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Steve Buscemi talks ‘Sopranos,’ ‘Interview’

In “Interview,” Steve Buscemi plays a journalist interviewing a celebrity. Unprepared for the interview and disdainful of his subject’s talent, he battles with an actress (Sienna Miller) through an evening that includes head wounds, shouting and kissing.
/ Source: The Associated Press

In “Interview,” Steve Buscemi plays a journalist interviewing a celebrity. Unprepared for the interview and disdainful of his subject’s talent, he battles with an actress (Sienna Miller) through an evening that includes head wounds, shouting and kissing.

Thankfully, none of the above occurred during an interview by The Associated Press with Buscemi. Instead, the 49-year-old actor calmly and cheerfully discussed his new film, which he also directed.

“Interview” is the first in a series of three planned remakes of the films of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker who was murdered in 2004 by an Islamic extremist angered by how Van Gogh depicted Islam in a TV movie. Actors Stanley Tucci and John Turturro are to follow with their versions of “Blind Date” and “06,” respectively.

Producers sought actors to tackle Van Gogh’s films, which were typically shot with three handheld cameras to facilitate an open performance. Buscemi even made “Interview” with much of Van Gogh’s crew, including his director of photography.

As one of cinema’s most recognizable faces, Buscemi’s many credits in some way chronicle American independent film, from Jim Jarmusch’s “Mystery Train” (1989) to Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) to the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” (1996). But he’s quietly built an impressive oeuvre as a director with realistic movies often as deadpan as his acting.

He’s previously directed three films — “Trees Lounge” (1996), “Animal Factory” (2000) and “Lonesome Jim” (2005) — as well as several episodes of both “Oz” and “The Sopranos,” for which he directed the acclaimed “Pine Barrens” episode.

Arriving at a Greenwich Village restaurant from Brooklyn — where he lives with his wife and 16-year-old son — Buscemi sat down to discuss his film, directing as an actor and that infamous “Sopranos” ending.

AP: Your directorial debut, “Trees Lounge,” ended with a poignant song on a jukebox and an abrupt cut to black. The Ink Spots are playing, not Journey, but that sounds similar to the finale of a certain mob drama.

Buscemi: You and my dad are the only ones who have said that. I told him lots of things cut to black and end that way. “Trees Lounge,” that ending is inspired by “Fat City” (John Huston’s 1972 film).

AP: What did you think of “The Sopranos” ending?

Buscemi: I loved it. I thought it was brilliant. ... When it cut to black, I was shocked but I was relieved because I don’t think I could have taken it if I had to witness anything happen to his family or to him.

AP: When the producers of “Interview” approached you about directing, were you familiar with Van Gogh?

Buscemi: I knew of him and the circumstances of his murder, but I had not ever seen any of his films. In the beginning I was curious just to see some of the films.

AP: How was it to adopt Van Gogh’s methods on “Interview”?

Buscemi: I’ve always been interested in character-driven pieces, and my approach to directing is through acting. So watching his films I just really responded to them as an actor and the director side of me wanted to know how he was able to achieve that. I was excited to work with his (director of photography) and script supervisor and their camera crew. And yet I still felt like I had the freedom to do what I wanted to do.

AP: You seem to be directing with greater frequency now.

Buscemi: I never had any master plan about directing and I don’t really write. Except for “Trees Lounge,” things are just sort of up in the air. ... I still don’t know what the next thing is, but I don’t want to wait years before I do it again.

AP: Is it always a fight to raise money?

Buscemi: Yeah, I’ve only done four films, but each one has proven to be a challenge. When I tell this to young filmmakers, it really scares them. They go, “You have trouble?” And I go, “Yes, I have trouble getting money.”

AP: How does your background as an actor affect your directing?

Buscemi: Casting is everything. Getting the person that you imagined is this character and then seeing what they bring to it. That’s why you hire them, so why tell somebody first what it is you want? I’m more curious to see what they bring to it and then be inspired by it and say: “OK, what if you tried this?” or “What would happen if ... ?” I guess it’s the stuff that you don’t get to say as an actor to another actor if you’re just acting in a scene. (Laughs) You cannot do that.

AP: With over 100 credits, you’re famous for being prolific.

Buscemi: Character actors just pile up the credits because you work on a movie for like a few days. It’s not like I’m the lead in everything I do — far from it. I’m not spending three or four months on a picture; I’m spending three or four weeks. Sometimes three or four days. That adds up, but I don’t think I’m that much different from any other working actor out there that’s trying to make a living.

AP: Directing is more time consuming. Do you look for a certain balance between the two?

Buscemi: Yeah, but even the films I direct, we shot this one in nine days. “Lonesome Jim” was shot in 18 days. It’s basically the editing that takes a while, but I think on every film I’ve edited I’ve been able to work in an acting gig. When we were editing “Interview,” I did the Chris Rock film (“I Think I Love My Wife”). During “Trees Lounge,” I did “Escape From L.A.” During “Animal Factory,” I actually took off a few days to go to London and did a commercial for Virgin Airlines. During “Lonesome Jim,” it was “Monster House.” That was the funniest. They flew my editor out to L.A. and set her up in a room at the studio. So I would be shooting in motion capture, in these jumpsuits with sensors glued to my face and a skull cap. I’d be working and then have a break and go into the editing room and my editor would be like, “OK, I just can’t look at you, but tell me what you want.” (Laughs)

AP: How has independent film changed over the years?

Buscemi: I think distribution is a lot harder. With the whole explosion of digital video, there’s just a lot more people making films. Distributors have a lot more choice. ... I do think there’s an audience out there (for small films). It’s obvious to me what the studios do: they’ve co-opted independent film. They all have their independent arm. They can afford to crush the competition.

AP: You turn 50 this December. Do you harbor any stress about that?

Buscemi: Only if I’m supposed to have a big party.