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  • Writer's pictureGeorge Seminara

Man of action

Steve Buscemi Photo; George Seminara

Steve Buscemi, Actor.

The thing I love about taking photos of actors, dancers, and for that matter, rock musicians, is that who they present to you, is not necessarily who they are. Case in point, Steve Buscemi, he embodies the hapless loser better than anyone. He plays world weary like no one else and he wears resignation on his shoulder. If it’s going happen, he knows it will happen to him.

Steve is the casting person's Idea as the perfect schlemiel, but it’s a testimony to his talent that he also has the ability to play the schlimazel as well. Those Yiddishisms are hard to tell apart but an explanation goes a little something like this: A schlemiel is somebody who spills his soup and a schlimazel, is the person he spills it on.

We like his characters because he represents that little guy who is still being sarcastic when he knows he’s going to catch a beating. That little voice in your brain that wants to say something but can’t. In the 1960s and 1970s, Woody Allen played that part. Now we have, Steve, a less sniveling and comical variation. He has played a wide variety of parts, he’s played an Attractive gay dude dying of AIDS in his first film the excellent-indy, Parting Glances. He has played, The Marietta Mangler, in Con-Air. His archetypal, character arrives thanks to the Coen Brother’s in their first masterwork, Fargo. Steve plays, Carl Showalter, who can’t help but brag about the crime at a bar and he can’t help but ignore that his partner, Peter Stormare, is a homicidal maniac, and is becoming increasingly demented. “Why do I have to be Mr. Pink?” Is the immortal question? so asks Steve, in Reservoir Dogs, the closest he has ever had a role where the played a successful character.

In Ghost World, Steve gets to play a romantic lead… sort of. He plays the sort of character Hugh Grant would reject out of hand, Clooney’s agent wouldn’t even accept the script, this role is if, Bronte’s (not Benny’s) Rochester, was the kind of guy you meet at comic book conventions held in church basement or the guy who can eagerly discuss the values of 18th century newsprint. Not so far away from me, I’m sure he knows a lot of cool stuff too, but a complete loser in his sad sack way. He doesn’t get the girl but he does have a drunken night with a hot chick and feels crappy about it because it was a bad idea in the first place.

Finally to wrap up mentioning several of the proto-typical Buscemi roles: Boardwalk Empire (shot mostly in Brooklyn at the Navy Yard) Steve plays a mid-level, crook. He has his business and he’s resigned to his life as a crook. He reluctantly changes with the times as if he has no choice. Maybe he doesn’t? These roles are not written for him he makes them into roles that fit his… Je ne sais quoi?* (okay, the Coen brother's are probably writing parts for him)(oh yeah, and Tarantino probably does too.) Basically, what I’m trying to say is, what Steve the actor does is shape this “Character “ into his many roles. He is the essence of the great character actors of yore. Imagine if Preston Sturges had a guy like him at the studio? It boggles the mind. That’s the guy we all know.

The guy we don’t know is a man of action. The tough guy. The guy who won’t run from a fight. Buscemi was stabbed in the throat, head, and arm while trying to break up a fight, between Vince Vaughn,(6’4”)Scott Rosenberg(6’0) and two local men, (6’5” and 6’3” and in the 300lbs range—-This is a creative liberty) at the Firebelly Lounge in North Carolina. This was during the Filming of Domestic Disturbances. To this day he carries a scar on his face from the incident.

You might not know that for close to five years Steve was a New York City fireman. The physical test to be a fireman has actually killed people. It’s very tough. Because when your 200 lbs grandma’s house is on fire you want the guy who is going to rescue her and carry her down the fire escape to be pretty fit. Steve passed the test. Not that you could guess that by looking at him. After 9/11, Steve was allowed, as a former NYFD member, to work on the rescue effort down at the Trade Center site. He was working full days there, 12-18 hours, depending on your source he was there a week or a month. According to Steve, “I was there a day or two, I dunno.”

He’s a hero, too. Certainly, a side of him we haven’t ever seen on film.

The last bit is this: Steve Buscemi is also a father and a husband. His wife, Jo Andres, (I have a story, but not now) a Dancer/Choreographer/Filmmaker/Multi-disciplinary artist, passed away just this last week. Which, kind of sucks. It definitely sucks. He was married to her for 32 years, a feat no character he has ever played could attain. I send my positive thoughts to him and his son.

* Je ne sais quoi - Basically it means WTF. It means I have no idea, but its something.

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