SIFF An Interview About Interview
posted by June 18 at 10:00 AMon
I don’t like messages that much.
I prefer covering the war between a woman and a man.
— Theo van Gogh (1957-2004)
Every time SIFF rolls around, there’s one director I’m more excited about meeting than any other. In 2005, it was Gregg Araki. In 2006, it was Michel Gondry. And in 2007, it was Steve Buscemi. While I got a generous 40 minutes with Araki—and I’m bummed his comedy Smiley Face wasn’t part of this year’s line-up—I got 25 minutes with Gondry. Alas, I only had 15 minutes to ask Buscemi 30 minutes worth of questions. Still, I’m glad I got the opportunity, and it was a pleasure to speak with him. (Back when I was a SIFF volunteer, my favorite guest was Bertrand Tavernier. What a charmer!)
As expected, Buscemi is down-to-earth in person and, yes, better looking than he appears on-screen. (In Interview, his hair is dyed brown, in Delirious, it’s dyed a particularly unflattering black; in reality, it’s more of a greyish-brown). Granted, I’ve never found him unattractive, but he’s often described as a character actor, which I tend to think of as shorthand for “not leading man material.” Eh, nothing wrong with that. Incidentally, I was watching The Big Lebowski as I transcribed this interview—hey, it happened to be
on TV at the time. Here are a few excerpts from our chat.
What attracted you to this story in the first place?
I haven't seen it, by the way—the original [Interview].
Yeah, because it wasn't released here. I just loved the story,
and the relationship between the two characters, and the fact
that it felt like they were going through a break-up, even though
they were just meeting for the first time and only spending a
few hours together. They do make a connection, and it was interesting to see how they sabotage that connection.
When you decided to make the film,
did you know you wanted to play Pierre?
I knew I wanted to play it, but I wasn't sure if I would. In the
end, I decided that because we wouldn't be doing a lot of
planned shots—just in the nature of the way it was shot, with
three cameras and handheld—that I didn't need to be watching it
all the time, and I thought it would be really fun to act in it.
I'm aware that Van Gogh planned to make English-language versions of his films, but I don't know how far he got in that process. When he was thinking about Interview, did he have actors in mind, locations—anything like that?
[Van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004 in
the wake of controversial documentary Submission: Part I.]
No, there was another film he was trying to do first, called
1-900 [also known as 06], and that was actually released
here in the States, so I think he had talked to actors about
that one. I may have heard something about how, for Interview,
they talked about Madonna, but I don't know how far they got.
Did you know at the time you made Living in
Oblivion that you wanted to be a director?
Because that's kind of the quintessential indie-film nightmare.
I had already made a short film before I made Living in Oblivion.
And then when we were in pre-production for Trees Lounge,
Living in Oblivion was just being released, so my whole crew
went to the premiere...and I think they were horrified. [laughs]
This is a question you've probably gotten before,
but when you play people as beaten-down-by-life
as Pierre and Les, does that affect you off the set?
Can you shake that kind of thing off?
I've played worse characters than them. [laughs]
Yeah, I'm able to shake that off.
And that's the gist of it, although we also talked about the other Van Gogh adaptations, as well as his son's band (they perform "Blitzkreig Bop" in Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten). With more time, I could've delved deeper, but 15 minutes was better than nothing. (My question about Parting Glances will have to wait for another time.)
But I did talk to a few people at the closing night party who also spoke with Buscemi, so it was interesting to hear about their conversations. One chatted with him about firefighting (his career for several years), another about the book Murder in Amsterdam, and yet another had a 20-minute interview (five extra minutes!). The general consensus is that he made a good impression. As my friend Sean put it, "He was exactly the way I expected him to be."
In case you missed any of Buscemi's films at the fest, the "collective feature" Paris Je T'aime is currently playing at the Uptown and the Seven Gables, Interview opens in limited release on 7/13, and Delirious opens in limited release on 8/15. Buscemi also appears
in The Future is Unwritten, but US dates haven't been announced yet. Images from Delirious, Interview, and Parting Glances.
Click here for part two (continues at my site).