Steve Buscemi, one of the greatest character actors of his generation, will come to the Dryden Theatre on Saturday, July 13 to introduce local film fans to the latest phase in his plan for cinematic world domination: direction. You may know him as the squirrelly guy from Fargo, the guy with the crazy eyes from Mr. Deeds, or as either Mr. Pink (in Reservoir Dogs) or Mr. Shhhh (in Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead).
Buscemi will screen his second directorial feature, Animal Factory , a picture with Edward Furlong and two other terrific character actors, Willem Dafoe and Seymour Cassel.
City: What do you think of when you hear "Rochester"?
Buscemi: I guess I think of it as a small upstate town. I'm looking forward to coming. It seems like it might be a good film town. I'm really interested in seeing the George Eastman House and having Animal Factory play there.
City: You directed Animal Factory but didn't write it. How was that process different than your first film, Trees Lounge, which you wrote and directed?
Buscemi: Well, it came from a book written by Eddie Bunker, who I worked with on Reservoir Dogs (he was Mr. Blue). He adapted the book into the screenplay but wasn't available to work on it more, so I brought in another writer, John Steppling, who wrote a couple of drafts. What I did was sort of marry the two versions and also more material from the book. I felt like I was very involved in the writing process, but it was fun to collaborate.
City: You had a crazy year in 2001. First, you were stabbed in the head (on a break from filming Domestic Disturbance in North Carolina). What was that all about?
Buscemi: This kid had a psychotic episode. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was an unfortunate thing and it was scary to go through, but in the end, the wounds weren't serious enough to be life-threatening. I wasn't really stabbed. It was more cuts.
City: I don't think a lot of people realize you were a firefighter before you started making films. After the 9/11 attacks, you worked 12-hour shifts down at Ground Zero for how long?
Buscemi: Five days. I used to work with Engine Company 55, which lost four ... well, really five guys. [That] was a guy that I used to work with, so he was a friend of mine.
City: You were also in one of the 2001's biggest movies, Monsters, Inc. Did they base Randall's appearance on you?
Buscemi: They already had the character drawn. It changed a little bit. They used a voice clip from a book on tape that I had done of an Ethan Coen short story. So they used that to go with the character. I was pretty much sold: I went to the meeting because it was Pixar, and I really liked Toy Story a lot. But that really sold me.
City:Ghost World came out, and received a bunch of awards from critics' groups and various Oscar buzz. Was it disappointing, then, not to get the nomination?
Buscemi: It's only disappointing because there was supposedly this buzz. I was sort of prepared because there wasn't any nomination from the SAG awards, and that was sort of a tip-off. The day the nominations came out, I was directing an episode of The Sopranos, so any disappointment that I felt didn't last long because I was doing something that day that I really enjoyed.
City: Is there a type of award you would rather win?
Buscemi: The New York Film Critics award (for Ghost World) was a really special one because this is where I live and grew up. I have a lot of respect for those critics, so that was really nice. And the Independent Spirit Award (also for Ghost World) was very nice.
City: In 2001; you received an Emmy and DGA nomination for directing the "Pines Barren" episode of The Sopranos. Did they pick you to direct that one because it was somewhat similar to Fargo?
Buscemi: The only thing that made it Fargo-like in my mind was all the snow, and that snow was not in the script. We talked about what we'd do if it snowed, but our only concern was if it didn't snow enough, and we'd have snow one of the days we were shooting and then have it melt the next. So we were very lucky it snowed as much as it did, and we just incorporated it as we were shooting.
City: People may not realize you have a background in directing, especially incredibly cool shows like The Sopranos, Oz and Homicide: Life on the Street. How do you get picked to do those shows?
Buscemi:Homicide I did as an actor and one of the producers, Gail Mutrux, saw Trees Lounge and asked me if I'd be interested in directing. And actually, I was very intimidated about directing for television because the schedule is really, really fast and I didn't know if I could do it. That was the first one, and because [executive producer] Tom Fontana was involved with Homicide, I got to know him as well and ended up doing a couple of episodes of Oz. On The Sopranos, [series creator-executive producer] David Chase was a fan of Trees Lounge and wanted me to direct one of the episodes in the first or second season, but I wasn't available until the third.
City: Is it fun to direct television?
Buscemi: The crew is such a well-oiled machine, it's a little intimidating at first because you're stepping into something that's so established with the actors and the crew. You're the new guy. But I had really good luck with the people I worked with, so any nervousness was a step I invented in my own mind and it melted away within a day or two.
City: You've done films with a lot of different directors. Do you seek them out? Do they seek you out?
Buscemi: The Coen brothers, we just get along. It just turned out that in a number of their films, they had a character that I was right for. In the case of somebody like Alexandre Rockwell [In the Soup], we're really good friends, so when the opportunity arises for us to work together, we like to do that.
City: Do they write the scripts with you in mind?
Buscemi: The last one with Rockwell, Thirteen Moons, which hasn't been released yet, he wrote that with me in mind. I don't know if the Coen brothers wrote with me in mind. It's nice when it works out.
City: It seems like you've been in all of Adam Sandler's movies.
Buscemi: I've been in every other one. We first met when we were both doing the film Airheads, and we got along so well. I think he's a great guy, so when he did his first film, Billy Madison, that he wrote and was starring in, he asked me to play that part, and I was happy to do it. He usually asks me if I'm interested when he has a new film cooking, and it's just turned out it's been every other one that I've been able to do.
City: What's your connection to Pink? She said her name came, in part, from your Reservoir Dogs character.
Buscemi: I actually met her once and she told me that, but then I never read it again. [laughing] So I wasn't sure if she was just saying that because she met me.
City: Was she Pink then, or just some lunatic who approached you on the street?
Buscemi: I didn't know who she was. She had pink hair, but I didn't know who she was until months later.
City: What's going on with that Robert Altman film Voltage with Philip Seymour Hoffman?
Buscemi: I don't know what the status of it is. I know Robert Altman was trying to raise the money for it and he thought he had it, but then [the interested party] became uninterested.
City:He's from here, Phil Hoffman. He's our big claim to fame. Well, he and Robert Forster.
Buscemi: Really? They're two really good ones.
City: Yeah. We don't mess around
Steve Buscemi will screen Animal Factory at 8 p.m. Saturday, July 13 at the Dryden Theatre, 900 East Avenue (271-3361). Advance tickets are $12; $10 for members or students. After the screening, Buscemi will take audience questions. (Ask him about his eclectic filmography, which includes some of the best pictures made over the last 13 years, including Fargo, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, Barton Fink, and Mystery Train.)