Seven years after he helped protect humanity
from a killer asteroid in "Armageddon," actor Steve
Buscemi has reunited with director Michael Bay and co-star Michael
Clarke Duncan for another high-octane action flick, "The
This time out, the celebrated character actor - a Park Slope resident - portrays McCord, a sympathetic worker in a futuristic institute that controls every aspect of people’s lives in the name of science.
Buscemi’s "Big Fish" co-star Ewan McGregor and his "Ghost World" cast-mate Scarlett Johansson play Lincoln Six-Echo and Jordan Two-Delta, residents who question their reality and plan a daring escape into an outside world they have never known. Duncan plays Starkweather, a former inhabitant whose fate reveals the sinister machinations of those controlling the facility: residents are actually clones created and kept alive solely to provide healthy replacement body parts for their original "sponsors."
"Steve is the man," Bay has said of Buscemi. "He literally was the part; it was totally geared for him. He brought humor to the role, which was great because he had a lot of exposition to get out, but Steve is the type of guy who can humanize anything. He is just one of the finest actors out there."
Well-known for his quirky, sometimes menacing turns in acclaimed independent films like "Fargo," "Reservoir Dogs" and "Living in Oblivion," Buscemi often lends credibility to big-budget blockbusters like "Con Air," "Armageddon" and, yes, "The Island," by his mere presence.
"I thought the script was good," said the 47-year-old, married father of a teenage boy. "I think there are going to be holes in any big, action-adventure story. It’s a fantasy, but what was interesting to me was that it could be within the realm of possibility, which is frightening."
Although a well-regarded writer and director, as well as a beloved actor, the "Trees Lounge" and "Lonesome Jim" filmmaker said he has no problem working as an actor-for-hire and shutting off the part of his brain that tells him how he would shoot a scene.
"Certainly not on a film like ’The Island,’ because I would feel like I’d be way in over my head as a director," he confided. "So, I’m really just absorbing what’s going on, and as an actor who has directed, I think, I just become more accommodating to the director, knowing that directors don’t want a lot of people coming up to them and saying, ’Did you ever think of doing it this way?’"
Buscemi fans know that while the actor likes to mix things up a bit by working in small independent films and larger Hollywood fare - both in front of and behind the camera, he also likes to collaborate with the same actors and directors more than once.
"The script is important and the dialogue, but also who’s involved," he explained. "I like working with strong directors and the best cast you can get. In this case, it was a pretty easy decision."
It was also easy for Buscemi to decide to work with the Coen Brothers again after acting in their cult classics, "Fargo" and "The Big Lebowski."
"I just did a live radio play [’Sawbones’] that they wrote," said Buscemi. "We performed it at St. Ann’s Warehouse in [DUMBO] and one night in London, and I also did a five-minute short film for them that we shot in Paris, which will be combined with a whole series of short films that these French financiers have asked - I don’t know how many - directors to do. I think they’re going to get that ready for Cannes."
Buscemi said all the films had the theme of romance in Paris. The one he worked on with the Coens was a three-character piece set in the Metro, and no, he sighed, he doesn’t get to fall in love in this one either.
Next up for Buscemi is directing another episode of "The Sopranos," the hit HBO drama he also acted in for a season before being unceremoniously whacked by his own cousin, mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini). He refused to turn rat, however, despite all pleas from GO Brooklyn to divulge something - ANYTHING - about the upcoming season.
"No, I can’t," he insisted. "I’m not allowed."
So, given all of the characters he has played on-screen during the past 20 years, does Buscemi feel there is any one
great role that has slipped through his grasp?
"I don’t really think that way. I like to be surprised," he confided. "I feel like I have played a number of different parts, and I think that’s probably why I want to direct more, because I feel like directing is more of a challenge and something new."
Born in Brooklyn, Buscemi attended high school and college on Long Island. Though Hollywood has courted him for more than a decade, the down-to-earth actor-filmmaker said he prefers to live on the East Coast where it is easier to avoid the trappings of celebrity and live a normal life.
"For me, it helps not having the industry in my face all the time and that’s why I do prefer living in New York, in Brooklyn, where it’s even less. I don’t know if it gives me an edge, but it gives me my sanity," laughed the former New York City firefighter who was arrested two years ago for protesting the closing of a Cobble Hill firehouse.
So, do fans bother him all the time?
"Not to the degree where it’s out of hand," said Buscemi. "I’ve lived in the same neighborhood now for over 10 years. People know me, and they are used to me. I’m just the guy next door."
"The Island" opens in theaters July 22.