Steve Buscemi is widely regarded as one of the truly great modern character actors, best known for movies like Reservoir Dogs, Fargo, and Ghost World, but what most people don’t know about is the bravery he has exhibited during his life beyond his life as a performer. In the early 1980s, prior to his start making films and TV, he spent years working as a New York City firefighter, and on September 12, 2001 he began what turned out to be a week-long volunteer effort searching for survivors and other firefighters in the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Knowing this, it’s impossible not to respect the hell out the man – but it’s interestingly something that has never been reflected in his work. Prior to starring in Judd Apatow’s new film The King Of Staten Island, Buscemi has never actually played a firefighter character. Finding this a curiosity, I took the opportunity to ask the actor about it last week when I had the chance to interview him via video call, inquiring if it inspired any kind of hesitance on his part, and you can watch his response by clicking play on the embed below:
Like Steve Buscemi, The King Of Staten Island star/co-writer Pete Davidson also has a personal connection to the events of September 11th, as Davidson’s father was a first-responder firefighter who died on that horrible day. Having known about that story prior to becoming a part of the new movie, and also desiring the opportunity to work with Judd Apatow, Buscemi explained that there wasn’t a drop of doubt in him when he was asked to be a part of the film. Said the actor,
When I first heard about the project I didn't know what it was about. All I knew was that Judd Apatow was doing a movie with Pete Davidson and I wanted in. I said to my agents, 'What is it? Is there a part for me?' And then when I heard what the story was about, that it was based on Pete's real story, knowing his story, I was not hesitant at all; I really wanted in. And I've never played a firefighter in a film.
In the semi-biographical movie, Pete Davidson stars as Scott, a 24-year-old suffering from arrested development due to the emotional damage of losing his firefighter father when he was seven years old. His world is disturbed in a major way when his mother (Marisa Tomei) starts dating for the first time in 17 years, and making the situation even rockier is that her new boyfriend (Bill Burr) is also a firefighter. The relationship winds up leading Scott to explore the idea of following in his father’s footsteps, which is how he winds up meeting Steve Buscemi’s Papa, who is the elder statesman of the local station.
While Steve Buscemi is best known for playing squirrely criminal-types, The King Of Staten Island gave him the chance to play a role that let him draw from personal experience, and he jumped at it when it was offered. Buscemi had become acquainted with Judd Apatow in the past thanks to his frequent collaborations with Adam Sandler, and when he got a special invite to the movie’s early table read he was delighted to see the event snowball into him getting a role in the project:
I was invited to the first read-through they had, and I wasn't a part of it then, but Judd, he just invited me, and later he gave me a call and said, 'Well, there is this part of the senior guy in the firehouse. It's not that big of a part, but maybe we can turn it into something.' I said, 'I'm in! Please, Yes.'