Anyone who’s a fan of Robert De Niro would agree that man is a bit of an enigma. Generally press-shy, he’s best known for his serious, often psychotic roles – his Oscar nominations have ranged from “Awakenings” to “Taxi Driver,” and his wins have included “Raging Bull” and “The Godfather: Part II.” But he’s also proved to be comfortable in comedies such as “Analyze This” and “Meet the Parents.” In fact he got his film start in a trio of comedies (“The Wedding Party,” “Greetings” and “Hi, Mom!”) for director Brian De Palma. In his newest comedy, “The Intern,” written and directed by Nancy Meyers (“Something’s Gotta Give”), he plays Ben, a retired widower with too much time on his hands who goes to work as an intern for a young and peppy online entrepreneur (Anne Hathaway). But this is different from his other comedic work. There are no one-liner zingers, and he’s not the least bit threatening. He plays a normal guy who’s actually quite charming. De Niro, in a very laid-back mood, chatted about his approach to this film and to acting in general in a small hotel room in New York.

Q: Nancy Meyers recently said that she was watching you in “Silver Linings Playbook” while she was finishing the script for “The Intern,” immediately thought of you for the part, ran out and called your agent, and asked to get the script to you.

A: I didn’t know that. That’s the kind of thing an actor likes to hear (laughs). It’s like, “I got a job! Another job!”

Q: What was your initial reaction to the script?

A: I read it, then we talked. It was the usual thing of who would be in it, and what would be changed.

Q: At this point in your career, do directors listen to your ideas on the script even before filming has started?

A: The whole thing with acting is, if you sign on to work with a director, you have to sign on to their vision, and help them realize it. That’s what I would expect if I was directing. Actors know that. So I have suggestions and say this or that or whatever, and it’s all part of the process. Nancy might say I like that, or not. Basically you’re moving everything forward in the spirit of the way the director sees it and wants it.

Q: We all know some of the psychotic characters you’ve played before, but you do come across as a fairly normal fellow in this movie. Do you share similarities with him? Was he easier to play than some other characters?

A: I always try to use the parts of myself that are applicable to the character. Of course, there are parts of myself that are very applicable to Ben. And there are also parts that aren’t. But I enjoyed doing it, and you’re right, I’m not known for doing this sort of character very much. Or this type of comedy. So it’s all good.

Q: Do you have to find something to identify with in every character or can you go in and just play it?

A: Well, you have to identify with their point of view. You have to believe that they believe what they’re doing, even if they DON’T believe what they’re doing. You have to be on their side, let’s put it that way.

Q: Can you recall any early memories at a movie theater that made you say I want to be an actor?

A: I don’t remember specifically. I saw the usual things; in those days there were a lot of Westerns, and there were the classic double bill features at the Loews Theater, movies with Spencer Tracy or Marlon Brando or Tony Curtis. One departure I remember was “Suddenly Last Summer” with Elizabeth [Taylor]. I also liked going to the movies because it was air conditioned when it was so stiflingly hot (laughs). I started studying acting when I was 10, going to acting school on Saturdays. I don’t know what actually kicked off my wanting to do it at that time. I forget. But when I was in my teens, I started up again.

Q: I first saw you in “Greetings” and “Hi, Mom!” so I was introduced to you as an offbeat comic actor. Has there ever been a plan of making a comedy then a serious one then a comedy?

A: No, you do what comes along, then find a way to rationalize why you want to do it or justify it. So my career has just happened the way it did. I guess I’m still a work in progress. I actually first worked for Brian De Palma on “The Wedding Party” when I was 19. I played one of the groomsmen. I think the only other person you would know in it is Jill Clayburgh.

Q: You’ve directed two films: “A Bronx Tale” in 1993 and “The Good Shepherd” in 2006. Any plans for another?

A: I don’t know. I want to do a sequel to “The Good Shepherd,” but I never planned on directing more than five movies in my life, so if I do another one ... well, it’s possible, but it would have to be really special.

“The Intern” opens on Sept. 25.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.