Robert De Niro stays proudly political at the 2020 SAG Awards

Robert De Niro receives his SAG Award
Robert De Niro receives his SAG Award onstage at the 26th Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Robert De Niro, presented with a SAG lifetime achievement award, speaks up for candidates who support unions and speaks out against ‘abuse of power.’

Upon being presented with a lifetime achievement award at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Sunday night, the surprising thing wasn’t that Robert De Niro got political, but that he did it so calmly.

“Political leaders who support unions are more likely to support the Affordable Care Act, equitable taxes, humane immigration regulations, a safe environment, a diverse citizenry, reproductive rights, sensible gun control and fair wages and benefits,” the frequent critic of President Trump began.

“There’s right and there’s wrong and there’s common sense and there’s abuse of power,” he added. “And as a citizen I have as much right as anybody to voice my opinion. And if I have a bigger voice … I’m going to use it whenever I see a blatant abuse of power.”

De Niro, who has been a member of the union for over 50 years and a working actor since 1965, was presented the award by “Marvin’s Room” and “This Boy’s Life” costar Leonardo DiCaprio.

“The role of an actor is to make us feel,” said DiCaprio in his introduction. “They take us to new places using their skills to guide us towards a deeper understanding of humanity. And for almost 50 years, Robert De Niro’s performances have done exactly that.”

De Niro, a two-time Academy Award winning actor, is the 56th recipient of the performers union’s highest accolade and follows Alan Alda, who was presented with the award last year.

In addition to winning Oscars for “The Godfather: Part II” (1974) and “Raging Bull” (1980), De Niro was nominated as an actor in a leading role for “Taxi Driver” (1976), “The Deer Hunter” (1978), “Awakenings” (1990) and “Cape Fear” (1991), as well as earning a supporting nomination for “Silver Linings Playbook” (2012).

This year, however, the veteran actor was overlooked for his lead performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” not only by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences but the Golden Globes and SAG Awards. As one of the film’s producers, he was recognized with a nomination for the best picture Oscar.

De Niro won a SAG award in 2014 as part of the cast of “American Hustle” and received SAG cast nominations for his work in “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Marvin’s Room.”

“Thank you, Leo, thank you, for those generous, generous words,” De Niro said upon taking the stage. “As actors, we don’t take victory laps, we’re too worried about what our next job will be, so it makes me very happy to know that my next job is working with you and Marty [referring to the upcoming project ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’]. At least I know I’ve got another year of health insurance.”