“With any role I play, I only have myself, to put myself into it, so there will be aspects of my personality that will come through” – Steve Buscemi
Actor Steve Buscemi is notoriously private — the New York native rarely gives in-depth interviews despite being a highly regarded supporting actor for over twenty years. So it was surprising that Buscemi opened up so personally during a recent “Ask Me Anything” chat on Reddit to support an Indiegogo campaign for a documentary he is producing called Check It. In between dozens of references to The Big Lewbowski, Buscemi answered questions about his past as a New York firefighter, which roles best reflect him as a person, and his roles on The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. Here are some of the highlights.
Many are surprised to learn that the small, thin Buscemi — who was described as “funny lookin’ in a general kinda way” was once a New York City firefighter. In fact, Buscemi actually returned to work at his former firehouse for several days after 9/11 to support his colleagues after the travesty decimated the ranks of New York’s firefighters. Buscemi commented on his close connection to the FDNY and how he ended up turning to acting:
So… I always wanted to be an actor, but I’d like to go back to the fire department question, because the person mentioned my connection to the fire department, and I do support this wonderful group in New York called “Friends of Fire Fighters.” And it was started by Nancy Carbone, in the aftermath of 9/11, she just went around to the firehouses in her community, to see if they needed anything, and it’s grown into this amazing organization, where they provide mental health services to firefighters and their families, as well as other services, and I can’t say enough good things about them. They were there for the firefighting community after 9/11, and after Hurricane Sandy, but they are there on a daily basis, for any firefighter or their family that needs support or help.
And getting back to the acting question – it’s something I thought about as a kid. I never really thought I’d do it for real, or certainly make a living at it, and it’s something that – it took years to sort’ve… be able to make a living at it, and I feel lucky that I’m able to.
When asked if any characters he has played are like his own personality, Buscemi pointed to two of his lesser-known films. He explained:
I don’t think you can point to any one character and say that that’s ‘me’ but… with any role I play, I only have myself, to put myself into it, so there will be aspects of my personality that will come through, or I guess, exaggerations of my personality. And sometimes that’s fun to do – like in a character like Mr. Pink, where I would NOT want to be that person in real life, but it was certainly fun to… explore aspects of my personality. Where I could be that person. And then, you know, there’s roles like – there’s a character I played in this movie, In The Soup, which was an independent film I did in the early 90’s with the writer / director Alexander Rockwell – and that’s with Seymour Cassel and Jennifer Beals – and yes, there’s aspects of that character that I think are like me… and certainly the character that I wrote for myself in Trees Lounge would be an exaggerated version of myself. The idea for that film came to me when I thought what would I be doing if I never left my hometown? If I never went into acting? If I never pursued the things that I did? and was still doing the things in my home town that i was doing when I was young, what might I have become?
So I guess you could say there’s a lot of me in that character, as well.
One of Buscemi’s most memorable television roles — and one that indirectly led to his starring role on Boardwalk Empire — was his one-season stint on The Sopranos in season five as Tony Blundetto. However, Buscemi revealed that he originally signed up for two seasons and explained how he learned that the end was coming for his character from season creator David Chase:
Well, I signed up for 2 seasons, so I fully expected to come back for another season – and towards, you know, towards the end of that season, it was season 5, I got a message on my phone from David Chase, and the joke on-set was “You never want to get a phone call from David Chase.” And…so… I called him back, and he asked me if I wanted to have lunch the following day, I said sure, he picked a restaurant, and I got off the phone and thought Maybe this is a good thing, maybe there’s something else he has me in mind for, it doesn’t necessarily mean that my character was going to get whacked. So I met him for lunch, I was thinking about it, didn’t sleep much, and I got to the lunch and the first thing he said was:
‘I’m sorry. We’re going to have to kill you.’
Something like that. I don’t remember his exact words, but it was to the effect that there was just no way that my character could conceivably live doing what he did.
And of course, I understood! chuckles
But I was sad that I wasn’t coming back, because it was such a wonderful show to work on.
As for the ending of Boardwalk Empire, Buscemi expressed that he was pleased with how the series — in which he starred as “Nucky” Thompson for four seasons — ended, despite not expecting his character’s final fate:
I was happy with the way it ended. No, I didn’t necessarily see it coming, but I was glad that they wrapped it up on that story between Nucky and Gretchen Mol‘s character, because that was a story that always interested me, and you know, when you look through the series, Nucky and Gillian didn’t really have a lot of scenes – I think I only had about 5 scenes with Gillian. And I always LOVED working with Gretchen, and I always wished we could do more together. But ever since that scene we did together at the fortune teller’s shop, I always wondered – what was their relationship?
So sometimes the show writers were forthcoming with the backstory – and then sometimes they were not. So there was only so much that they could tell me about the backstory of Nucky. Because I think – especially when you’re writing on a TV series – you don’t know the complete story of your characters, and you’re going to leave it open, so they can go in any direction that they want. So you don’t get tied into a concrete backstory – so it wasn’t until the final season, until those last few episodes, that I truly understood Nucky’s backstory.