He’s been beaten up, shot in the face, betrayed by a hooker (“Well, the little guy, he was kind of funny-looking.… He wasn’t circumcised”) and fed into a wood chipper—and that was all in Fargo, one of 100-plus roles in his quarter—century-long movie career. He’s had his skull fractured in a bus crash, gotten hit by a car and been slashed in a bar fight—all in real life. Now everybody’s favorite quirky character actor stars on Boardwalk Empire, HBO’s bid to make a new epic worthy of the bandwidth that brought you The Sopranos and The Wire. As Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, Steve Buscemi has found a role to sink his snaggly teeth into for the next year or three, an intense, sometimes creepy character who rules the underworld of Atlantic City in the crooked days of Prohibition.
At 53 Buscemi has slithered through several incarnations on his way to a very modern sort of stardom. Long before there was a website devoted to his buggy, unforgettable eyes or a Golden Globe for best actor on his mantel, Buscemi was a Brooklyn kid with a taste for cinematic tough guys—he couldn’t peel those bug eyes off the TV when Bogart or Cagney pulled the trigger. Unfortunately, he had no clue how a guy becomes an actor. Buscemi’s hardworking father had a backbreaking job with the city, his mom worked at a restaurant, and skinny boy Steve was so shy that the thought of kissing a girl practically gave him a panic attack. How he got from there to Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Fargo, Con Air, The Big Lebowski, Armageddon and a dozen other indelible pictures on his way to Boardwalk Empire is one of the more oddball career stories you’ll ever hear. For one thing, he used money provided by the city of New York to get his start in acting. He flopped as a comedian, took lousy jobs to pay the rent on a lousy apartment and finally broke through as a gun-toting crook named Mr. Pink. The rest is a strange slice of Hollywood history—with a happy ending back where he began. Today Buscemi lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with his wife, Jo Andres, a conceptual artist. They have a 20-year-old son, Lucian. When they met, Andres was the more famous one, a choreographer and experimental filmmaker known for her work in New York’s avant-garde scene in the 1980s. Now she’s often called Mrs. Buscemi. Andres takes that with deadpan humor, once calling herself “president of the chopped liver club.”
We sent Kevin Cook to meet Buscemi at a bar on New York’s West Side. Cook is something of an expert on tough guys; he’s also written a book about America’s greatest con man, Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything. “I’ve followed Buscemi since Reservoir Dogs,” Cook says. “In fact, Quentin Tarantino showed me a rough of the film before it came out, way back in 1992. He pointed to Buscemi on the screen and said, ‘That guy beat me out of a part I wrote for myself!’ Buscemi was almost unknown at the time, but he was so good that Tarantino stepped aside and gave him the role that got his career going full-speed.
“He showed up alone for our talk at a pub on Hudson Street—no publicist or entourage, just Buscemi in a plain brown shirt, a patch of graying stubble on his chin, squinting in noonday sun that made him shield his sunken eyes. ‘How ya doin’? I’m Steve,’ he said. After a quick handshake we ducked inside.”
PLAYBOY: Once and for all, is it pronounced Bu-semmy, or is it Steve Bu-shemmy?BUSCEMI: I say Bu-semmy. I don’t mind Bu-shemmy, though. That’s the correct Sicilian pronunciation, from the old country. That’s probably the way it was originally. But I grew up in Brooklyn and Valley Stream, New York, and we said Bu-semmy. That’s what we say in my house, but I’ll answer to either one.
PLAYBOY: People get confused about it.BUSCEMI: They do. A woman called my hotel one time, asking for me, and the clerk kept correcting her. “You mean Mr. Bu-shemmy,” he said. “It’s pronounced Bu-shemmy.” Finally she said, “Can I just talk to my husband?”
PLAYBOY: Now that Boardwalk Empire’s starting its second season, what’s in store for your character, Nucky?BUSCEMI: Where’s Nucky headed? Well, the first season ended with Nucky’s brother and Jimmy Darmody—Michael Pitt’s character—both dissatisfied with how Nucky was running things. So without giving too much away, I’d say we’ll see Nucky facing more challenges this season. He’s vulnerable.
PLAYBOY: Is there a big season finale coming? Kill or be killed?BUSCEMI: I couldn’t tell you if I knew. I honestly have no idea where the story’s going. Today I’m going to our read-through of this year’s sixth episode, and after that I don’t know what’s going to happen. And that works for me, you know? Because which of us knows what’s going to happen in life? Every day is new. That’s part of the fun of doing a series that’s written so well—it keeps surprising you. For me Boardwalk Empire is like shooting your favorite movie again and again. We have the same intensity this season but some new characters. You’re going to meet Bugsy Siegel, another big name from the 1920s.
PLAYBOY: You’re giving years of your life to Boardwalk Empire. What drew you to it?BUSCEMI: I love the place and the period. My dad grew up in the 1930s, a little after Boardwalk happens, and he went to Atlantic City as a kid. He remembers those times before the casinos, when it was more like a playground, like a big Coney Island. He was shocked when he watched the show and saw how much underworld stuff was going on—Prohibition and the beginnings of organized crime.
PLAYBOY: Everything from The Godfather to Goodfellas to The Sopranos grew out of that time. The real Mob, too—Murder Inc., gun molls and corpses in the river. And cool hats.BUSCEMI: I’ve taken more interest in the clothes I wear because of playing Nucky. I like the hats, the suits with the carnation in the lapel. The wardrobe helps me know who he is.
PLAYBOY: He’s the county treasurer—not much of a title, but he pretty much controls Atlantic City. He’s got two mistresses, his thumb in every pie and some murders on his conscience, if he has one. Is Nucky a good guy or a bad guy?BUSCEMI: I can’t judge him. He’s trying to do the best he can for himself, his loved ones and the city. Probably himself first. But he shares the wealth. Nucky definitely enjoys his position and wants to keep it, and he’s willing to do some questionable things to maintain his power, to go down some dark roads.
PLAYBOY: But power corrupts. Isn’t that what the show’s about, finding out how far down those dark roads Nucky’s willing to go?BUSCEMI: We’ll see. It’s also about the start of modern times. There are no cell phones or TV, and yet it still feels modern. Characters like Nucky and Arnold Rothstein——
PLAYBOY: “The Brain” from New York, the first modern crime boss——BUSCEMI: Yeah, Nucky and Rothstein were on the cutting edge of modern times. Things were about to get a lot more complicated.
PLAYBOY: How much of Nucky is you?BUSCEMI: I guess he’s a hybrid of me and the character on the page. In a way I feel he’s me, but sometimes he surprises me.
PLAYBOY: He has people killed. You’ve killed and gotten killed on screen dozens of times. If you had to, could you pull the trigger in real life?BUSCEMI: Come on, I’m pretending! Besides, I don’t own a gun.
PLAYBOY: Okay, beyond the power, violence, cool hats and Paz de la Huerta naked, why watch Boardwalk Empire?BUSCEMI: How about the filming and writing? The scripts are brilliant. The shots are cinematic. We never rush to finish a scene. If there’s not enough time to do a scene right, we’ll do it the next day. Wait and get it right. And the writing is incredible, starting with Terence Winter, who was one of the great writers on The Sopranos. Everything’s top-notch. That’s why I hope we do this show for years and years.
PLAYBOY: Martin Scorsese directed the pilot. Had you worked together before?BUSCEMI: Yeah, it must have been 1987. I auditioned for The Last Temptation of Christ. I was up for an apostle and read for Marty three times. He’d have you read the scene and then improvise.
PLAYBOY: Improvise an apostle? Were you saying “What up, Jesus?”BUSCEMI: He wanted us to get into it. “Don’t worry about the language,” he said.
PLAYBOY: So you’re like, “Fuck the Romans”?BUSCEMI: It was fun, but I didn’t get the part. He told me, “Steve, if there was a 13th apostle, the role would be yours.” A couple of years later Marty cast me in New York Stories, so I felt I’d gotten him in small doses by the time he directed the Boardwalk pilot, which was great, very filmic. You know, this sort of series would have been impossible before cable. There’s always been great television, going back to the early days of live TV, but I feel we’re in the second golden age of television now, and HBO has been at the forefront. You had The Sopranos and The Wire, and before that The Larry Sanders Show was a breakthrough. It’s an honor to be part of something like that.
PLAYBOY: But you didn’t do Boardwalk Empire for the honor.*BUSCEMI: *No, I was thinking, What a relief to have a steady job!
PLAYBOY: How much clout do you have on the set? Do you ever say, “No, Nucky wouldn’t say this”?BUSCEMI: No. If there’s something in the script that I don’t understand I’ll say, “Help me out here. Why am I doing this?” I’ll never forget the time David Chase, who created The Sopranos, was working with an actor and the actor said, “I don’t feel my character would do that.” Chase’s reply was “Who said it’s your character?” Tim Van Patten, who’s directed several of our episodes, knows how to deal with us. Last season Kelly Macdonald and I were rehearsing a heavy scene. I’m telling Kelly about my wife’s suicide and the death of our child, and at the most intense moment, when she sits down, Kelly sits on a fart machine Tim planted there. Later he said, “I can’t believe I did that to you guys,” but it was kind of wonderful. It relaxed us. Kelly was a great sport about it, and they got me later when I sat down at my desk. Fart machines on set—you can’t beat ’em.
PLAYBOY: You directed “Pine Barrens,” one of the most popular and funniest Sopranos *episodes. In that one a Russian, a deer and a shoe get shot.BUSCEMI:* Directing gave me a lot of anxiety. It still does. There’s so much you’re responsible for, it can get overwhelming. The fun part is working with the crew and the actors. When I’m directing, I feel as if I get to play every scene with all the actors. But it doesn’t come easy. My first day directing on *Sopranos *was a scene with James Gandolfini, and I knew him only from watching the show. Jimmy’s such a great actor—I felt really intimidated. I was going over to tell him something and felt like I was talking to Tony Soprano so I’d better be careful how I said it. After I got over that it went fine.
PLAYBOY: You also directed the 1996 movie Trees Lounge, about a drunk slacker who drives an ice-cream truck. Where’d you get that idea?BUSCEMI: It was sort of my life. At 19 I was truly directionless, living with my parents. I was driving an ice-cream truck and working at a gas station. There’s nothing wrong with those jobs—it’s hard work. But my boss at the gas station was grooming me to be a mechanic, and that’s not what I wanted. The drinking age was 18 then, so I spent every night hanging out with my friends in bars, drinking.
PLAYBOY: You grew up in Brooklyn and in working-class Valley Stream, Long Island. What did your parents do?*BUSCEMI: *My mom worked at Howard Johnson’s. She was a hostess. Dad was a trash collector.
PLAYBOY: Did he ever find anything valuable? You hear about watches and diamond rings.BUSCEMI: Well, let me say we never lacked gifts at Christmas. I’m kidding. He wasn’t someone who brought his work home with him, if you know what I mean. He did teach me to drive when he took me to work—I drove sanitation department vehicles.
PLAYBOY: You had a run-in with another city vehicle.BUSCEMI: Yeah, I was four years old. I ran out into the street and got hit by a Brooklyn city bus. It knocked me down and fractured my skull. Luckily it was winter, so I had a lot of clothes on and the padding probably saved me. Then a few years later, when I was eight, I chased a ball into the street and got hit by a car. That wasn’t as severe. I’m just lucky, I guess.
PLAYBOY: Other than getting run over, how was your childhood?BUSCEMI: [Laughs] Those were isolated incidents! Basically I had fun. I had three brothers. We lived near my dad’s three sisters and their kids, and we all played together. We watched TV. We argued about who was better, Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris. We played punchball, which is sidewalk baseball. You use a rubber ball, a Spaldeen, and instead of pitching, you hold the ball up, haul off and punch it.
PLAYBOY: Was it a rough neighborhood?BUSCEMI: Rough-ish. There were some tough kids around. One time I got my bike stolen while I was riding it. This older boy stopped me and said, “Hey, can I try your bike? I’ll bring it right back.” I was like, “Umm, no?” But he was bigger and stronger. I let him ride it. Off he goes, and I never saw that bike again.
When we moved to Valley Stream, right next to Queens, it was like the countryside compared to Brooklyn. You had the freedom to be a kid out on the streets, nobody stealing your bicycle—and going home to watch the Million Dollar Movie on TV. I loved the Little Rascals, the Three Stooges, James Cagney. And the Dead End Kids! Later on they made the Bowery Boys comedies, but they were still the Little Tough Guys I recognized from Brooklyn. They went on to make a movie with Cagney, Angels With Dirty Faces. My brothers and I just loved the Dead End Kids. But we’d watch whatever was on TV. I’ve never forgotten the sexy credit sequence of Bye Bye Birdie, with Ann-Margret. That had a lasting effect on me. That was a motivator to get into movies—to meet Ann-Margret. I still haven’t met her.
PLAYBOY: What other movies moved you?*BUSCEMI: *Much later I got a job as a movie-theater usher and saw Dog Day Afternoon over and over. I was amazed seeing John Cazale and realizing he was the same guy from The Godfather, seeing how different Al Pacino could be from his character in The Godfather. That movie really opened my eyes. Until then I’d never imagined being in films—you had to be a movie star like Cagney or Bogart, and that sure wasn’t me. But seeing how Sidney Lumet captured the scary New York of the 1970s in Dog Day Afternoon, that was huge. It was gritty and real, and I thought, That’s the type of acting I want to do…or maybe the type I could do.
PLAYBOY: You make being a movie usher sound like fun.BUSCEMI: Well, I liked Dog Day, the sheer energy of it and the surprises. Charles Durning’s performance was amazing.
PLAYBOY: He played the NYPD detective.BUSCEMI: Yeah, and at one point he says the wrong thing and goes back to correct himself. Watch the movie—if that was done on purpose, it was really brilliant, but I bet it wasn’t. Lumet gave his actors a lot of freedom, and he’d leave stuff in, unexpected stuff. It felt like Lumet just let it happen and kept it.
PLAYBOY: What else did you see when you were an usher?BUSCEMI: There was Lina Wertmüller’s Swept Away.…
PLAYBOY: Sex on the beach.BUSCEMI: But it was really long, mostly talk, and I didn’t understand it. The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams—that was another one I could have skipped.
PLAYBOY: What were your ushering duties? Did you break up kissing couples?BUSCEMI: I’d never do that. Yeah, I carried a flashlight and was supposed to maintain order in the theater, but it’s a minimum-wage job. I wasn’t busting heads. I’d get my friends into the movie for free, maybe get them some candy and popcorn.
PLAYBOY: Meanwhile you’re dreaming of being an actor. Wasn’t that a little girlish for the crowd you ran with?BUSCEMI: There wasn’t much crossover between the jocks and the theater kids at my high school, and I was with the jocks. I played soccer and wrestled. But by senior year, I didn’t care what anybody else thought. I took an acting class and tried out for the school play, Fiddler on the Roof. I wasn’t Tevye. I had no lines at all. I was a canopy holder and a bottle dancer, one of the guys who dance with bottles on top of their hats.
PLAYBOY: You could balance a bottle on your head?BUSCEMI: Of course not. Nobody can. You Velcro the bottle to your hat.
PLAYBOY: Who had more sex at your school, the jocks or the theater kids?BUSCEMI: Don’t ask me. I was singing in the choir. Sex was such a mystery. I was really, really shy in that department. My first kiss—I was 16, and maybe she’d had too much to drink, because a moment after we kissed, she threw up on my shoes.
PLAYBOY: It’s not the usual movie-star background.BUSCEMI: I don’t know. I’ve met a lot of actors who were kind of like that. I remember my son once asked me, “Did you ever, like, kiss in high school?” And I told him this long drawn-out story of how shy I was, how I finally got a girlfriend but she broke up with me because I was too shy to try to kiss her, and then I had another girlfriend but still couldn’t figure out kissing. The technique was always a big obstacle in my head, like, How do you kiss? Where does your chin go? Forget about anything beyond kissing—first base was a total mystery to me.
So I’m telling my son this long story, and he listens patiently until he finally realizes where I’m going with it, and he says, “Dad, no—did you like Kiss in high school? Kiss, the band!” And I was, “Oh yeah, Kiss…they were good.”
PLAYBOY: Don’t tell us you made it through high school a virgin.BUSCEMI: I did. I thought, I guess it’ll happen eventually. It wasn’t just about sex for me—I was always in love with a girl who had a boyfriend, and she didn’t want me.
PLAYBOY: She’s kicking herself now. How did you go from usher and bottle dancer to movie star?BUSCEMI: When I was 18 I got a settlement from the city for the bus that hit me when I was little—$6,000. I used it to pay tuition at Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in Manhattan. It’s safe to say I was the only one paying his way with money from a bus-crash settlement.
Acting classes seemed weird at first. We did sense-memory exercises: Pretend you’re holding a cup of coffee. You’re supposed to feel the cup in your hand and actually smell the coffee. There was a shower exercise: Feel the water hitting your body. If my Long Island friends had been there, I would have been too embarrassed to try that stuff, but the other students were up for it, so I thought, I guess this is how you be an actor.
PLAYBOY: Were you still living with your parents?BUSCEMI: Yeah, but a guy in my class had a little apartment in the East Village. He was leaving town for a while and asked if I wanted to sublet his place for the summer, $100 a month. And I said no. The idea was too scary. Then one night I was sitting in my bedroom in the attic of my parents’ house and it hit me: This is what you have been waiting for, to be where everybody’s doing what you want to do. I called the guy back desperately and got the apartment. That got me into the city. And it was so lucky, because looking for an apartment in Manhattan on my own…I don’t think I could have done it. The idea was that terrifying to me.
PLAYBOY: What year was that?BUSCEMI: The summer of 1978. I was 19. It was supposed to be just for the summer, but I ended up staying. The apartment was this classic little hellhole with a loft bed and a bathtub in the kitchen. I shared it with a thriving population of mice, bedbugs and roaches. You put a plank of plywood over the bathtub, there’s your kitchen table. It was highs and lows, exciting times when I thought I might make a living as an actor and times of feeling overwhelmed and wanting to go home.
PLAYBOY: At some point you ditched your virginity.BUSCEMI: I was 20.
PLAYBOY: You’re in New York in 1978. Everyone’s throwing themselves at each other.BUSCEMI: Not at me.
PLAYBOY: But those were disco days, people humping on street corners——BUSCEMI: I’m still too shy to describe it, but things got…easier.
PLAYBOY: Did you start to get acting roles?*BUSCEMI: *No, but I loved it anyway. It was such a fertile time to be in the East Village, with so many interesting people trying new things. John Lurie was a musician, and he started making movies. Painters made music. There was so much experimentation that everything seemed okay. I met actors and performance artists like Rockets Redglare and Fiona Templeton. Fiona had a show called You—The City. Actors would take audience members on a tour—uptown, downtown, Times Square—then hand them off to another actor doing a different monologue. I did it as an actor and as an audience member, and the great thing was, you never knew who the next guide would be. It could be anybody. Suddenly it felt like all of Times Square was part of the piece we were doing.
PLAYBOY: So that’s how you became an actor.BUSCEMI: No, I was a cocktail waiter first, at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in the East Village. And a firefighter. It was a long time before I got acting roles. In the meantime my acting-class friend came back, and we shared his tiny apartment. I had a lot of angels helping me out in those days. My roommate was a great New York character—he was into Kerouac and gave me books to read. But he had substance-abuse problems, and he was a thief. I’d cash my fire-department checks and stick the money in my top drawer, and he stole it—$600, an enormous sum. That’s half a year’s rent. And like the kid who stole my bike, I never saw him again. But I was kind of relieved. He skipped with my money and never came back, so that’s what it cost to get rid of him, $600.
PLAYBOY: Did you like being a firefighter?BUSCEMI: I worked for Engine 55 in Little Italy when I was trying to get acting jobs. We would sleep barracks style and jump up and ride the pole when the alarm went off. The fire pole is still the fastest way to get downstairs. We’d go to loft jobs and restaurant jobs—you call it a job, not a fire—and there was no such thing as a routine job. You might get one that sounded exactly like a hundred others, and then it would turn into life and death. I never got into a life-or-death situation, but I was a good cleaner. I mopped up the firehouse, cleaned toilets, scrubbed pots and pans and tried out for acting jobs in my off hours.
PLAYBOY: Stand-up comedy, too.BUSCEMI: Don’t ask me how, but somehow I passed an audition at the Improv. I started hanging out there, watching the other acts. The regulars at the time were Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser, Gilbert Gottfried, Joe Piscopo. Larry David was the MC. By the time I got on, if ever, it’d be three in the morning, with maybe 10 people in the audience.
PLAYBOY: What kind of material did you do?BUSCEMI: I didn’t have my own voice, so I copied different styles, basically stealing from everybody. One night I was about to go on when Paul Reiser came in, so he got the spot. He killed, and then I went up and bombed. Years later I kind of got him back: I played a subway-token-booth clerk on Mad About You, going off on Paul about how he ruined my life. Stand-up is so hard. I didn’t like the aloneness of it. Finally I thought, I’m never going to be Jerry Seinfeld, so why am I up here?
PLAYBOY: Why were you up there if you hated it?BUSCEMI: I thought it might get me on TV. How else was I going to break into show business? Growing up watching TV, I never imagined I could act in films. But the comedy clubs—you could audition and write your own material, it didn’t cost anything, and the guys who did well got cast in sitcoms. That was my dream, a supporting role in a sitcom.
PLAYBOY: Were there nights you killed at the Improv?BUSCEMI: I don’t know about “killed.” My best audience was guys I worked with when I spent some time as a furniture mover.
PLAYBOY: A bunch of furniture movers at the Improv?BUSCEMI: They’d come to see me and I’d do insult comedy, riff on them like Don Rickles. I did that with the firefighters, too. One time we had a party at a bar and I stood on a stool, making fun of all the Brooklyn firefighters who showed up, riffing on how animalistic they were as opposed to the more refined firefighters of Manhattan. That didn’t go over so well. One of them grabbed me and dragged me off the bar stool. He was about to beat the hell out of me when my buddies jumped in and told him I was one of them. Which surprised the guy, since I didn’t look the part.
PLAYBOY: When did you start getting acting roles?BUSCEMI: TV came first. Don Johnson and Willie Nelson roughed me up on Miami Vice. That was in 1986. They wanted information from my character—we called him Rickles. Now, I can throw a good fake punch, but so could they. Later in the show Willie used me as a human shield when he was getting shot at. Willie’s got a good grip—he gave me a deep bruise on my arm where he grabbed me, take after take.
PLAYBOY: You’ve been beaten up and killed so many times on screen. Which was the grossest?BUSCEMI: On Tales From the Crypt I played a guy involved with an Agent Orange–y chemical. My body literally rots. They’ve got me in this prosthetic full-body rotting-guy suit, and then I get shot. They had me squibbed up with 12 to 15 little explosives. Those things sting! So now I’m rotting and shot to pieces. I’ve died a lot in films, but one time I actually got to drive. You hardly ever really drive in a movie, but Gus Van Sant wanted me to crash a van in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. I’m driving Uma Thurman down an alley and crash into garbage. That was fun. Then I got cut completely out of the movie.
PLAYBOY: What was your strangest audition?BUSCEMI: My agent sent me to meet the director Chris Columbus——
PLAYBOY: He made Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire.BUSCEMI: Yeah, and I found myself talking to a plump fellow with an Italian accent who knew nothing about me and was confused about how I got the meeting. I said, “Excuse me, are you Chris Columbus?” He looked at me incredulously and said, “What? Me, Chris Columbus? The movie I am directing is Christopher Columbus!” Needless to say, I got a new agent.
PLAYBOY: In 1992 Reservoir Dogs made you semifamous.BUSCEMI: That was a high-energy shoot. We all loved the script, loved our characters and loved working with Quentin Tarantino, a first-time filmmaker with all this contagious enthusiasm. Harvey Keitel is special too. We rehearsed for two weeks, like a play, and it was a great learning experience for me to watch Harvey work. Quentin would give him a direction: “You’re angry here.” And Harvey would say, “I don’t know if I’m angry. Let’s see.” He’d usually give Quentin what he was looking for, but he’d take his own route to get there.
PLAYBOY: What did you pick up from Keitel?BUSCEMI: You learn by example. Just because the script says, “Mr. White walks in angry,” it’s not necessarily so.
PLAYBOY: What’s something else another actor taught you?*BUSCEMI: *Years ago I was onstage, in a comedy sketch with a partner of mine, Mark Boone Jr. I didn’t like the material and was commenting on it with my performance—making fun of it almost. Boone took it seriously, played it straight and came off great, while I was really awful. That was a lesson.
PLAYBOY: You played Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs, a character Tarantino wrote for himself. He said your audition blew him away, so he gave up the part.BUSCEMI: I also heard his casting director saw a taped audition I did for another movie, a Neil Simon comedy, of all things. Quentin saw it, and he liked my vintage clothes and slicked-back hair. He thought I looked like a criminal.
PLAYBOY: *In 1998 you were in North Carolina to shoot *Domestic Disturbance with Vince Vaughn. Late one night you were in a bar, and a guy accused Vaughn of flirting with his girl. You guys wound up fighting. One guy had a hunting knife in his boot, and you got slashed in the head and neck. What happened?BUSCEMI:** Too much alcohol got consumed that night—by everybody, me included. They were local people; we were outsiders. I don’t remember what was said or how it started. I only know that if I hadn’t been drinking, I would not have gotten into any trouble. I had a plastic surgeon stitch me up and went on from there.
PLAYBOY: A lot of actors get their teeth fixed, but yours are still natural.BUSCEMI: I’ve had dentists offer their help. But hey, it’s too late for me to get braces.
PLAYBOY: One of your best recent roles—until the character got blown away—was Tony Blundetto, the ex-con cousin on The Sopranos.BUSCEMI: I loved that part. The guy was studying to be a masseur, trying to make it in the real world. He didn’t want to go back into the life with Tony Soprano, even though that would be more comfortable. I thought it was great to show how hard it is to be an ex-convict, which is why a lot of them self-destruct.
PLAYBOY: Did you learn how to give a massage?BUSCEMI: Nah, I’ve gotten enough of them—I faked it.
PLAYBOY: How about faking orgasms? One of your mistresses on Boardwalk Empire is Paz de la Huerta, who specializes in nude scenes.BUSCEMI: I’d rather not do sex scenes. It’s really surreal.
PLAYBOY: Is there a protocol for guys? She’s writhing naked on top of you. If you’re in character, should you be aroused, or would that be unprofessional?*BUSCEMI: *I wouldn’t think it would be the professional thing to do, no. Different actors do sex scenes differently. I’m very modest. I’ve always got something on, and I don’t get aroused. I’m still shy on that subject. My motivation for going into the movies was definitely not the sex scenes, unless you’re counting Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie.
PLAYBOY: Did you have other crushes growing up?*BUSCEMI: *Mary Ann and Ginger on Gilligan’s Island. My brothers and I argued about who was better looking, Mary Ann or Ginger. I liked them both. And Patty Duke and Marlo Thomas.
PLAYBOY: The TV dream girls of the 1960s.BUSCEMI: I used to send away for autographed pictures. I actually got one of Marlo Thomas, and I’ve still got it. While I never met Ann-Margret, I have met Marlo, and I told her about the picture. She was probably embarrassed, but she took it well.
PLAYBOY: Fame must be tricky for a shy guy. Do you enjoy it?BUSCEMI: My dad’s happy for me—I like seeing that. He and my mom used to come to the dingiest basements to see me perform. They never had an inkling I’d make movies for a living. When I first got into films, Dad wanted to learn about the business, so he subscribed to Variety. He’s the one who told me, “Steve, Miramax is going to be bought by Disney.” When he saw how little interest I had in the business side of the industry, he let his subscription go.
PLAYBOY: You get invited to celebrity weddings—Paul McCartney’s, for one, and Elvis Costello and Diana Krall.BUSCEMI: Yeah, I never danced in high school, so now I like dancing at weddings. They had great bands at both of those weddings.
PLAYBOY: What kind of gift did you get Diana Krall?*BUSCEMI: *An Elvis Costello album.
PLAYBOY: You also hosted Saturday Night Live.BUSCEMI: That was like The Sopranos in a way, because I’d always watched the show. I was a fan, so doing a skit with Will Ferrell was a little like directing Jimmy Gandolfini. It’s intimidating. In one of my favorite sketches I didn’t have any lines; I’m just watching Will.
PLAYBOY: There’s a story that your wife, the artist Jo Andres, once saw a poster with your picture on it in the East Village and said, “That’s the guy I’m going to marry.”BUSCEMI: Not marry. Snag. She said, “I’m going to snag that guy.” But when we met, she didn’t realize I was the guy on the poster. When we got to my apartment, she saw the same poster and said, “That’s you!”
PLAYBOY: Have you seen the website Chicks With Steve Buscemeyes? They Photoshop your eyes onto beautiful women: Angelina Jolie, Paris Hilton, Fergie, Scarlett Johansson.BUSCEMI: It’s very weird.
PLAYBOY: You’ve checked it out?BUSCEMI: I wasn’t googling it or anything. My friends told me about it.
PLAYBOY: There’s Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus, Snooki…is it like looking in a mirror?BUSCEMI: Not exactly. It’s strange; there’s no other word for it. To all those ladies, I have to say I’m sorry. But it is funny.
PLAYBOY: Snooki might look better. It’s a good thing your wife didn’t see that. Maybe she would have fallen for her.*BUSCEMI: *True. But there was no web then. Fortunately we met before the internet existed.