NEW YORK - Actor Robert De Niro took the witness stand Monday in the New York civil case brought by his former assistant Graham Chase Robinson, and at times, the two-time Academy Award winner took issue with some of the questions from Robinson's attorney Andrew Macurdy.
"This is all nonsense!" De Niro blurted out at one point during his testimony.
Robinson claims De Niro used sexual language and assigned odd jobs to her around his home that felt sexist. She says she was the subject of discrimination and that when she once tried to resign, he retaliated by threatening not to provide a recommendation to future employers.
But the afternoon’s direct examination by the plaintiff's team was interrupted no less than a dozen times by Judge Lewis Liman who repeatedly had to remind De Niro, who was providing lengthy answers to simple questions, that he only needs to say "yes or no."
"Please limit your answer to just what is being asked," Lewis said to De Niro at one point.
And to the apparent frustration of his own defense attorneys, De Niro repeatedly spoke over his attorneys as they were trying to voice objections to questions.
"When there is an objection, you pause," Liman told De Niro after several similar moments had already occurred, adding that since De Niro had already answered the question before the judge ruled, the answers would remain in the record.
At another moment, De Niro interrupted Robinson’s attorney to ask if he could ask a question. Judge Liman instructed him that wasn’t how it worked. De Niro’s attorneys looked at each other, and shared a half-hearted chuckle before proceedings continued.
De Niro took particular exception to questions soon after he took the stand, when Macurdy asked him if Robinson’s role as his lead assistant was to do "anything and everything," since that was how De Niro described it in an earlier deposition.
De Niro responded by saying that when he said "anything and everything" it was in relation to professional life.
"Everything and everything— those are my words," De Niro said, conceding, then adding a clarification. "Anything within the confines of the job. Those are my words but they don’t mean everything."
Macurdy pressed further, asking if it extended to his personal life as well.
"No" De Niro shot back. "That makes it sound like it is something that it’s not."
During opening statements, Robinson's attorney Brent Hannafan told jurors that De Niro once asked Robinson to scratch his back. When she asked why he didn’t use a back scratcher, De Niro replied, "I like the way you do it."
On the witness stand, De Niro testified that only once did he ever call Robinson during the overnight hours. It was in 2017 when he fell down the stairs injuring his back and needing to go to the hospital. He called Robinson at 4:30am instead of waking his then-wife Grace Hightower.
"She was sleeping," De Niro said of his wife, adding that he did not want to wake her.
During his opening remarks, De Niro attorney Richard Schoenstein told jurors that the actor, as an employer, was "kind, reasonable, generous, and supportive."
"Everything that happened to her was because of her actions— not because she is a woman."
His attorneys also argue she once stole 5 million airline miles from De Niro’s company account and transferred them to her own. Schoenstein said she was not discriminated against and said there was never any retaliation.
Monday’s trial start is just the latest proceeding in a legal battle that dates back to 2019 between Robinson and De Niro and his company Canal Productions. Both parties have filed lawsuits against each other. In this instance, Robinson is seeking $12 million in damages for what her lawyers say is severe emotional distress and reputational harm.
De Niro’s testimony resumes Tuesday.