Artwork by Chloe Leeson
Friday the 13th of December, 1957. A day which according to superstition should have been unlucky. It wasn’t. Because a star was born. Steven Vincent Buscemi.
Many pinpoint Buscemi’s notoriety to his unconventional look. Those crooked teeth and bulging eyes that have reached coveted meme status. However Steve Buscemi is much more than that. First and foremost, he’s a brilliant, talented and funny actor; he’s also a stand up guy. He’s humble about his acting career and sees it as something that could end at any time, and acknowledged his aforementioned teeth by saying that if they were fixed up, he’d ‘never work again’.
Before entering the limelight, Buscemi worked as a firefighter in New York City. It’s something he’s never really left behind – when 9/11 hit, he felt compelled to rejoin the unit he’d left and helped in 12 hour shifts. He did the same in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy struck. He truly has a beautiful and compassionate soul.
Steve Buscemi’s acting roles have been incredibly varied. He has both an association with Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, perhaps the most influential directors of the last 20 years – and Adam Sandler, perhaps the internet’s most reviled comedian of those same 20 years. It is incredible how someone as recognisable as Buscemi can diversify into so many roles. He rose to public attention in Tarantino’s debut, Reservoir Dogs. I am a big fan of Tarantino, but this is by far my least favourite of his films; Steve Buscemi provides pretty much all the parts I like. If it was retitled Reservoir Dog and was simply 90 minutes of Mr Pink being an asshole, I’d be all over it. You think of Reservoir Dogs and you think of Steve Buscemi, impeccably dressed in one of film’s most iconic suits, refusing to part with a few bucks because he doesn’t ‘believe in tipping’. Another classic film I didn’t particularly enjoy, The Big Lebowski, is similarly lightened by the presence of Buscemi. Shut the fuck up Donny.
I like Buscemi best at his most neurotic. Fargo, one of my all time favourite films, features Buscemi as creepy and annoying, dressed in ill-advised roll necks. Carl is a horrible person. So why is it that he becomes likeable? That is the power of Steve Buscemi. However Buscemi exceeded this role in 2001’s Ghost World – my favourite of his films. Seymour is such a nerd. He’s as nerdy and lame as Rebecca and Enid first mocked him for. Sure, he’s a nice guy but is he? Or is he a ‘nice guy’ – he collects racist paraphernalia and has an incredibly inappropriate relationship with a teenage girl, he shouts at children. But the weird draw that Buscemi has again makes that character a firm audience favourite.
Despite all these amazing, like bona fide brilliant portrayals, Buscemi isn’t exactly regarded as one of the greats. He has never been nominated for an Oscar. He isn’t discussed in the same leagues as somebody like Tom Hanks or Denzel Washington; really his biggest acting credibility has come from his leading role on Boardwalk Empire, but he similarly finds himself shut out of the Emmys more often than not. Why is this? I think this is a multi-faceted injustice. Importantly, it’s because Buscemi is incredibly prolific as an actor. Daniel Day Lewis may be regarded as this phenomenal actor, with three Oscars to prove it – but the guy makes barely any films. Since 1992, he’s appeared in 10. In comparison, Buscemi has made 83. 83 films in 22 years.
Firstly, not all of these roles, obviously, are sizeable. From glancing down his filmography, he has played characters such as ‘Beatnik Barman’, ‘Crazy Eyes’, ‘Waiter’ and ‘Tall Thin Salesman’ – these aren’t the roles that set his on his way to fame either – that last one is from 2012’s On The Road. Steve Buscemi, unlike other actors of his magnitude, plays small supporting roles frequently, which partially damages the influence of his name. Maybe he just likes those parts. That’s ok.
In addition, Buscemi doesn’t shy away from voice work. This is inevitably going to lower his reputation, simply because these are films targeted to children. This is obviously ridiculous – Buscemi’s most famous example of voice acting, Monsters, Inc., is wonderful and touching. Buscemi plays the villainous Randall – it’s interesting to note that even though Randall is meant to be a total shithead, I really liked him as a child. I think it was probably because he was purple, but it could also be because I was born with an innate appreciation of Steve Buscemi. To be fair though, Steve Buscemi has done some less important voice acting – Igor, Hotel Transylvania… and surely he knew G-Force wouldn’t be a career highlight.
This shows that Steve Buscemi is perhaps not overly concerned with the quality of the films he appears in – I am not insinuating that he hates them, but he’s certainly not that fussy. If you make 83 films in a space of 22 years, there will be some duds. And with each dud, Buscemi’s reputation slips another rung on the fickle ladder of Hollywood. But this is part of his charm! Imagine my sheer excitement when I discovered that back in 2001 Buscemi made a film alongside VINCE VAUGHN called DOMESTIC DISTURBANCE. Stop reading now if you don’t want spoilers for this long forgotten flop… Vince murders Steve! With a screwdriver! Then sets his corpse on fire! It was a terrible, awful, bad bad film. But it was Steve Buscemi and thus it was wonderful. It also gave us one of the world’s greatest headlines. Thank you, Domestic Disturbance.
These films just go to show that Steve Buscemi doesn’t take himself too seriously. He does what he damn well pleases. If he wants to play a man named Wiley in not one but two Adam Sandler films, he will. If he wants to make a weird advert for American Express about meeting Vampire Weekend (and Grimes?) he will, and it will be brilliant.
Thank you Steve Buscemi, for being entirely unpretentious, talented, self-aware, funny and having a great face. Happy Birthday.