Steve Buscemi is one of the few actors who can pull off both comedy and drama with the slightest of ease. He also knows a thing or two about working on small independent films as well as big budget blockbusters. Over the span of his 25 year career he’s managed to touch on everything, but always returns to his indie roots. His latest flick Saint John of Las Vegas is a small film that features a talented cast headlined by Buscemi as the title character.
He stars as John, a recovering gambling addict who works for an auto insurance company. In an attempt to get a promotion he takes on an assignment that sends him to the one place he’s been trying to avoid, Las Vegas. I recently got the opportunity to talk to Buscemi about his role in the film, and how it felt to be the lead of an ensemble. Also for those of you anticipating his upcoming TV series “Boardwalk Empire,” we got the goods on that too…
In the film, John is a recovering addict who still has issues with letting go of his obsessive behaviors. He constantly buys lottery tickets in bulk hoping that one of them will be the lucky “one.” But unlike a lot of compulsive gamblers, there’s a method to his madness.
That’s what the whole lottery thing was about. You never know when your luck is going to turn and when you’re going to have a really lucky day. So his logic was that you had to buy a lottery ticket everyday, because you don’t want to miss out on that one day, that’s your day to win big.
You could say that John’s dedication to his “hobby” is one of the things that attracted Buscemi to the role. The character is very flawed, but you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for him.
It’s always fun to play characters that are struggling and have issues, but are also sympathetic. I felt for him and I was rooting for him.
The one person the actor spends the most time with in the film is his co-star Romany Malco. Known for his supporting roles in comedies like The 40 Year Old Virgin and Blades of Glory, Malco plays it straight in Saint John. He’s the uptight insurance investigator who constantly clashes with Buscemi’s laid back, yet slightly on edge John.
What was interesting to me was that they went on the road together and it could be this road movie or buddy movie, but the two guys never become buddies. That’s what was interesting to me, I don’t think we were consciously trying to parody any other screen relationship. We just tried to make it as real as possible and true to the characters.
On the surface this film might not look like an ensemble comedy, but several familiar faces make appearances and in the most unconventional circumstances. Buscemi’s character interacts with all of them, and is present in every scene, so I wanted to know how it felt working with such a distinct group of people.
Well most of the cast, I had worked with Peter Dinklage and Tim Blake Nelson before, so it was great to work with them again. But yeah, this was my first time working with Sarah Silverman, Emmanuelle Chriqui, and John Cho and also Romany, so it was a real adventure in that way. That was part of the fun of doing the movie, my character gets to interact with all these crazy, wonderful people that are saturated throughout the film.
I couldn’t let the actor get away without asking him about his role on the highly anticipated Terence Winter/Martin Scorsese series, “Boardwalk Empire.” It’s a period drama, that centers on his character Nucky Thompson, a good guy who gets involved with some bad people.
He’s not a bad guy as such, but he kind of runs with a certain element of people. He himself is a politician, who ran things in Atlantic City in the twenties and when Prohibition hit that was a gateway for these guys to make some money. He found himself in the company of bootleggers and gangsters, all in the name of keeping his constituents happy and also making some money for himself.
Buscemi has worked on television in the past, and even did a recurring stint on Winter’s hit, “The Sopranos,” so what was the big draw to taking a stab at his very on series?
“My big reason was Terence Winter, who is one of my favorite writers from “The Sopranos, ” and just the story and the character. It’s so much fun to play. Then on top of all that you throw in Martin Scorsese, and you know? How can anybody resist?
Saint John of Las Vegas hits theaters in limited release on January 29, 2010.