Movieland’s favorite pulsing-eyed Everyman with an edge, Steve Buscemi is headed to two risky resorts. The wildly familiar actor stars in Saint John of Las Vegas, a small road-trip movie in which his compulsive-gambler character admits, “When I lived in Las Vegas, I had plenty of luck. Problem is, most of it was bad.” And he’s entering another dark playpen by filming Scorsese’s HBO show Boardwalk Empire, playing a politician interested in bringing the bootleggers into Atlantic City in the 1920s.
Game for yet another gamble, Buscemi plans to direct a movie version of William S. Burroughs’s autobiographical novel Queer, based on a screenplay by Oren Moverman (The Messenger). In between all of his fascinating cultural crapshoots, Buscemi paused to take a chance on an interview with my bad self:
Me: Hi, Steve. You’re such a nice, normal guy. You’re very different from your screen image.
Buscemi: [Laughs.] I hope!
Me: Do you mind being called a character actor?
Buscemi: Not at all. It’s basically what I do, even if I do a leading role. I’m never gonna be a leading-man type. To me, they’re all character roles. But basically, I’m just an actor.
Me: Was Interview [which he also directed] your closest to being a leading man?
Buscemi: There were only two leads, so I’d say I was the leading man! [Laughs.]
Me: But you’re far from a generic star. In fact, John Waters says he gets mistaken for you a lot.
Buscemi: I’m glad, because I get mistaken for him a lot! Now, I don’t even correct people. I say, “I’m glad you enjoyed that film.”
Me: Moving on to films you did make: What were you going for with Saint John of Las Vegas? The director likens it to Dante’s Inferno.
Buscemi: I tried to get in the head of a guy who’s got a real problem. I think there’s hope for him. We all have to live with our addictions. Whether you act on them is the point.
Me: Your co-star in that, Sarah Silverman, is also way different from her screen image, thank God.
Buscemi: She really is as funny in real life as in her routines, but she’s also sweet and a little shy. She’s really nice.
Me: If that gets out, it could ruin her!
Buscemi: I certainly wouldn’t want to ruin her. I don’t think I’m gonna bring her down.
Me: You also popped up in The Messenger. In fact, you blamed the messenger, going into a rage when they told you your son died at war.
Buscemi: I tried to talk Oren out of casting me, but he insisted. I was nervous because [in real life] I have a son who is that age that could be over there. Going to that place where I needed to go as an actor was very uncomfortable.
Me: But I guess you’re a compulsive risk-taker. How about at casinos?
Buscemi: I stop at $100!
If You Ain’t Got Elegance . . .
The very next day, I found myself taking a giant risk of my own by actually talking to a reality-show star. I broke my own reality-free rule only because Countess LuAnn de Lesseps‘s book Class With the Countess had just come out in paperback, and she was willing to give me various free pointers on looks and behavior. Besides, I thought it would be fun if a countess talked to a queen.
It turns out the Real Housewives of New York City star believes that elegance is acquired, not granted or store-bought. In fact, she has a new dance song called “Money Can’t Buy Class” (though, admittedly, it might help in my case), and told me she’s sung for years, her musical idols being Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Nicks. “Oh, so basically you like anyone in a poncho?” I asked LuAnn. “Well, I’m Native American,” she replied, laughing.
The rest of our brief chat was reality-based:
Me: What’s something you can strongly recommend for me, beauty-wise?
LuAnn: Get a massage. That makes you look beautiful when you get up from the table. Your face looks good and refreshed.
Me: But I don’t like intimacy or touching. Only in the dark.
LuAnn: That sounds sexy. [Laughs.]
Me: Your book says that one should always take the blame when breaking up with a partner. I always do that (“It’s not you, it’s me”), but I feel it’s a little clichéd and phony.
LuAnn: It’s not phony. If it takes being a bit phony to spare someone’s feelings, then you do it. One of the pullquotes in my book is “Never complain and never explain because nobody wants to hear it.” I wish someone had told me these things earlier on, but I had to learn them. Elegance is learned.
Me: I know! But does that particular pullquote apply to every occasion?
LuAnn: Yes. You’re waiting for someone to arrive for lunch, and then they finally show up and go into 15 or 20 minutes of why they’re late. And you’re starving.
Me: That reminds me. I’m late for lunch!
Gaga for Gaga
And then a dinner! And a snack! And another dinner! And a Lady Gaga concert at Radio City Music Hall! And the little monster turned out to be spook-tacular. Bathed in trippy special effects and flanked by dancers in body stockings, she made Britney‘s Circus look like a bar mitzvah in Connecticut. A waif/nymph/nympho with a disco stick she’s not afraid to stroke, Gaga trumpets the triumph of the outcast, assuring us that the real freaks—i.e., the haters—are all outside, and the doors are double-bolted so we can dress up in funny wigs and play love games. Living her dream while reminding us to chase after ours, she’s vulnerable and needy one minute (“Do you want me to die?” she asked in a Tinkerbell routine. “Scream!”) and sliding in on an s/m contraption the next to sing one of her taunting hits of ritualized aggression layered in aural cotton candy. No wonder the girl collapsed in Indiana last week. She’s a space-age version of Barbara Jean from Nashville, and gives so much that in mid-concert, she even phoned a fan in the audience (using her tour sponsor’s product, of course) to tell her she’d have drinks with her after the show! When the girl turned out to be a minor, Gaga said, “I’ll drink with your sister, and you can have apple juice.” A monster with scruples? This one’s a keeper.
Meanwhile, chatty Kathy Griffin may have toasted Anderson Cooper on New Year’s Eve with the F-word, but she still won’t use the G-word around him. She was just asked about Coop’s sexuality by DCAgenda.com and she stayed cutely dodgy about it. The interviewer quoted me as a souse—I mean, a source—then wondered, “With allegations of Cooper’s sexual orientation in constant flux, did CNN prohibit you from any sexuality jokes in regards to Cooper?” Rather than shriek, ” ‘Allegations?’ Being gay is not a crime!” Griffin replied: “Anderson has this great line where he says, ‘I don’t want to be the news, I want to report the news.’ And so that’s why, even though I’m the biggest mouth in the world, I actually don’t talk about his personal life, because you have to keep in mind he goes into third-world countries where it’s a very different culture, so, you know.”
Well, that says it all about his sexual leanings. You know how heterophobic third-world countries can be.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on January 26, 2010