goes on sale. What gives?

Seems that nobody, including the studio, could get Bobby to sit still.

“De Niro didn’t cooperate, or the interview would have been out while the film was still in the theaters,” said writer Lawrence Grobel, who was granted the longest De Niro interview ever--seven sessions.

But: “None (was) longer than one hour. He was always arriving late and leaving early.”

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De Niro was adamant about not discussing his childhood, Grobel said. “I stopped the tape 10 times at De Niro’s request and finally had to yell at him to leave it on. I never had a chance to warm up to him.

“Despite that, I think he comes off not as confused or jumbled as he is in real life.”

The oddest thing Grobel discovered: “De Niro often has animals in mind when he prepares for a role.”

The actor likened his demented cabbie in “Taxi Driver” to a crab, for instance. And for the psychotic fan he played in “King of Comedy,” De Niro observed . . . chickens.

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