Profound Actor-Mentor Relationships That Lit Up the Screen

Jodie Foster played a child prostitute in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. She was only 12 years old at the time, but had already established herself as a prolific presence in commercials and television. The film took the young star onto the gritty New York City streets opposite the intense and chillingly effective Robert De Niro as the unhinged Travis Bickle. The 33-year-old actor’s methods inspired a career revelation for Foster, who admits she was cocksure when she showed up on set. “I felt like I was the veteran there,” the actress revealed.

This kind of actor-mentor relationship has been prevalent throughout Hollywood since the Golden Age of cinema. Stars guiding other stars and sharing their wisdom has proven crucial for many now iconic actors who sought to perfect their screen personae. We took a look at a few famous actor-mentor duos — including that of Foster and De Niro — below.

Jodie Foster and Robert De Niro

Website Beyond the Frame shared Foster’s revelation about acting, realized during rehearsals with De Niro for the 1976 film. She echoed the same sentiment during her Inside the Actor’s Studio interview. “It hit me like a lightning bolt,” she said of the experience.

“By the time I got the role in Taxi Driver, I’d already made more stuff than De Niro or Martin Scorsese. I’d been working from the time I was three years old. So even though I was only twelve, I felt like I was the veteran there.

De Niro took me aside before we started filming. He kept picking me up from my hotel and taking me to different diners. The first time he basically didn’t say anything. He would just, like, mumble. The second time he started to run lines with me, which was pretty boring because I already knew the lines. The third time, he ran lines with me again and now I was really bored. The fourth time, he ran lines with me, but then he started going off on these completely different ideas within the scene, talking about crazy things and asking me to follow in terms of improvisation.

So we’d start with the original script and then he’d go off on some tangent and I’d have to follow, and then it was my job to eventually find the space to bring him back to the last three lines of the text we’d already learned.

It was a huge revelation for me, because until that moment I thought being an actor was just acting naturally and saying the lines someone else wrote. Nobody had ever asked me to build a character. The only thing they’d ever done to direct me was to say something like ‘Say it faster’ or ‘Say it slower.’ So it was a whole new feeling for me, because I realized acting was not a dumb job. You know, I thought it was a dumb job. Somebody else writes something and then you repeat it. Like, how dumb is that?

There was this moment, in some diner somewhere, when I realized for the first time that it was me who hadn’t brought enough to the table. And I felt this excitement where you’re all sweaty and you can’t eat and you can’t sleep.

Changed my life.”