Robert De Niro Defends ‘The Irishman’ Against Claims It’s Based on an Untrue Story

Zack Sharf

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Historical dramas based on true events often receive pushback regarding storytelling accuracy, but Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is a special case. Steven Zaillian’s screenplay is based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” in which author Charles Brandt interviewed former mobster Frank Sheeran about his involvement in the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa. Sheeran, played by Robert De Niro in Scorsese’s film, claims he killed Hoffa by shooting him twice in the back of his head while in a house in northwest Detroit. Both FBI members and investigative reporters on the Hoffa case have denied Sheeran’s claim, leading some to call out the accuracy of “The Irishman.”

On the same day Netflix opened “The Irishman” in select theaters (November 1), The Daily Beast published an interview with Hoffa investigator Dan Moldea, who said that he confronted De Niro personally at an event in Washington D.C. and warned the actor not to make “The Irishman” because Sheeran’s story is not true. In real life, Hoffa’s body was never discovered and his blood wasn’t found in the house where Sheeran says he shot him. During a recent interview with IndieWire Executive Editor Eric Kohn, De Niro addressed Moldea’s accusation and did not seem phased by claims “The Irishman” depicts an untrue story.

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“Dan is a well-respected writer. I met him in D.C. for a writers thing where they get together every year. He said that we were getting conned. I wasn’t getting conned,” De Niro said. “I have no problem with people disagreeing. He of course is an authority on Hoffa and everything else. As Marty says, we’re not saying we’re telling the actual story, we’re telling our story. I believed it.”

De Niro continued, “I know one thing — I know all the stuff that Frank said, the descriptions of the places he was at, the way he talked, that’s all real. The way he describes what happened to Hoffa is a very plausible thing to me. I’d love to hear what actually happened to him. But this made a lot of sense to me.”

One longtime theory around Hoffa’s disappearance alleges the union leader was buried under the New York Giants’ football stadium in New Brunswick, New Jersey. That’s one theory De Niro isn’t buying. “What, you’re going to take a body and carry it through and put it in the cement?” the actor said. “That’s not going to be the most expeditious way of doing it. Maybe it was done in a different way by the same Detroit people. Whatever. I believe this. I’d be happy to hear the actual truth, if there is one.”

“The Irishman” continues to play in select theaters nationwide. The gangster drama will have its Netflix streaming debut November 27.

Additional reporting by Eric Kohn.

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