Brancato, the 17-year-old soon-to-be star of De Niro's directorial debut, A Bronx Tale, was living a dream. He grew up idolizing De Niro, not least because he'd been told that he resembled the two-time Academy Award winner. He loved De Niro's films and would routinely reenact scenes from Raging Bull and Goodfellas with his brother, Vincent. When Cape Fear was released in November 1991, Brancato even grew out his hair and scrawled crude tattoos on his skin to mirror the Southern backwoods look of De Niro's Max Cady. He also developed an uncanny De Niro impersonation — which was how he was discovered.

On July 5, 1992, a casting scout seeking a fresh face for the role of Calogero, De Niro's son in A Bronx Tale, was handing out flyers on Jones Beach when he approached Vincent. He declined, but recommended his older brother. Lillo then emerged from the surf and immediately launched into his De Niro shtick for the video camera — the "You talkin' to me" scene from Taxi Driver. The next day he visited De Niro's office in the Tribeca Film Center. Less than two months later Brancato was on the Astoria, Queens, set of A Bronx Tale, making his acting debut in a movie directed by his hero.

De Niro and his young star grew close during filming, with De Niro often huddling with Brancato and Chazz Palminteri, the film's screenwriter and costar, after hours in his apartment to review scenes. And so De Niro had arrived at the Brancato home, a six-bedroom brick house that Lillo Sr., a contractor, had erected in 1987, for more than a home-cooked meal of pasta and meatballs. He was there to deliver a warning.

On July 5, 1992, a casting scout seeking a fresh face for the role of Calogero, De Niro's son in A Bronx Tale, was handing out flyers on Jones Beach when he approached Vincent. He declined, but recommended his older brother. Lillo then emerged from the surf and immediately launched into his De Niro shtick for the video camera—the "You talkin' to me" scene from Taxi Driver. The next day he visited De Niro's office in the Tribeca Film Center. Less than two months later Brancato was on the Astoria, Queens, set of A Bronx Tale, making his acting debut in a movie directed by his hero.

De Niro and his young star grew close during filming, with De Niro often huddling with Brancato and Chazz Palminteri, the film's screenwriter and costar, after hours in his apartment to review scenes. And so De Niro had arrived at the Brancato home, a six-bedroom brick house that Lillo Sr., a contractor, had erected in 1987, for more than a home-cooked meal of pasta and meatballs. He was there to deliver a warning.