A good loser: His understated portrayals of psychos, weirdos and oddballs have turned Steve Buscemi into one of Hollywood's finest character actors. So what does that say about him?
by Simon Hattenstone
Steve Buscemi was four years old and out shopping with his mother when he was caught short at the butchers. She took him home, just across the road, and told him to wait for her while she completed her order. But he got scared all by himself. He remembers it like yesterday. "I came out to the door, and stood yelling for her, but she didn't hear me, and I just panicked and ran across the street. I remember there were these high-street girls hanging out on the corner, and I remember one of them said, 'Watch out for the bus.' I must have looked the wrong way."
To say young Buscemi was accident-prone is an understatement. But he bristles at the idea that he was unlucky. No, he says, the opposite - he was lucky to get away with a fractured skull when he was hit by the bus. In fact, as it turned out, the accident might just be the most fortunate thing that ever happened to him, helping to pave the way for his acting career.
A few years later he was playing ball in the school yard when the ball rolled away from him into the road. He chased after it. Smack. This time he was lucky to get away with cuts and bruises when the car hit him. Sure, he was born on Friday the 13th, but he's not the superstitious type. Five years ago he tried to break up a bar brawl between his friend, the actor Vince Vaughn, and a stranger. For his pains, he was stabbed in his throat, face and arm. Perhaps that was his luckiest escape of all.
His characters don't usually get off that lightly, often coming to gruesomely sticky endings. As contract killer Carl in Fargo, he is described by a woman who has just slept with him as "funny looking, even more so than most men", before being hacked with an axe and fed into a woodchipper. In Ghost World, his younger-than-is-strictly-appropriate friend, played by Thora Birch, says he's such a "clueless dork, he's almost cool" - this time he ends up half-strangled and hospitalised. In The Big Lebowski, whenever he tries to talk, he is told "Donny, shut the fuck up." He's such a wimp that he dies of a heart attack when threatened with violence, such a failure that his ashes have to be kept in a Folgers coffee tin because the cheapest urn is too expensive.
Even when he gets to play seemingly cool gangsters, he's left disappointed. In Reservoir Dogs, the hoods receive colour-coded aliases and he ends up humiliated as Mr Pink ("Why am I Mr Pink?" "Because you're a faggot.") His characters mumble and bumble, querulous and whiny, but they are usually articulate philosophers of low-rent life.
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