Buscemi, Steve

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Nationality: American. Born: Brooklyn, New York, 13 December 1957. Education: Studied acting at Lee Strasberg Institute, New York City. Family: Married Jo Andres (a filmmaker/choreographer); children: Lucian. Career: Began as a stand-up comedian in New York City; also worked as a fireman; played Mr. Hickle on the TV series The Adventures of Pete & Pete, 1993; directed "Finnegan's Wake" episode of TV series Homicide: Life on the Street, 1993, and Oz, 1997. Awards: Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male, for Reservoir Dogs, 1993. Agent: c/o William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

Films as Actor:


The Way It Is (Mitchell)


Tommy's (as Daniel)


Coffee and Cigarettes II (Jarmusch) (as Waiter); Film House Fever (as Tony); No Picnic; Sleepwalk (Driver) (as Worker); Parting Glances (Sherwood) (as Nick)


Heart (Lemmo) (as Nicky); Kiss Daddy Goodnight (Huemer)


Arena Brains (Longo); Call Me (Mitchell) (as Switchblade); Heart of Midnight (Chapman) (as Eddy); Vibes (Kwapis) (as Fred)


Bloodhounds of Broadway (Brookner) (as Whining Willie); New York Stories (Allen, Scorsese, Coppola) (as Gregory Stark); Slaves of New York (Ivory) (as Wilfredo); Mystery Train (Jarmusch) (as Charlie); Lonesome Dove, (Wincer—mini, for TV) (as Luke)


Force of Circumstance; Miller's Crossing (Coen) (as Mink); Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (Harrison) (as Bellingham); King of New York (Ferrara) (as Test Tube)


Barton Fink (Coen) (as Chet); Billy Bathgate (Benton) (as Irving); Zandalee (Pillsbury) (as OPP Man)


CrissCross (Alone Together) (Menges) (as Louis); What Happened to Pete (as Stranger) (+ d, sc); Who Do I Gotta Kill? (Me and the Mob) (Rainone); Reservoir Dogs (Tarantino) (as Mr. Pink); In the Soup (Rockwell) (as Aldolpho Rollo)


Ed and His Dead Mother (Bon Appetit, Mama) (Wacks) (as Ed Chilton); Twenty Bucks (Rosenfeld) (as Frank); Rising Sun (Kaufman) (as Willy "the Weasel" Wilhelm)


Floundering (McCarthy) (as Ned); Pulp Fiction (Tarantino) (as Surly Buddy Holly Waiter); Somebody to Love (Rockwell) (as Mickey); The Last Outlaw (Murphy—for TV) (as Philo); Airheads (Lehmann) (as Rex); The Hudsucker Proxy (Coen) (as Beatnik Barman)


Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead (Fleder) (as Mister Shhh); Desperado (Rodriquez) (as Buscemi); Dead Man (Jarmusch) (as Bartender [uncredited]); Billy Madison (Davis) (as Danny McGrath [uncredited]); Living in Oblivion (DeCillo) (as Nick Reve)


Black Kites (Andres); Escape from L.A. (Carpenter) (as Map to the Stars Eddie); The Search for One-Eye Jimmy (Kass) (as Ed Hoyt); Kansas City (Altman) (as Johnny Flynn); Trees Lounge (as Tommy) (+ d, sc); Fargo (Coen) (as Carl Showalter)


The Real Blonde (DeCillo) (as Nick); Con Air (West) (as Garland 'The Marietta Mangler' Greene)


The Impostors (Tucci) (as Happy Franks); Louis and Frank (Rockwell); Armageddon (Bay) (as Rockhound); The Big Lebowski (Coen) (as Donny); The Wedding Singer (Coraci) (as David Veltri [uncredited]); Divine Trash (doc) (Yeager) (as himself)


Franky Goes to Hollywood (Kelly) (as himself); Big Daddy (Dugan) (as Homeless Guy)


28 Days (Thomas) (as Cornell); The Animal Factory (as A.R. Hosspack) (+ d, pr); Ghost World (Zwigoff) (as Seymour)


Final Fantasy (Sakaguchi—anim) (as voice of Neil); Monsters, Inc. (Docter and Silverman—anim) (as voice of Randall Boggs); Double Whammy (DiCillo)


By BUSCEMI: articles—

"Reservoir Dogs," interview with R. Caputo, in Cinema Papers (Abbotsford, Victoria), no. 94, August 1993.

"Goatees Ahoy, It's Indieboy!" interview with Henry Alford, in GQ (New York), vol. 59, no. 10, October 1995.

"Lounge Lizard," interview with Geoff Andrew, in Time Out (London), no. 1379, 22 January 1997.

On BUSCEMI: articles—

Empire (London), April 1994.

The Guardian (London), 9 November 1995.

Gramfors, Rickard, "Riddaren av den sorgliga skepnaden," in Chaplin (Stockholm), vol. 38, no. 5, 1996.

Time Out (London), 22 January 1997.

Empire (London), March 1997.

"Oh, My God! They've Killed Buscemi!" in Premiere (Boulder, Colorado), vol. 11, April 1998.

* * *

In the Coen brothers' thriller Fargo, Steve Buscemi plays a lethally inept gunman of whom no witness can ever recall anything except that "he was kinda funny-lookin'." It's a typically poker-faced Coenesque gag that Buscemi's highly distinctive features should be found so nondescript. Journalists and critics, at all events, have had no trouble thinking up epithets, usually anything but complimentary. References abound to the actor's feral face, bugged eyes, lank hair, flabby lips, whiny voice, ill-assorted teeth, and the consumptive pallor of his complexion. Steve Buscemi, it seems, was never in much danger of getting cast as a romantic lead.

This clearly doesn't worry him a bit. "I like playing strange characters," he once commented. "I don't see myself as a regular guy." The heir, in terms of screen persona, of Peter Lorre or Elisha Cook Jr., Buscemi has created a rich gallery of geeks, nerds, losers, sleazebags, and twitchy psychopaths. Any apparent narrowness of range is belied by the individuality and edgy intensity he brings to all his roles. Though one of cinema's hardest-working actors—throughout the 1990s he regularly appeared in three or four films a year—he rarely repeats himself, and can make something incisive and memorable out of the sketchiest role, even in slam-bang action blockbusters like Con Air or Armageddon. In Buscemi's game-plan, big-budget movies like these serve merely as a means to an end, a form of cross-subsidy—as they did for one of his personal icons, John Cassavetes. "It's important to get that type of work," he observes, "because it's hard for me to make a living doing things that I really like," and his dedication to the relatively cash-strapped independent sector has earned him the unofficial title of "King of the Indies." In return the indies have served him well: his oddball persona, doleful with a disquieting undertow of menace, has been avidly mined by, among others, the Coens, Jim Jarmusch, Abel Ferrara, Robert Altman, Roberto Rodriguez—and of course Quentin Tarantino, who launched Buscemi into wider public notice with his volatile turn as the nontipping Mr. Pink, sole survivor of the bloodbath that was Reservoir Dogs. Tarantino made good use of one of Buscemi's specialities, the knack of delivering dialogue at whirlwind speed, often in a querulous yammer that suggests a long-held grievance against an unappreciative world. Most of Buscemi's characters, shifty and nervous, use words as a defence mechanism, throwing up a smokescreen of insistent verbiage behind which to effect a sneak attack or a strategic retreat. Certain directors, though, have noted something unnerving in the actor's rare silences, and cast him accordingly. In Gary Fleder's hyper-stylised thriller Things To Do in Denver When You're Dead he plays against type as Mr. Shhh, "the most lethal hitman this side of the Mississippi," speaking as rarely as his name implies but conveying coiled reserves of menace through stance and eye-movement. This was a rare example of a Buscemi character displaying professional competence; dire ineptitude is usually more in his line, an incapacity so total as to be unaware of itself. As a would-be stick-up man in Keva Rosenfeld's episodic comedy-drama Twenty Bucks, Buscemi's self-absorbed blundering is all the funnier for the cool distate of Christopher Lloyd as his ultra-disciplined partner.

In his screen persona Buscemi always conveys an element of pathos, an impression of someone who started off several strikes down, unfairly ill-equipped to deal with life. Accordingly he rarely loses our sympathy, even in his most violent or sinister roles; but by the same token there's a disquieting quality about him even when he's playing sweet-natured. In Barton Fink his bellboy at the dilapidated Hotel Earle, beamingly eager to be of service, only increases Barton's unease the more he offers help, seemingly embodying the very spirit of the decaying establishment with his contorted postures and ingratiating grin. No matter how brief the part (in Barton Fink he's on screen for barely two minutes), his shifty presence invariably captures the attention.

Buscemi has twice been cast as a film-director, turning his intimacy with the indie film-making scene to advantage: as a neophyte manipulated by an affable gangster' (Cassavetes veteran Seymour Cassel) in Alexandre Rockwell's In the Soup, and in a state of mounting exasperation verging on hysteria in Tom DeCillo's film-àclef Living in Oblivion. After which, turning director for real seemed a logical development. For Trees Lounge, his debut as writer-director, Buscemi drew on his own Italian-Irish roots in provincial Long Island. Shooting in Valley Stream, the town where he grew up, and incorporating a lot of his own personal background, he played the lead, Tommy Basilio, an amiably feckless no-hoper, as a projection of "What would have happened if I'd stayed in Valley Stream?" Shot in 24 days on a $l million budget, the film—centred round the local bar of the title—is low-key and understatedly funny with a hint of melancholy. Buscemi displays an appealing generosity of spirit towards his characters—"I like films where people aren't so easily defined, where I can be interested in how they deal or don't deal with their problems"—and an instinctive, unflashy grasp of cinematic technique.

Describing Trees Lounge as "a total satisfaction. . . my best film so far," Buscemi has since completed his second film as director: Animal Factory, a prison drama based on a novel by Eddie Bunker (Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs). Advance word is good. Directing evidently suits him: "If I could make a living from directing, that's what I'd do," he says. But it's to be hoped that so watchable a performer isn't entirely tempted away from acting.

—Philip Kemp