“The helicopter scene let me tell you was hairy,” De Niro said. “There was me and John [Savage], and Chris had gotten off by this time and the chopper had got caught in the railings and twisted the whole bridge around.”
He continued: “I looked at John and shouted, ‘Drop!’ We had no choice and we just dropped in the water. When we landed, there were two motorboats, which were stationary with a rope between them. We crashed through the water and came up underneath the rope and caught hold.”
De Niro explained that this wasn’t the end of his near-brush, saying: “As I came out of the water, my thought was that the helicopter could conceivably come crashing down. But I saw the co-pilot stepping out of the chopper and lowing himself out – he picked up the cable and slipped it over the runner.
This experience prompted De Niro and Savage to shout, “We get this! No more!” He continued: “There was only going to be one take of that scene. That’s a pressured shot. That’s the shot that’s actually used that in the finished film. It’s not always the case. A huge moment like that can very often not be used.”
One Shot: The Making of The Deer Hunter, written by Jay Glennie, has been 15 years in the making. It features quotes from De Niro, Walken and Streep as well as unseen archival material relating to the film, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary. It’s available to buy now.
The Deer Hunter, directed by Michael Cimino, won five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor for Walken.