Robert De Niro improvised Taxi Driver mirror scene

Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro reveal that the mirror scene from drama movie Taxi Driver was actually totally improvised on the day

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver

Oftentimes, the best movies are pure lightning in a bottle borne out of the right collaboration at the right time. This is true of Taxi Driver, featuring Robert De Niro fresh off winning an Oscar under the direction of Martin Scorsese. In one of the iconic scenes from the drama movie, Scorsese just let De Niro riff, giving us cinematic history.

The bit in question is De Niro talking to the mirror as Travis Bickle. You know the part, where he says “You talkin’ to me?” – it’s pure Hollywood history. “There was no dialogue, I believe, in the scene, and I remember saying, ‘Can you say something to yourself? In the mirror?'” Scorsese remembered on Today. “It was the last week of shooting – it was very difficult, and we said, ‘OK, we’re just going to shoot this scene’.”

They were running out of time with the location, and Scorsese recalls that De Niro just kept going, “You talkin’ to me?” over and over. “He just kept repeating it, kept repeating it, and the [assistant director] was banging on the door saying, ‘Come on, we got to get out of here’,” he says. “And I said, ‘No, this is good, this is good. Give me another minute’. It was like a jazz riff. Just like a solo.”

That scene is indelible to the legacy of Taxi Driver, not just as a highlight of Scorsese and De Niro’s careers, but of American filmmaking in general. They made history that day, though really they were just getting the scene done.

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“You never know any of that stuff, you just did it,” De Niro says when asked about the infamy of Taxi Driver. In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine anything other than greatness emerging from Scorsese and De Niro, two incredible filmmakers in their prime at that point. They’ve collaborated many times since, in Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino, and most recently, Netflix movie The Irishman.

Those are all great, but there’s a particular magic in Taxi Driver. Check out our list of the best thriller movies if you’re looking for more gems.