low budget filmmaking. Which is appropriate enough. since their screen collaboration. Living In Oblivion. is a very funny. very human look at the peaks and troughs of low budget filmmaking. Buscemi plays director Nick Reve. a man who‘s negotiating a tough obstacle course of actorly egos. crew insecurities. dodgy smoke machines. wandering boom mics and the otherwise insignificant details that build into a nightmare when cash is tight and time is short. lt’s Truffaut‘s Day For Night sharpened up for the Tarantino generation.
Although Johnny Suede was — and still is ~ a cult hit in Britain. it disappeared from American cinemas alter only three weeks. leaving DiCillo struggling to ﬁnd funding for any future films. As a result a short was the only viable option. but the cast of Living In Oblivion so enjoyed the speedy five-day shoot that they cajoled DiCillo into expanding it. Eight months later. and with financial input from a few of the actors. they completed it.
‘I was afraid that. in the meantime. I would have to take another job and get my hair cut.’ says Buscemi. 'but [ was very anxious to play that character again. What I thought was brilliant about the script was that Tom presented it in a way that was really funny. with an attention to detail. and all the characters were important. l had directed a short film before I did Tom‘s ﬁlm. so I brought my own experiences to it. In any part I do. I try to bring as much of myself to the character as possible.‘
So what does Buscemi bring to Nick Reve in Living In Oblivion? A sense of charisma. of understanding. of drive and. most of all. of commitment to the project. This is why he’s so highly respected by his peers in America and why he has his own following in Britain.
With his slightly bulging eyes and fleshy lips he’s no romantic lead. and the characters he plays can be rather unflattering: the whining Mr Pink in Reservoir Dogs (‘I don‘t tip' . . . ‘Mr Pink sounds like Mr Pussy‘). the ineffectual ﬁlmmaker wannabe in In The Soup. the unhelpful hotel bellboy in Barton Fink. the gonzo grunge rock musician in Air/leads. But a glance at these titles. plus others in his back catalogue — Miller’s Crossing and the Scorsese section of New York Stories — suggests Buscemi‘s appeal partly comes from his canny knack of picking films that. even if they‘re not massive hits. have a certain style and credibility aboutthenr
‘lndependent ﬁlms have always been strong for me.‘ he explains. ‘There are so many of them being made now that — on the one hand — it’s good because it provides more work for actors. but it also makes it a lot more competitive and sometimes good ﬁlms don’t really get as much time in the theatres as they should. Ten years
STEVE BUSCEMI FEATURE
Living In Oblivion: Steve Buscemi gets to grips with small-time tllmmaklng
‘With his slightly bulging eyes and ﬂeshy lips he’s no romantic lead, and the characters he plays can be rather untlattering.’
ago. if you did a good independent ﬁlm, it would play in the arthouses for two or three months. That is happening less and less now. and today you have to make a bigger splash with your ﬁlm so that it can have a decent run.‘
Born in Brooklyn. Buscemi shifted New York City addresses soon after high school in order to study in Manhattan at the Lee Strasberg Institute. It was while performing self-penned work in the city's small downtown theatres that he was spotted and cast in early AIDS movie Porting leu‘es — leading to his visit to the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1985.
Wider fame didn‘t arrive until the Reservoir Dogs phenomenon — he went on to win a coveted Independent Spirit Award for his portrayal of Mr Pink — but even this wasn’t a case of overnight success. as Buscemi had consistently lent his support to the project from its early stages. In June 199]. he accompanied
Quentin 'l‘arantino to Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute for a series of intensive workshops involving seasoned filmmakers
giving practical advice to aspiring talents. At various reading sessions. Buscemi played Mr Pink to Tarantino‘s Mr White. It was this dedication and backing that helped secure him the role when the film got the green light - Michael Madsen had at first made a pitch for Pink instead of Blonde.
There’s a line in Living In Oblivion where cocky ﬁlm star ‘Chad‘ turns to Nick the director and claims he only agreed to do the movie because Nick was ‘tight with Quentin Tarantino‘. On one level, it’s a neat in-joke; on another. it‘s a smart summation of the new position the low budget independent sector ﬁnds
itself in now Hollywood has recognised the ﬁnancial potential in the likes of Pulp Fiction and Clerks! Ironically. there was a suggestion that Buscemi and Tarantino recently had a parting of the ways when the actor turned down
'a role in Tarantino’s next movie. Four Rooms.
Buscemi sets the record straight: ‘There’s this movie that Quentin. Alex Rockwell. Allison Anders and Robert Rodriguez were making, where they each directed their own short story in a hotel room. They wanted me to play the bellboy in each of the stories, but [just felt that part was something I had played before [Barton Fink]. so I did turn it down. I'm still on very good terms with Quentin and. in fact, he saw Living In Oblivion and called me and left a really long message on my machine telling me how much he loved the ﬁlm.’
The part went to that other working horse of the indie circuit. Tim Roth. Buscemi, however. is still choosing his ﬁlms with care. and will be seen in gun-totin’ roles early next year in Rodriguez’s El Mariachi follow-up Desperado and the cool contemporary noir Things To Do In Denver When You 're Dead. No doubt, to pay the bills. he’ll keep popping up when you least expect it — on Channel 4’s Homicide a couple of weeks ago as a slimy. racist. gun control freak; as a tight-lipped psycho killer in the dock in LA Law; in his blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo as the Buddy Holly waiter in Pulp Fiction.
Steve Buscemi: a steady balance of cool and credibility. Damn. I forgot to ask him who shot Nice Guy Eddie.
Living In Oblivion opens at the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh, on Friday IO November and in Glasgow in December.
The List 3- l6 Nov I995 9