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The son of two accomplished painters, De Niro grew up in Manhattan, raised by his mother, Virginia Admiral, after his parents separated when his father, Robert De Niro Sr., came out as gay. De Niro was interested in acting from a young age, starting acting classes at the Dramatic Workshop when he was as young as ten. According to De Niro in the Interview piece, it was his parents’ support and connections that landed him at such a prestigious acting school at such a young age:
“They were both supportive. They would never tell me no. My mother worked for a woman, Maria Ley-Piscator, who with her husband founded the Dramatic Workshop, which was connected to the New School. My mother did proofreading and typing and stuff for her, and as part of her payment, I was able to take acting classes there on Saturdays when I was 10. This couple had come out of Germany, and the guy went back, but his wife stayed and ran the workshop. It was a big school with a lot of actors, some of whom were able to study acting on the G.I. Bill. Brando and Steiger went there, the generation before me.”
As the child of two people who were successful in the arts, De Niro was definitely at an advantage. His parents were able to leverage their connections in order to give him access to the best possible education in acting, at a school where even the legendary Marlon Brando had studied. But his time at the Dramatic Workshop was only the first stop on his acting journey.