But De Niro’s big break would come the following year, when he starred as the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, directed by Francis Ford Coppola. The actor learned to speak a number of Sicilian dialects for the role, and delivered the majority of his lines in the language.
For his monumental efforts to accurately portray the mob boss, De Niro was handsomely rewarded – he earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1975. Next came a string of Scorsese-led films that led to even more acclaim for De Niro.
In 1976, De Niro starred in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, portraying a Vietnam War veteran who begins to lose his mind behind the wheel of his cab. The role earned him an Oscar nomination and gave the world the signature line with which De Niro would be associated for the rest of his career – “You talkin’ to me?”