Steve Buscemi: The Movieline Interview

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Some guys have all the luck. And then there's John Alighieri, the hapless, modestly ambitious insurance adjuster played by Steve Buscemi in this week's St. John of Las Vegas. A one-time compulsive gambler whose unparalleled of run of crap luck thrust him into self-exile from his beloved Vegas, John has since settled well enough into his job that he requests a raise from his mildly sadistic boss (Peter Dinklage). To get it, though, will require John to embark on a quirky, dangerous, Coens-esque road trip inspired by Dante's Inferno, accompanied by his adversarial anti-mentor Virgil (Romany Malco) and greeted along the way by a wheelchair-bound stripper (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a survivalist/nudist hybrid (Tim Blake Nelson), a human torch (John Cho) and other citizens in the circles around the Hell that is Las Vegas. Sarah Silverman rounds out the ensemble as John's smiley face-obsessed co-worker/girlfriend.

Buscemi spoke recently with Movieline about St. John and the glitzy yet sad allure of Las Vegas in movies, his belief in luck, his forthcoming HBO series Boardwalk Empire and the rapidly approaching 20th anniversary of Reservoir Dogs.

How did you come to this project?

I read the script, my agent sent it to me. I thought it was funny, I liked the characters, I liked what it was about. I met with [writer-director] Hue Rhodes, I liked him. I like that he came to filmmaking later in life -- that he actually had had another life before he decided to become a filmmaker. I liked how much of his own life that he used in the film -- that he actually used to work at an insurance company. I've always been attracted to character-driven films. I liked that it was a road movie. So it had a lot of the elements that I look for in scripts. And I like that Hue was a writer and a director, and it was his first time. Sometimes it's really fun to work with first-time directors.

Why?

Because they're figuring things out for the first time, and it's somewhat inspiring to remember what that's like.

What kind of responsibility -- if any -- do you feel like you have as a veteran actor and filmmaker to help that director develop or cultivate his or her voice?

I'm really there to serve, you know? As an actor. Now that I have directed, just knowing what goes into directing and those challenges, I was just there to help if Hue wanted any help or needed any. I was never there to impose my sensibilities. What I was really interested having happen was that he was able to make the film he wanted to make. I just wanted to help facilitate that.

Do you believe in luck?

Um... [Pauses] Yeah? But I don't believe you should depend on it. I think everybody has their good days and their bad days. I consider myself "lucky" in that I'm a working actor, I've got to direct a couple films. I feel lucky that I was born in New York. There are things I feel lucky about, but I guess it's what we do with them. Sometimes luck is just an opportunity, and it's what you do with those opportunities.

What were some of the luckier instances or opportunities you'd cite in your own career?

One of the first films I did was called Parting Glances, and the director, Bill Sherwood, saw me when I used to do a lot of theater stuff. And the only reason he saw me was because I was often times playing the same night as Kathy Kinney, who had an improve group. Kathy was later on The Drew Carey Show. But she told him, "Stick around and watch these guys." I was doing theater with Mark Boone Jr., and it was from those shows that he cast me in that film. Otherwise, based on my audition? He did have me audition, but he said, "If you had just come in and auditioned, you wouldn't have gotten the role." Because my audition was terrible. But he saw what I could do on stage, and that was a bit of luck that happened there -- that I was in the right place at the right time, and he was there, and that film -- which is still one of my favorite films -- is the one that got me going.

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