While on the screen, Steve Buscemi has garnered a career playing often wildly gregarious, often oddball characters, the real life Buscemi is quite the antithesis of many of the characters he plays. An often quiet, reflective actor who shuns publicity except when he has a worthwhile film to promote, Buscemi has often played characters on the periphery of mainstream society. Whether it’s the journalist who reluctantly interviews a celebrity in his latest film Interview, the tabloid photographer of the Sundance hit, Delirious, or even Templeton the Rat in Charlotte’s Web, Buscemi thrives on playing society’s often-abnormal outsider.
The actor says that he is interested in “characters that have a past have problems, are complex and who are struggling, which to me are just more interesting to play with.” While the actor does appear in Hollywood’s mainstream films, it is clear that he finds greater interest in the world of independent cinema, a world in which these kinds of characters inhabit. “I think they may be just not as well developed in the studio films, just from my personal experience. I mean maybe in a more commercial film you’re just not getting the whole story because usually those characters are the supporting players and in some of the more independent films those characters are more upfront and so therefore we do get to learn more about them.”
Buscemi clearly relished faking on the remake of the Dutch film Interview, which he both directs and stars in. He plays a cynical political reporter who reluctantly agrees to do a puff piece on a seemingly vacuous film star [played by British beauty Sienna Miller]. The interview takes on a very different slant altering initial preconceptions. “When I saw the original [Dutch film] I really loved it. I was just really impressed by the performances, by the script, the story and the way it was shot, so it was something that I was excited about working on.” And taking on the lead role was something he thought about once he agreed to direct the film. “I sort of had it in the back of my mind that this would be a really wonderful part to play but I think I was a little intimidated at first about having to be the director and an actor but actually when talking about it with my wife, she really convinced me that I should play the part.”
Interview is Buscemi’s fifth theatrical feature. Asked if his criteria for choosing projects as a director differ from those as an actor, Buscemi says that he doesn’t have to make a living as a director. “I’m lucky that I can do that as an actor but that requires going after some more commercial fare, which I’m grateful that I have an opportunity to do. But I feel like the films that I’ve directed are close in spirit to a lot of the films that I’ve acted in as well. So I’m fortunate that I can make my living as an actor and therefore be a little bit choosier with the projects that I get involved with directing.”
He has two other films due out a few months apart, both of which represent Buscemi’s varied interests. In Delirious, which premiered at Sundance, Buscemi gives a masterful portrayal of a paparazzi photographer who takes on a protégé seeing him become a TV reality star while his own life remains pathetically down and out. While ferociously funny at times, his character is multi faceted to the nth agree, but Buscemi doesn’t know if that character is tragic. “I don’t have the right perspective on that playing the character. I mean when I play somebody I can’t make those judgments. I see him as being damaged, somebody who’s been through a lot, has a lot of insecurities and defences and also a lot of bravado and motzi. He’s a real hustler who’s got a lot of heart.”
Buscemi did some research on the paparazzi side of Hollywood by hanging out with photographer Steve Sands. “He was really helpful in showing me the ropes, but he’s somebody that I’ve known for years so I was grateful for his help.”
On the other extreme, Buscemi will next be seen co-starring opposite Adam Sandler and Kevin James in I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry, with the two comics posing as gay lovers. I play an inspector for the city who’s investigating Chuck and Larry and my character doesn’t believe that they’re really gay so I’m actually trying to ‘out’ them. It’s always fun to work with Adam and his whole crew.” Buscemi is very happy with the film, saying that it’s more than what you expect. “I just loved the script and the fact that in this broad comedic film that it’s strongly an advocate for gay rights and gay marriage. I also love that Adam is willing to tackle that.”
The actor doesn’t believe that the film will be controversial. “I don’t think it’ll be but who knows? It should be. I just think this is an issue that is, personally, it’s just so ridiculous that we even debate it,” says a passionate Buscemi. “Also in terms of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, I found it really interesting at the Republican debates that not one of those candidates said that they would repeal the ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ which I thought was so hypocritical on their part because especially like Guilliani and McCain who are, an important part of their platform is to be tough on terror and yet in the military we’ve lost really good soldiers because they have been outed, including Arabic translators who we desperately need. So I just think this whole issue of gay marriage of gays in the military should just be a non-issue. It just seems to backwards that we’re still even debating this.”
Buscemi is optimistic that such debate will eventually cease to exist. “I mean attitudes are always changing and I think those particular politicians are behind the times. It’s obvious to me that they’re playing to whatever base of voter that they think it’s important to them but actually, I think the majority or the country can most past that.” But Buscemi won’t be drawn on his preference for the next US President. “I’m still looking and learning.”
Buscemi, who has done his share of animated films, has also completed another, Igor, playing, well, another animal. “I pay a road kill rabbit. Igor is assistant to an evil scientist but he himself wants to be an eagle.”
Finally, since Buscemi was both an actor and award-winning director on The Sopranos, one can’t help but ask the actor if he watched the series’ finale. Of course he did. And his own verdict? “I thought it was brilliant. I mean I was on the edge of my seat like everybody else and was blown away. I was also relieved that if anything did happen to Tony I didn’t have to witness it.”
After all, Steve says, he was once personally involved with TV’s most infamous family. “In some ways I was dreading the last episode because I just thought that something horrible was going to happen to the whole family, but I thought the way it ended was just great so that in my mind I could just envision them sort of going on, certainly looking over his shoulder for the rest of his days, but I was relieved that I didn’t have to witness any more violence against the family.”
As for Buscemi’s own future, that’s not in doubt but doesn’t want to reveal more, but one thing for sure, it will be interesting.