It’s pronounced boo-semi, not boo-shemi. OK, got that out of the way as the first order of business when sitting down last week with Steve Buscemi, one of the busiest character actors of the past two decades. He was the short-tempered criminal whose fate was sealed in a wood chipper in "Fargo," the drunk best man in "The Wedding Singer," the guy who didn’t believe in tipping in "Reservoir Dogs," the hapless Donny in "The Big Lebowski." Buscemi has also directed feature films ("Trees Lounge," "Interview") and TV shows ("30 Rock," "Nurse Jackie," "The Sopranos" – on which he also played Tony Blendetto), and he recently began filming his fourth season as Nucky Thompson on "Boardwalk Empire." We spoke about his role in the new comedy "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Buscemi plays Steve Carell’s long-suffering magician partner Anton Marvelton.
Have you done any magic before this film?
Just as a kid, and I like doing card tricks for my nephews. I’m pretty good. Well, good enough for an 8-year-old.
There’s an amazing illusion in the film called the Hangman that was done with no edits. How challenging was that?
I didn’t know we were gonna do that in one shot. It was the director’s idea to have at least one illusion in the film that is continuous without a camera cut. That took a lot of takes. It was a little daunting, but fun.
You and Carell wear long wigs and glitzy costumes. Does that help or hinder a performance?
I don’t see how it can hinder it in any way (laughs). It can only enhance your performance. It absolutely makes it easier to be that guy, because you have to live up to the wardrobe and the hair. So it sort of forces you to be more extroverted or hammy.
You have a singular look, not one of a typical Hollywood actor. Has it gotten you parts, lost you parts?
No one’s ever said to me you didn’t get this part because of the way you looked, or I’m casting you because you look like this. And most actors that you see in films, in the supporting cast, are meant to look like people that are not the leads (laughs).
Was there a point where you started to relax, where you felt comfortable that you had made it as an actor?
No, not comfortable, but just feeling that more doors were opened or more opportunities were presented, where I could show what I could do. I think "Reservoir Dogs" really helped. Maybe even just the credit sequence that Quentin did, where you could put a name to a face, was really important.
You played Mr. Pink. Did you know that Quentin he wrote that part for himself?
Yeah, I knew that.
Any idea how you got it?
Back when I was auditioning for everything, even if it wasn’t something I thought I’d be right for, I did an audition tape for a Neil Simon film. It was a fun audition [he didn’t get the part], and I forgot about it. A year later I auditioned for "Reservoir Dogs," and Quentin told me later on that he had seen that tape, and that he thought I looked like a criminal. So seeing that tape was one of the reasons why he cast me.
How did Nucky Thompson come into your life?
Because of working with [creator-producer-writer] Terence Winter on "The Sopranos." And I was lucky that I had worked with Martin Scorsese on "New York Stories." I don’t know why they thought of me for Nucky, but I’m so grateful that they did. It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever gotten.
You’re so busy with films, did you have to think twice about committing to another TV show?
I think, boy, would I have to be stupid not to take that part (laughs)!
Ed Symkus covers movies for GateHouse Media. He has been writing about actors and filmmakers since 1987. His favorite interview was with Elliott Gould. His worst interview was with Tommy Lee Jones.