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De Niro Honored As "The Gold Standard"

"The Early Show"'s final profile of the 2009 Kennedy Center honorees featured legendary actor Robert De Niro.

He recently sat down with "Early Show" co-anchor Julie Chen to discuss his distinguished 40-year career.

De Niro said he was "honored" to learn he was chosen. Is he comfortable with the praise? He told Chen, "Well, what I like about this is you don't have to say anything!"

However, there were many others who were willing to speak on his behalf at the ceremony.

Fellow actor Ed Norton said, "It's very easy to say that when I was young that I decided to become an actor because of Robert DeNiro."

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Academy Award winner Meryl Streep called De Niro "the gold standard," saying, "He's the one that we all went to school on, inspired by, stole from, I personally."

De Niro was raised on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Chen said he knew at an early age that he wanted to be an actor. He told Chen he didn't ever really know he had a knack for it -- he just did what he wanted to.

So, does he know how to act now? "So people tell me!" he remarked.

De Niro's breakthrough came in 1973's "Bang the Drum Slowly." The same year, the film "Mean Streets" debuted -- the first of his eight collaborations with renowned director Martin Scorsese.

Scorsese said of De Niro at the honors ceremony, "We learned to make movies together, and what we learned you can see in every picture I've made ever since."

De Niro said Scorsese is always open to trying new things. "I'll come up with an idea, or try something, and he'll say, 'Yeah, let's try it. Let's try it.' But then there's a point when you're working with a director, if they keep saying, 'Well, I don't know.' After a while, you just sort of shut down. But Marty's always very open."

De Niro won his first Academy Award for best supporting actor in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather Part II."

De Niro told Chen, "I felt very lucky being part of that, because it had already been established as what it was, and so the second one coming was great."

De Niro's second Oscar-winning performance was in "Raging Bull," which tracked the brutal rise and tragic fall of boxer Jake LaMotta. De Niro showed his commitment to the role with a drastic physical transformation.

"For me, it was taking a hiatus, and gaining the weight to really be out of shape," he said. "Beause I ran into Jake Lamotta once when he was working as a -- I guess a bouncer -- at a strip club. And I saw him standing there, and we were talking. And he just made an impression. And then, when he was -- when he was in his prime, the difference. I thought that was an interesting thing, if you could capture that for real."

De Niro has had his share of dramatic roles, but hasn't shied away from comedy with parts in films such as "Meet the Parents."

De Niro says he never knows what will connect with audiences. "When we were doing 'Taxi Driver,' the reaction of certain people, we never would've expected," he says. "The 'You talking to me?' thing. You know, that's like, who would've expected a reaction?"

So how would the actor describe himself? He responded, "That's too long for this interview."

You can see the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors with tributes to Robert DeNiro, Bruce Springsteen, Mel Brooks, Dave Brubeck, and Grace Bumbry Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 9/8 Central on CBS.

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