Despite his awkward looks, frail appearance, squeaky voice, and so on, Steve Buscemi has asserted himself as one of the finest actors currently working in movies (or, as it were, television). Whether he’s carrying a series or popping up for one scene in a feature film, Buscemi has the unique ability to own every second he’s on screen.
He’s done this in a number of ways: playing the goof, the goon, the dimwit and the arrogant prick all with equal restraint and vulnerability. He’s the kind of actor who makes whatever movie he’s in better, simply by being in it. That’s about as fine a compliment as I can give.
Reservoir Dogs (1992)
Mr. Pink – the voice of reason. The man who doesn’t tip waitresses but strives for solidarity and understanding. When you think about it, Buscemi’s Mr. Pink is the only real professional out of the major Dogs in Quentin Tarantino’s masterful debut film. We never learn his name or where he’s from, instead, he plays by the rules he’s given and demands that the rat among them be sniffed out and exterminated.
Mr. Pink was Buscemi’s first major role, and from the onset, he proved himself as a serious player despite. Despite his unique facade, Buscemi, via Mr. Pink, demonstrated a unique command of the camera by using convincing dramatics and subtle humor. It was the beginning of what has become one of the most revered careers of a Hollywood day player.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
Not the showiest of Buscem’s characters, but let me tell you why this is a perfect performance. Donny’s job, as a character, is to exist only as the butt of the joke. He’s a stand-in for the impossibly hilarious verbal abuse issued routinely by his friends. Nothing more. Donny’s job is to stay hidden in the background and be annoying from time to time, all while gaining sympathy from the audience.
So now I ask, who other than Steve Buscemi can pull off a role like this so effectively? The man is the king of refinement. Whether he’s proudly boasting about how he’s “slammin’” strikes, or chirping incessantly about the topic of conversation, Donny is that nice guy who can never seem to catch a break. And it’s impossible not to love him for it.
Ghost World (2001)
Ahh Seymour. Pathetic, lonely, sad faced Seymour. In Terry Zwigoff’s kind of brilliant dark comedy, Seymour represents the only person that lead character Enid (Thora Birch) can tolerate for any extended period of time. They meet by way of a cruel prank, but soon develop an endearing friendship that represents one of the most oddly authentic relationships captured in modern American film.
It has been said by many a professional critic that Seymour is the role of Buscemi’s career. Hard to disagree. As I rewatched the film recently, I was constantly reminded of the notion that this is the role, above all others, that seems perfectly tailored to fit the Buscemi persona. Roger Ebert says Seymour reminds him a lot of Zwigoff. That’s interesting. Either way, from the basis of performance, there’s nothing to not love about Buscemi’s work here.
Although Buscemi is far better known for his work in front of the camera than behind, he has made a handful of genuinely good films, best among them is his Interview, a two-person dramedy about a condescending reporter conducting a never ending interview with a diva movie star. Playing the interviewer himself, we’re privy to the best of the mavel that is Buscemi arrogance.
Pierre has got to be the grandest asshole Buscemi has ever portrayed. A notable political reporter, Pierre hasn’t the slightest clue why his editor has assigned him to profile a popular actress known only as Katya (Sienna Miller, who, for the record, is perfect in this). Seconds into their first meeting, Pierre refers to the actress as Cuntya, and from then on, boy do the sparks fly.
Interview is a very layered film, mostly because the two leads are ever evolving. You think you see what’s coming, only to find yourself pleasantly deceived.
Nucky Thompson is the role of a lifetime. The lead in a smart, epic HBO series in which you are given countless hours to full flex any and every emotion at your disposal. More often than not, these roles falter for a multitude of reasons. Uninspired writing, stale acting, you name it, but in Buscemi’s capable hands, he makes the flawless material he’s given in Boardwalk Empire soar. It’s such a hot performance, it’s practically incendiary.
You’re likely to get a different opinion about Nucky from most everyone you ask. Two-faced thug, criminal with a heart of gold, family man trying to make good on a hustle – no matter how you swing it, there’s simply no denying that the man playing the boss is in complete, fearless control of his craft. It’s as fine a television performance currently on air.
The Best of the Best
As far as I’m concerned, Carl Showalter is THE Steve Buscemi performance. Carl is so unintentionally entertaining – his humor (“Total silence, two can play at that game”), his frustration (“Are we square…?”), his menace (“Where. The. Fuck. Is. Jerry?!”), and, most notably, his desperation.
There’s a scene in Fargo (which is by far my favorite scene from the film) in which Carl buries a shitload of money in a vast, snow-covered field, distinguishing it only with a puny red ice scrapper. It doesn’t take a film historian to appreciate the desperation contained in Buscemi’s acting here. The man plays pathetic and weak as well (if not better) than any actor who can currently get work.
Every line Buscemi utters, every slight expression of discontent or gesture of frustration is executed perfectly. It’s one of my favorite performances of the ‘90s. Simply impossible to forget. But, then again, I suppose that's the case for most all of Buscemi's characters.
Other Notable Roles
|In Pulp Fiction|
Miller’s Crossing (1990)
Barton Fink (1991)
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Billy Madison (1995)
Trees Lounge (1996)
Con Air (1997)
Animal Factory (2000)
28 Days (2000)
The Grey Zone (2001)
Big Fish (2003)
The Sopranos (2004-2006)
Paris, je t’aime (2007)
Philip Baker Hall
Philip Seymour Hoffman
William H. Macy
John C. Reilly