Steve Buscemi Talks Burt Wonderstone

Steve Buscemi talks Anton Marvelton in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, in theaters this weekend

(From contributing writer Todd Gilchrist)

Steve Carell. Jim Carrey. Steve Buscemi. Which of these things don't (seem to) fit?

Steve Buscemi is, perhaps oddly, one of the most versatile and unique performers in Hollywood. He's played a guy who lamented being named Mr. Pink. A foul-mouthed, José Feliciano -loving kidnapper. A former high-school outcast who holds a grudge against his classmates as an adult. A dim-witted bowler with a weak heart. A lazy-eyed eccentric. A misanthropic blues fan. A chameleonic lizard. A political animal who wields control of Atlantic City. And in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a childhood best friend who becomes co-star of the title character's Vegas magic act.

We sat down with Buscemi in Las Vegas to talk about The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. In addition to discussing his affinity for comedic material, Buscemi offered some insights into his creative process as an actor, and revealed a few details about his character Randall's role in the upcoming Pixar prequel Monsters University.

Do you consider yourself a naturally silly person?

Steve Buscemi: Yeah, yeah. I'd say I'm in touch with my silly side (laughs).

Looking at much of your work, it seems understandable that some people might see you as more naturally serious. Are there roles you've taken that you feel are closer to your off screen personality?

Steve Buscemi: I don't really have an idea of how people see me or what they think of me in real life, so I tend not to really think about it. I feel like I've played a wide variety of roles over the years, but certain people know me only from a certain type of role. Or if someone has only seen me in Adam Sandler films, then they would think of me as one way, or if they've only seen things like Reservoir Dogs, they would see me in another way. But I don't know what the mass opinion is, so... (laughs)

Are there roles where you see how a character behaves and you say, that's how I would react? Or are there multiple roles where you felt that way?

Steve Buscemi: I don't think of other roles when I'm doing a role. The consistency is that it all has to come from me, so sometimes it will feel familiar, and sometimes it won't, but it's all just aspects of my personality.

How important is the transformational aspect of acting - to go as far away as possible from yourself when you take on a role?

Steve Buscemi: I don't think I ever go that far away from myself in any role that I do. I'm always looking for things that I can relate to in any character that I play, things that I relate to personally. And you know, sometimes there's probably no way that I would be able to relate to something, but that's what we have an imagination for, and that's the fun of being an actor.

In that case, do you overintellectualize what you do as much as I clearly do? Or are you a pretty intuitive performer when it comes to deconstructing the work you do as an actor?

Steve Buscemi: No. I mean, the less I think about it, the better. When I read a script, to me a good script is when I can just feel it, and I don't have to think about creating a character - it's there on the page. And then it's my job to fulfill what's written.

Do comedic actors like Steve Carell and Jim Carrey - or actors like Adam Sandler, who are perhaps best known for comedic roles - have a different energy or process than those you've worked with that are known for their dramatic work?

Steve Buscemi: All of the people you mention are really good actors as well. But certainly in the case of Jim Carrey, you just never know what you're going to get from him. I mean, I had a great time yesterday in those press conferences sitting next to him and seeing where his mind takes him. But I've also felt that way around Adam Sandler - it's always so much fun to do one of his films, because he just loves to hang out, and he is just surrounded by his friends, and they will just kind of riff on anything. He always brings a great energy to whatever he's doing.

How naturally do you fall into that sort of rhythm - that impulse to improvise on the fly? Or do you prefer to spend a lot of time in advance preparing?

Steve Buscemi: I like both - I like being as prepared as I can, but then being open to any different possibilities that come up. I think that's where the fun happens - and hopefully, the magic happens (laughs).

When you started your career and were working in movies like Reservoir Dogs or Rising Sun, did you foresee a trajectory that would land you where you are today, starring next to folks like this in a big, broad comedy?

Steve Buscemi: No, I had no expectations at all. I just wanted to be a working actor - that's all I've ever wanted - so all of this is so way beyond all of my expectations. To look at a poster and see myself with Jim Carrey and Steve Carell on it is a little bit surreal.

At this point, do new roles really present you with new challenges, or is it now a matter of refining work you've done in the past?

Steve Buscemi: This was kind of like that, but I saw all of the possibilities of how much fun this could be, to play somebody like Anton. I was very excited to get in there with Steve Carell, because I've always admired his work; it's a little bit daunting, but I think in a good way. I'm not afraid to take those risks and just try and enjoy myself - and on this one, I certainly did.

In Monsters University, what sort of role does Randall play in that, since it's a prequel?

Steve Buscemi: He's the college roommate of Sully. He's more full of wonder and a little bit geeky, and very different from what he becomes in the first movie. But throughout the movie, you get to see the seeds of what he becomes - the Randall from Monsters Inc. 3D.

Did you have to sort of reverse engineer personality characteristics that would be those seeds?

Steve Buscemi: To me, it's all collaborative. It's working with the director and the writers, and I don't feel like I have to be totally responsible for coming up with this stuff. And it was a nice surprise to see who this character was, because I don't think I necessarily imagined that when I was doing Monsters Inc. 3D. But it is a unique situation, to be able to go back in time with a character and to do a prequel. So that was really exciting for me.

Ultimately, where do you derive satisfaction from the filmmaking process - is it in seeing the end result? Is it crafting a performance that you alone care about?

Steve Buscemi: You always want it to be entertaining, and you always hope that audiences will respond, but for me, the most important part of a movie is the making of it - putting in a good day's work, and you feel good about what you were able to bring to it.