Actor presented De Niro with the SAG Life Achievement Award Sunday night.

By Joey Nolfi
January 19, 2020 at 09:33 PM EST

Leonardo DiCaprio opened up about his on-screen dad’s impact on his early acting career during the 2020 SAG Awards ceremony.

As the Oscar-winning actor presented Robert De Niro with the SAG Life Achievement Award Sunday night, the former child star recalled how the 76-year-old inspired his trajectory as an aspiring performer, which ultimately led him toward a “deeper understanding of humanity” as he progressed through the profession.

“Robert De Niro is elemental. It feels like he’s always been here and always will be here. Like so many of you here tonight, he was the actor I watched as a young man obsessed with films at 13 years old,” DiCaprio said. “My father took me to the movies one afternoon to see [De Niro’s 1988 film] Midnight Run, and as the lights went down, he turned to me and said, ‘If you really want to be an actor and get into this profession, if you want to understand what great acting is, you watch that man onscreen.”

He went on to recount auditioning for a role opposite De Niro several years later.

“To share scenes with an artist of his magnitude was monumental,” DiCaprio said of reading scenes with De Niro — who played his abusive father figure — for the 1993 drama This Boy’s Life. “It was a life-changing experience. His commitment to character specificity in detail and fearless pursuit of authenticity in his work have influenced not only myself, but entire generations.”

De Niro went on to portray a doctor opposite the then-rising actor in the Meryl Streep-led drama Marvin’s Room in 1996. The duo also played fictionalized versions of themselves in Martin Scorsese‘s 2015 short film The Audition.

De Niro’s 54-year career includes iconic roles in Taxi DriverRaging BullCape FearJackie BrownMeet the Parents, and Silver Linings Playbook. This year, he starred in the global box office hit Joker alongside Joaquin Phoenix and re-teamed with Scorsese for Netflix’s current Best Picture frontrunner The Irishman. He and DiCaprio have both collaborated with Scorsese on numerous occasions, though never together in the same Scorsese project.

De Niro is the SAG Life Achievement Award’s 56th recipient, joining past winners like Ernest Borgnine (2010), Mary Tyler Moore (2011), Dick Van Dyke (2012), Rita Moreno (2013), Debbie Reynolds (2014), Carol Burnett (2015), Lily Tomlin (2017), Morgan Freeman (2018), and Marriage Story star Alan Alda, who won the award earlier this year.

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