Tips on Doing a Robert Deniro Impression

The quintissential “Bobby D” impression is a much sought after and useful tool for any man wanting to influence and/or intimidate his friends. It also is the kind of impression that can be thrown in randomly to provoke laughter, because it is almost universally out of place in the lives of people who don’t happen to be mobsters.

There are several critical parts:

New York accent.
If you were born in the Bronx, you are head and shoulders above the competition here. If not, you need to absorb and drill the accent. Simply repeat all the dialogue contained in the Scorcese filmography over and over again. Most men will have done this obsessively anyway.

Diction.
The Bobby D diction is influenced strongly by the fact that he chooses to speak with an inverted mouth, also known as “Upside down-in-the-mouth”, or “frowning”. By thrusting the sides of the lips down at the corners, and thrusting the chin forward, driving the center of the mouth up, one achieves a labial posture which will aid enormously in creating the characteristic sound.

Routing the sound.
Spoken words should not be very clearly enunciated, but should be allowed to simply leak out in equal ammounts from the nose and slightly opened mouth, and in such a manner that conveys that one doesn’t care if one is heard or not. The less you move the mouth, the better; to paraphrase the brits: keep a stiff upper AND lower lip.

Unlike Clinton, Don’t Hide the Fact that You Inhale.
The loud mouth inhale sound that follows words spoken in “Bobby D” are very important to complete the illusion. A soft, silibant gasp of air, accompanied by an audible smack of the opened mouth, will do much to cement the impersonation. Never sniff, merely gulp a breath of air whenever it is needed.

Extend Your S’s.
With the tongue lightly touching the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth, extend the silibance of words ending in “S” (such as “Enthusiasms”) so that they end in a gently sustained hiss. If you can do this somewhat laterally, from either side of the downturned corners of the mouth, you are really polishing the impression, and can probably use it over the phone to get reservations at any nice restaurant on Mulberry Street.

Yes, By All Means, Squint.
Though it does not measurably contribute to the sonic qualities of the impression, a slight squint of the eyes, with both eyebrows raised, as if one is trying to read a label on a prescription bottle through thick smoke, can help sell the “Bobby D” presence. A gentle side to side bobbing of the jaw to show ambivalence or indifference also will telegraph to the audience the Deniro attitude.

Good luck!

This essay originally appeared as an article in Maxim Magazine.  No, I’m serious.

Published in: on February 2, 2012 at 6:41 pm  Leave a Comment