Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Steve Buscemi

Interviewing the Interviewer

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Steve Buscemi, 49, has been one of the most vivid, interesting and reliable of character actors over the past 20-plus years. He has worked on over 100 films and TV shows, and has started up a promising directing career, with three feature films and plenty of TV work, including "The Sopranos." He has worked with virtually every great director of the period, and some not-so-great: Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction), Joel and Ethan Coen (Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, Fargo, etc.), Tim Burton (Big Fish), Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World, Art School Confidential), John Carpenter (Escape from L.A.), Robert Altman (Kansas City), Jim Jarmusch (Mystery Train, Coffee and Cigarettes), Michael Lehmann (Airheads), Philip Kaufman (Rising Sun), Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids 2), Abel Ferrara (King of New York), Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion), Michael Bay (Armageddon, The Island) and many more. He will be seen in four movies in 2007, including Chris Rock's I Think I Love My Wife, the Adam Sandler comedy I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, in the documentary Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten, and in his own film Interview. Buscemi was approached to remake one of three films by the late Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was murdered in 2004. Interview is a two-person piece in which a washed-up reporter (Buscemi) gets stuck interviewing an actress (Sienna Miller) and ends up learning about himself.

Q: Is it ironic do go around to hotel rooms and do these little half hour interviews with people?

Steve Buscemi: Yes. But for me, any more than a half hour it would be hard because I have to do this all day long, and I'm not that interested in revealing that much of myself to strangers. It's a surreal process for the person being interviewed. And I think for Katya in the film, she goes in with an attitude as well. Because for her, it's another... fucking... interview. Because when does it stop? And how much can you keep talking about yourself or the film? So on some level I think she's relieved that it goes in a different direction. And she's having fun.

Q: You answer the same questions over and over, so is there anything you do to amuse yourself during this process?

SB: No. I've heard other people make up lies, but I can't do that. So it really is just person by person, or how I'm feeling at that moment, or if I'm really tired. It gets hard. I space out. And I just get tired of hearing my own voice and tired of talking.

Q: Do you feel differently given the material you're talking about?

SB: Yeah. I did this film a few years ago called The Grey Zone. And it took place during the Holocaust. It was a really intense film that took me weeks to get over when we stopped shooting. It stayed with me and really affected me. And I was on my way to the Toronto Film Festival to do press for that film, and I was dreading it. It so happened I was on my way to the airport, and it was the morning of September 11, 2001. I started out the day feeling dread that I was going to have to get into this head of having to talk about this horrible event that happened in our history, and I was confronted with a new horrible event. So, yeah, I think sometimes the nature of the film can inform the interview. Also people have said, 'Is it easier to talk about a film that you really like, rather than a film you're not crazy about?' Sometimes it's harder to do interviews about a film that you really like because you don't want it to get old. You don't want the thing that you really cared about and had a great time doing to get to that point where you're sick of talking about it. In some ways it's easier to do an interview about something that you don't care about too much, and so your rote answers are just... you don't care.

Q: As the director of Interview, you've probably seen it three or four hundred times. Does that change talking about it? As opposed to a movie like The Grey Zone, in which you were just acting?

SB: I don't know if it changes the nature of what I say about it. Being the director, there's a lot more to talk about. But I don't know if because I've seen it that many times that it makes a difference.

Q: You're sometimes compared with John Cassavetes. Is that something you relish or something you're trying to get around?

SB: What's interesting about that, is at the time of Trees Lounge, I talked about John Cassavetes in the production notes. So then you get the journalists who read that and that informs them. I don't mind if I'm compared to Cassavetes in a favorable way, I mean, he's my favorite director. But I don't think anybody can do what he did. I think his films were really unique. I'm more inspired by him and what he was able to do than wanting to shoot in a style than he did. Although on Interview, sometimes with all the hand-held stuff, it sometimes felt Cassavetes-like.

Q: We should talk about Theo van Gogh. Were you familiar with his work?

SB: I had not been familiar with his work. I was curious to see the three films... it was three films that he wanted to remake as American films, but never got the chance. I took a look at all three films and really liked all three, but all three films are different. Blind Date has a more surreal touch to it, and 1-900, the two characters are never in the same room; it's about characters who meet over the phone. Interview had the most linear story, even though it was very loose. But it's two characters in a room, just really going at it. And that's what I liked about it. I felt like I was witnessing the breakup of a couple that had been together for years, even though they were just getting to know each other. I watched it a few times trying to figure out how was this possible. In some ways it was the most challenging piece.

Q: How did you go about adapting a foreign language?

SB: We had the transcripts, but David Schechter, the writer that we worked with just did his own translation based on the film and based upon different things that we talked about. And then I got in there and sort of worked off of David's version and the original transcript. But I found that when we took dialogue from the transcript and tried to incorporate it, it felt a little stiff. Watching the film and reading the subtitles, I didn't feel that at all, but then trying to act that, it didn't feel quite right, so we had to make adjustments.

Q: How do you feel about the end of "The Sopranos"?

SB: I feel really privileged to have been a part of it and to have worked that closely with it, as a director and as an actor. And as an audience member, I'm still in awe of the show. For me, it never lost that sense of: "holy shit... this is fucking great."

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June 20, 2007

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