Conducting an interview with an iconic celebrity can be unnerving at the best of times.
Try talking to one whose latest role is a political journalist who’s sent to interview a celebrity and moans about how inconsequential such an assignment is.
Such was the burden I had in interviewing that most recognizable of character actors, Steve Buscemi, when he made a recent stop in the District.
He was promoting the new film “Interview,” which the 49-year-old actor also directed.
All those problems of celebrity journalism — asking the same questions the subject’s been asked a thousand times before, getting tidbits readers will be interested in while not angering the subject with too many questions about his personal life — have already come up, through Mr. Buscemi’s character, Pierre. The film begins with an interview gone awry when the starlet played by Sienna Miller shows up an hour late and Pierre can’t help but show his resentment at being handed the puff assignment. Animus explodes on both sides of the table.
“I’ve never had an experience quite like the one that’s in the film. But yeah, I’ve had my share of awkward interviews where I feel like I’m not really engaged with the person I’m talking with and it results in maybe a little hostility on my part, or at the very least, frustration,” Mr. Buscemi admits. “I think for actors who are just having to do the sheer amount of press required, it gets really hard to stay engaged. You sort of feel beaten down by it. It gets surreal to hear yourself talking so much about one thing over and over and over. It’s a little dehumanizing.”
Mr. Buscemi is uncommonly candid in talking about the Hollywood promotion machine. But then, he’s an uncommon actor who’s made his name playing often eccentric, sometimes lowlife, characters. He was Mr. Pink in Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and Carl in “Fargo.” He’s also directed independent films such as “Trees Lounge” and episodes of HBO’s “Oz” and “The Sopranos,” in which he also played Tony’s doomed cousin.
“Interview” is a remake of a 2003 film by Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was killed by an Islamic extremist in 2004. Mr. Buscemi hadn’t seen the film before he was approached to remake it. “I only knew of his name and knew of his murder,” he says. Mr. van Gogh had wanted to remake three of his films in the States, and his producers were looking for directors to take over.
“I liked his approach to filmmaking and was curious to learn more about it because part of the package was to work with his cinematographer and camera crew,” Mr. Buscemi says. Mr. van Gogh shot on digital video, in sequence, using three cameras at a time. “As actors, we were always on camera,” Mr. Buscemi notes. “The whole project just seemed really intriguing. I felt lucky to be part of it.”
Filmed by the van Gogh method, the resulting film has the Buscemi touch. He changed a few plot details and added a hilariously uncomfortable restaurant scene at the beginning, which is one of the best openers of the year.
“I wouldn’t have been interested in just doing a carbon copy nor would I have been able to do a carbon copy of what Theo did,” he says.
Actor-directors are also signed up to direct the other two van Gogh remakes. Mr. Buscemi reports that Stanley Tucci has already finished shooting “Blind Date” and John Turturro will “hopefully” direct “1-900.”
“They were specifically looking for actor-directors because Theo loved actors so much,” Mr. Buscemi says. “His style of shooting was totally in service of the actor.”
Steve Buscemi the actor is having, as usual, a busy year on film. He’s in the current Adam Sandler hit, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry,” and later this year he’ll be seen in Tom DiCillo’s “Delirious.”
“In that, I play a member of the paparazzi, so I’m covering all the bases in media portrayals,” he says.