Sergio Leone toilet dispute almost caused Robert De Niro to quit Once Upon a Time in America

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According Shawn Levy’s 2014 biography of De Niro titled “De Niro: A Life”, Leone became enraptured by the material that would become “Once Upon a Time in America” ​​to the point of near-possession. Reading a book by real mobster Harry Gray called “The Hoods” in the mid-1960s, Leone found the story that haunted him “like the curse of the mummy in the old film with Boris Karloff. I wanted to do this film and no other.”

For a time, it looked like Leone was only going to produce a film version of “The Hoods,” even as he pitched the story to several screenwriters, including Norman Mailer, and directors like Milos Forman and Peter Bogdanovich. After speaking to De Niro once about the project, Leone came back to the actor once he finally secured the rights to the book, wrote a draft himself, and decided to direct the film. As the actor recalled, “He said [me] the story almost shot by shot, with flashbacks, and it was beautiful. I said, ‘That’s something I’d like to be a part of.'”

Leone and De Niro were initially so keen to work together on this film that the director even offered the actor his choice of role, with De Niro choosing between the film’s complex antagonist, Max, and the deeply flawed and conflicted central character. of Noodles. As Leone prepared sets and locations for what promised to be a multi-year shoot, De Niro pondered what role to play, a decision complicated by, among other things, a dirty toilet seat.

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