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A movie starring Steve Buscemi? Yes, the time has come for Buscemi to emerge from his stereotypical witty sidekick role and take command of a film as its leading man. In Saint John of Las Vegas, Buscemi stars as John, a guy trying to escape his gambling addiction by fleeing Vegas and taking up a desk job at an insurance company. His new tranquility is disturbed when he’s assigned to join his company’s top fraud investigator on a case – in Las Vegas.
To most people, seeing Buscemi as a movie’s titular character is a monumental difference. But, to Buscemi, playing John is no different than playing a supporting role in films like Youth in Revolt or The Messenger. Whether it’s a prominent character or not, Buscemi puts everything he’s got into making that individual as memorable as possible.
Next up on Buscemi’s schedule? The new HBO series Boardwalk Empire and in a starring role nonetheless! He’ll play Nucky Thompson, the man in charge in Atlantic City in the 1920s. Boardwalk Empire won’t air until the fall, but in the meantime, you can see Buscemi in Saint John of Las Vegas when it hits theaters in Los Angeles and New York on January 29th.
When’s the last time you’ve gambled?
Probably working on the movie when we were shooting in Las Vegas, at the Black Jack table.
Did you win?
I don’t remember winning. No. [Laughs] But I didn’t lose a lot! That’s the thing when you gamble that you have a budget and have a certain amount that you’re willing to lose and then stop after that.
What about the scratch off cards? Do you play those?
I don’t like doing scratch cards. I sometimes get them as presents, so that’s kind of fun, but I don’t think I’ve ever bought one on my own.
You only get $2 or $4 if you win anyway.
Yeah! There’s no skill involved. I don’t get it.
What was the casting process like? Did Hue Rhodes approach you?
I got the script from my agent and then read it and liked it and then a meeting was set up for Hue and I to sit down and talk. I liked him and I liked his personal story and how he came to filmmaking. He got to film school later in life and that the script incorporated a lot from his own life as far as working at a car insurance place. And so when I was cast, at the same time the film was trying to raise money, we were always trying to raise money for this production company, Stanley Tucci and I and Wren Arthur. So it sort of happened organically that we became co-producers on the film. That meant that I did get to help out with casting and in any other way that Hue needed help, which just only meant that I was there to protect his vision. I just wanted to make sure that he was able to make the film he wanted to make.
I don’t really differentiate between starring role and a supporting or character. The same amount of work goes into it. If you’re the lead in the movie then you’re on it longer, but to me all of the characters are important and are to be taken seriously. The only difference is how much time you spend on set.
You headline this movie, but all of the supporting roles make such a significant impact. One of my favorite scenes was the one with John Cho and you don’t even know it’s him! How was it shooting that scene?
That was one of my favorite scenes in the script. There’s always a moment where you’re reading a script where you come to point where you say, ‘Yeah, I want to do this movie,’ and I think it was that scene. So I was really happy that John came in knowing that we wouldn’t know it was him, but we were all grateful that such a good actor who had such comic timing was playing that part.
What’s it like working with Sarah Silverman and Peter Dinklage?
They’re all great. Peter I’ve worked with before and I suggested him for the part and was really happy he was able to do it. Sarah, it’s funny because I had met her briefly about a month before we did the movie and her presence on set, everybody just loved being around her. Not only is she as funny in real life, but she’s really sweet and she’s really vulnerable and I like that she brought those qualities to the character.
You got to work with Peter again for Pete Smalls is Dead, right?
Yeah, that’s another Alexander Rockwell film. It’s the early days and in that one I only worked on that for a couple of days, had a smaller role, but it was really fun and got to work also with Mark Boone Junior who back in my early theater days we used to do a lot of writing and performing our own shows.
Yeah, I have done it over the years but it’s always hard for me to find the time to carve out to do it because it seems like I’m always juggling three or four things anyway. But, yeah, hopefully I’ll get back to it.
We don’t find out any details about exactly what sent John running from Vegas. Do you know what happened or is that information left to the imagination?
We just talked about something where whatever it was, that he hit bottom and maybe it was a situation that got really dangerous, which could be any number of things! [Laughs] But it wasn’t something that Hue felt was important for the audience to know or see, but just know that something really awful happened to him. But it wasn’t so awful that he would swear off gambling forever. He just retreated and needed time to build himself back up.
I hear you’re the executive producer on the film The Hunter.
That’s one that Stanley Tucci wrote and we came close to getting the financing and then it fell through but hopefully that’s something that we will get the financing soon. It takes place in Westchester. Pierce Brosnan was attached. Hopefully he’ll still be doing it.
Pierce, Patricia Clarkson and Julianne Moore?
Yup! Can’t get better than those two actresses!