Family & Companions
Diehard New Yorker Steve Buscemi was an independent film icon, both as a perennial favorite of respected filmmakers like the Coen Brothers, and as a writer and director in his own right. Throughout the decades of prolific work that followed his rise from the East Village arts boon of the 1980s, Buscemi stayed close to his roots in avant-garde film, but he also made a dent at the multiplex in character roles in big budget comedies and action films. Buscemi's predilection for off-kilter criminal minds, inept underachievers, and sad sack loners was only boosted by his non-traditional looks, lending his characters an air of realism. In addition to career-making roles in "Reservoir Dogs" (1992), "Fargo" (1996), "Con-Air" (1997) and "Ghost World" (2001), Buscemi gained prominence as a director following his feature debut, "Trees Lounge" (1997). From 2000-04, he was highly regarded for his work directing and acting on HBO's megahit series "The Sopranos" and, following his demise on the show, resumed his average of five film appearances a year. In 2010, he toplined the Martin Scorsese-produced HBO series "Boardwalk Empire," receiving critical kudos for his layered performance in the Prohibition-era series. With an ever-growing résumé of memorable parts and no lack of quality filmmakers knocking down his door, the quirky Buscemi became one of the most dependable character actors of his generation.
Steven Vincent Buscemi was born on Dec.13, 1957 to working-class parents in Brooklyn. For the first eight years of his life, he lived in the rough East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, in a house shared with aunts, uncles, and cousins. His family was his first audience, with the youngster performing jokes, skits and magic shows for them at the kitchen table when he was not busy drawing or daydreaming of being an actor one day. At the age of seven, he got his first film role, playing the bad guy in a Super 8 home movie version of Batman. The family moved to suburban Valley Stream, Long Island, when Steve was eight years old, where he grew into a skinny, wise-ass teenager who excelled at wrestling and soccer, as well as dabbled in school theatrical productions. However, at this age, he did not have the confidence to pursue his desire to entertain. After graduating from Valley Stream High School, Buscemi took a Civil Service exam and embarked on several years of odd jobs while waiting for his name to come up for a job with the FDNY. He pumped gas, drove an ice cream truck, and spent empty nights at a local bar - an aimless existence that would become the basis of his writing/directing debut, "Trees Lounge"(1997). But the road to that debut began in 1977 when the aimless bar fly summoned up the nerve to enroll in acting classes at the famed Lee Strasberg Institute in Manhattan.
At the Strasberg Institute, it was a long journey coaxing the natural talent out of Buscemi, who was unnerved by his lack of both stage experience and urban sophistication. Nonetheless, he moved to Manhattan after a year of classes and found himself falling in step with the fertile East Village performing arts scene. He began performing stand-up comedy and making inroads with the downtown theater communities of The Westbeth, PS 122, La Mama, and The Kitchen. In 1980, Buscemi's name rose to the top of the FDNY list, so he finally took a firefighting position with Engine No. 55 in SoHo. He tried to keep his artistic ambitions low-profile but eventually he began performing stand-up at parties for fellow firefighters. Over time, the self-deprecating comic wanted to focus more on acting and finally gained his first critical acclaim with "Steve & Mark," an avant garde comedy duo he formed with actor Mark Boone Jr. Over the next eight years, they performed together, they received notice from The New York Times and ramped up to producing an entirely new show of material every week.
Meanwhile, Buscemi landed his first small independent screen role in "The Way It Is" (1986), and the following year, took on the bold role of an embittered musician with AIDS in the landmark indie feature, "Parting Glances" (1986). He had taken a leave of absence from firefighting to concentrate on the performance, and after seeing his work onscreen, had the confidence to pursue acting full-time. Work came steadily; first with a spate of TV guest spots on shows like "Miami Vice" (NBC, 1984-89) in an unintentionally avant-garde performance where Buscemi was roughed up by Willie Nelson to a soundtrack by Depeche Mode. His reputation with the Downtown New York arts scene provided Buscemi with his early series of film roles, including an adaptation of Tama Janowitz' East Village drama "Slaves of New York" (1989) and Martin Scorsese's "Life Lessons" segment of "New York Stories," (1989), where he portrayed a performance artist. The same year, local filmmaker Jim Jarmusch cast him as a drunk and unlucky barber in "Mystery Train," which earned the actor a nomination for Best Supporting Actor at the Independent Spirit Awards. In 1990, Buscemi began a long and successful working relationship with The Coen Brothers with a small role in "Miller's Crossing," and another the following year in "Barton Fink" (1991).
Buscemi's low profile blew up in 1992 when Quentin Tarantino cast him as Mr. Pink - a would-be diamond thief who refuses to tip waitresses - in the cult classic, "Reservoir Dogs," which won the actor an Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male. He landed his first starring role as an aspiring downtown filmmaker in Alexandre Rockwell's "In the Soup." Over the next few years, Buscemi was an indie mainstay, with increasingly prominent roles in films like "Twenty Bucks" (1993), "Airheads" (1994) and Tarantino's classic, "Pulp Fiction" (1994). In 1995, he began getting offers to play mostly psychos and criminals in mainstream fare like "Billy Madison" (1995), "Con Air" (1997) and "Armageddon" (1997), which he heartily accepted to help finance his dedication to independent filmmaking. That dedication was never more obvious after he starred in Tom DiCillo's "Living in Oblivion" (1995) a brilliant comedy in which he starred as an independent film director.
In 1996, Buscemi's unique talent for portraying weasel-like, inept, but sympathetic criminals was perfectly showcased in "Fargo." No film had introduced him to more people than the Coen Brothers dark, uncomfortably funny, and bloody tale of a perfect crime gone awry, which surprised everyone involved when it became a mainstream hit, earning several Oscar nods. Buscemi's profile was further heightened that year with "Trees Lounge," his semi-autobiographical depiction of what his life would have been like had he not escaped Long Island. Buscemi received enthusiastic notices for his writing and directing debut, and was recognized with a tribute at that year's Sundance Film Festival. He re-teamed with old pal DiCillo in 1997 ("The Real Blonde") and Rockwell in 1998 ("Louis and Frank"), before joining forces again with the Coen Brothers in 1998; this time to play the perpetually berated bowler who ends up in a coffee can in "The Big Lebowski." Buscemi also had a little-seen but fantastic turn in the Stanley Tucci ensemble comedy "Imposters," playing a suicidal 1930s crooner who chokes out love songs between sobs.
Based on the success of his directorial debut, Buscemi was offered opportunities to direct; first, a series of Nike commercials, and then episodes of the HBO prison drama "Oz" (1997-2003) and "Homicide: Life on the Street" (NBC, 1993-99), for which the newcomer earned a DGA nomination. He directed his second feature, "Animal Factory" (2000), based on the novel By Edward Bunker and went on to direct a total of four episodes of "The Sopranos," beginning with the Emmy-nominated "Bine Barrens" episode in 2001. That same year, Buscemi voiced Randall Boggs in the winning "Monsters Inc." and was heartbreaking in "Ghost World," playing a record-collecting loner who finds a kindred spirit in a cynical teen (Thora Birch). The film was a critic's pick - winning Buscemi New York Film Critics Circle and National Society of Film Critics Awards, as well as Golden Globe and AFI nominations - that beautifully packaged his mastery of awkward realism, emotional vulnerability, and sheer likeability. Not long after the film was released in the summer of 2001, Buscemi volunteered his services in the wake of the destruction of the World Trade Center following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, digging through rubble for missing fire crews in 12-hour shifts and refusing to be photographed or interviewed in the process.
Now juggling three different careers, Buscemi directed three more "Sopranos" episodes and the pilot for "Baseball Wives" (HBO, 2004) as well as appeared in independent films including "Love in the Time of Money" (2002) and "Who's the Top"(2005) - not to mention, adding zest to the mainstream kiddie hit, "Spy Kids 2: The Island Of Lost Dreams" (2002) and the misbegotten Adam Sandler comedy, "Mr. Deeds" (2002). For the 2004 season of "The Sopranos," Buscemi came out from behind the camera and joined the cast as Tony Soprano's cousin and childhood best friend, Tony Blundetto, a former member of the family who, after 15 years in prison, was intent on becoming a massage therapist. On the big screen, he had a brief but scene-stealing role in Michael Bay's sci-fi thriller "The Island" (2005) and also directed Liv Tyler and Casey Affleck in the charming "Lonesome Jim," which was nominated for a Grand Jury prize at Sundance. After a starring role as a paparazzi in DiCillo's Sundance hit "Delirious" (2006), Buscemi appeared in "Interview" (2007), the story of one night in the life of a fading journalist, which Buscemi directed and starred in opposite British starlet, Sienna Miller.
Buscemi continued to work steadily, popping up in the Adam Sandler/Kevin James gay marriage comedy "I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry" (2007) as well as notching guest spots on "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ), "ER" (NBC, 1994-2007) and "30 Rock" (NBC, 2006-13), for which he was nominated for an Outstanding Guest Actor Emmy for his role as a bizarre detective. Voiceover work became lucrative for Buscemi, who gave voice to a half-rabbit creature in the animated flop "Igor" (2008) and a hamster in the guinea-pig action flick hit "G-Force" (2009). Buscemi appeared in the Oscar-nominated "The Messenger" (2009) with Woody Harrelson, and did what he could for the little-seen indie "Saint John of Las Vegas" with Emmanuelle Chriqui as a wheelchair-bound stripper (2010) and the Michael Cera nonstarter "Youth in Revolt" (2010). His appearance in the Adam Sandler comedy "Grown Ups" (2010) with Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider and Salma Hayek saw another checkmark in the appreciation file audiences kept for the offbeat actor. The year 2010 culminated when Buscemi landed a starring role on the much anticipated new HBO series co-created by Martin Scorsese, "Boardwalk Empire" (2010-14), playing Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, a powerful and corrupt political leader in Prohibition-era Atlantic City. While the show received overwhelming praise, Buscemi earned his due by winning both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for Best Actor in a Drama Series, as well as nabbing Emmy nominations for the same category in 2011 and 2012.
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Moved to the East Village, becoming involved with downtown performance scene
Served as a firefighter for four years with FDNY
Introduced by fellow fireman-actor Dean Tulipane to a theater group at Westbeth, an artists' housing complex
Made screen debut in "The Way It Is, or Eurydice in the Avenues"
Left Fire Department to pursue acting full-time
Appeared in guest shots on "Miami Vice" (NBC) and "The Equalizer" (CBS)
Landed first featured role as Nick, an AIDS-stricken man in independent feature "Parting Glances"
Received first mainstream feature credit in "Vibes"
Made TV miniseries debut in hit CBS Western "Lonesome Dove"
Played the henchman of Laurence Fishburne named Test Tube in Abel Ferrara's "King of New York"
Made his first collaboration with the Coen brothers in "Miller's Crossing"
Portrayed Chet, the bellhop at the Hotel Earle, in the Coens' "Barton Fink"
Cast in breakthrough supporting role as Mr. Pink in Quentin Tarantino's debut feature "Reservoir Dogs"
Landed first starring role in Alexandre Rockwell's "In the Soup"
Made his film-making debut (produced, directed and wrote) with the 14-minute short "What Happened to Pete?"
Staged a reading of his screenplay "Trees Lounge" in New York City
Portrayed Nick Reve, a struggling indie filmmaker, in Tom DiCillo's 17-minute short "Scene Six, Take One"
First feature collaboration with Adam Sandler, "Airheads"
Played John Travolta and Uma Thurman's surly Buddy Holly waiter at Jackrabbit Slim's in Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction"
Produced and acted in the 26-minute experimental short "Black Kites" helmed by wife Jo Andres
Reprised role of Nick Reve in DiCillo's feature-length "Living in Oblivion"
Co-starred with Christopher Walken in Gary Fleder's "Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead"
Appeared in his first film with actor Danny Trejo, Robert Rodriguez's "Desperado"
Made feature debut as writer-director with "Trees Lounge"; also starred
Fourth film with the Coens, "Fargo"; cast as bumbling kidnapper-for-hire
Directed TV commercials for Nike
Re-teamed with DiCillo again playing Nick in "The Real Blonde"
Re-teamed with Trejo in "Con Air"; first association with producer Jerry Bruckheimer
Joined the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced ensemble "Armageddon"
Helmed an episode of the NBC police drama "Homicide: Life on the Street"
Co-starred in Stanley Tucci's period comedy "The Impostors" portraying a suicidal crooner; sang "The Nearness of You" in the film
Fifth collaboration with Ethan and Joel Coen, "The Big Lebowski"
Directed an episode of the HBO prison-drama "Oz" entitled "U.S. Male"; also directed "Cuts Like a Knife" in 2001
Played a homeless man in Sandler comedy vehicle "Big Daddy"
Directed the "Pine Barrens" episode of the popular HBO series "The Sopranos"
Made feature debut as a producer, "Animal Factory" (also directed and acted), Trejo acted and served as an executive producer
Cast in a supporting role as Seymour in the critically hailed "Ghost World"
Helmed second episode of the HBO series "The Sopranos," titled "Everybody Hurts"
Reunited with Robert Rodriguez to film "Spy Kids 2: The Island Of Lost Dreams"
Appeared in a segment of the independent feature "Coffee and Cigarettes" directed by Jim Jarmusch
Portrayed small-town writer Norther Winslow in Tim Burton's fantasy drama "Big Fish"
Cast as Tony Soprano's (James Gandolfini) cousin Tony Blundetto on the fifth season of "The Sopranos" (HBO)
Cast in John Turturro's big-screen musical "Romance & Cigarettes" (released theatrically in 2007)
Directed Casey Affleck and Liv Tyler in "Lonesome Jim"
Voiced Templeton the rat in live-action/computer-animated feature film "Charlotte's Web," based on the book by E.B. White
Helmed a remake of murdered Dutch filmmaker, Theo van Gogh's film "Interview"; co-starred as a journalist interviewing a celebrity (Sienna Miller), also utilized much of Van Gogh's crew, including his director of photography
Appeared in a guest role as a private eye on NBC's "30 Rock"
Appeared in the ensemble comedy "Grown Ups," about five friends who reunite for a Fourth of July holiday weekend; starred Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, and Kevin James
Played Michael Cera's greedy and temperamental father in the film adaptation of C.D. Payne's "Youth in Revolt"
Cast in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" as Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson, who is based on New Jersey political boss and racketeer Enoch L. Johnson
Was a recurring presence on IFC's "Portlandia"
Cast in crime drama "Rampart" opposite Woody Harrelson
Voiced a werewolf in animated feature "Hotel Transylvania"; also starred Sandler
Played titular magician's (Steve Carell) former partner in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"
Reprised "Monsters, Inc." role in Pixar prequel "Monsters University"
Reprised role for the sequel "Hotel Transylvania 2"
Appeared in the lowbrow western spoof "The Ridiculous 6"
Co-starred with Louis C.K. on the short-lived "Horace and Pete"
Guest-starred on an episode of "Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams"
Appeared in the ensemble comedy/satire "The Death of Stalin"
Played God on the sitcom "Miracle Workers"
Returned to Transylvania in "Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation"
Began playing God on "Miracle Workers"