The 70-year-old Oscar-winning actor, who is in Goa, India, to participate at the ongoing THiNK Fest 2013, feels fortunate to get into the lives of his characters without having to pay a real price.
"I have many real life heroes as my inspiration. (Nelson) Mandela, Peres, James Dean, Marlon Brando and from India... Indira Gandhi and Mahatma Gandhi. They are strong people with a big heart," De Niro said on the sidelines of the festival.
"I try to be more empathetic towards my characters. I try to understand its position by putting myself in their shoes. I feel I am lucky to get into these lives without having to pay a real price," he added.
For his American biographical sports drama 'Raging Bull', where he played boxer Jake LaMotta, he put on 60 pounds and won not just an Oscar but also made a world record for the maximum weight gained for a film role.
De Niro spent four months learning to speak the Sicilian dialect for 'The Godfather II'. De Niro's confession of forgetting most of his early film days came as a surprise to the audience as he replied to most of the questions by saying, "I really don't remember..." The superstar started his acting journey at the age of 16 and said he still does not know why he wanted to be in cinema.
"I dropped out of school and enrolled in Stella Adler's acting school, to the surprise of my friends and family. When she (Stella) asked me why I joined this profession, I didn't have an answer.
She answered on my behalf that since I wanted to express myself so I chose this profession. I nodded and repeated the same line," he said. This is not the first time the superstar is visiting India.
He had also come 35 years ago. "Indian people are very nice. I came here 35 years ago and promised that I will be back in couple of years. I got busy and even tried to come last year. But it didn't happen," he added.