Welcome to Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten or unknown film and TV credits.
This week we take a look at the always reliable character actor Steve Buscemi, best known for his roles in Reservoir Dogs, Boardwalk Empire, Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Armageddon. If you’ve watched cinema and television throughout the years then you’ll have experienced his presence on your screens, and even if what he’s starring in is less than stellar, you can always bet on a great performance from Buscemi.
However, what makes Buscemi so likeable (in addition to his talent) is just how damn good a person he is. Prior to acting he was a New York firefighter, and during 9/11 he returned to his old station to help with their cause for a week. The world only learned that news a couple of years ago, which just goes to show how truly selfless and wonderful this man is.
But we’re here to talk about some of his overlooked cinematic and television gems, and this week we’ve struck gold.
Before going on to costar in Boardwalk Empire, Steve Buscemi and Michael Pitt were paparazzo and assistant in the 2006 film, Delirious. Pitt is Toby, who runs into Buscemi’s Les trying to snap photos of the singer, K’Harma (Alison Lohman). After failing to fetch Les a coffee, Toby shows up at Les’ apartment with the change and ends up taking roost in his closet.
A homeless, would-be actor, it’s telling that Toby’s breakout role is ‘homeless man who stabs a guy in the park.’ When Les invites Toby into his home we believe he’s taking a risk, because that’s what the movies tell us. Never mind that Toby fixes household items without being asked. He can’t be trusted at face value. Meanwhile, victim is Les’ go to deflection. It’s successful for a long time because Buscemi unveils Les’ paranoia in stages.
Paparazzi have their own stereotypes to contend with, after all, and hair and wardrobe in this movie is a gift that never stops giving. Sporting the outward slime and tackiness of the trade, Les isn’t embarrassed by his pleather yellow jacket or ink slick hair. He’s proud of it. He thinks he looks great, and it’s that attitude that entitles him entry to every fancy shindig that tenders goody bags.
Movies show the humanity in people who do horrible things and Delirious would be that film for photographers who stalk celebrities for money. However, it’s not their scruples that are meant to be defended. We get tricked into standing up for Les’ profession, when his parents condemn it so cruelly, but his profession is rotten. K’Harma doesn’t deserve to be followed and the film is very fair about showing her have the troubled celebrity tantrum, but without getting deemed a spoiled brat. She’s not upset about nonfat yogurt but an overly demanding schedule, and she doesn’t work her sob story as an apology but actually says the words “I’m sorry.”
Les can’t do that. Trust issues cause him to treat a lot of people like crap over the course of this movie and, while his problems start out as self-sabotage, they never stay that way. Eager to cast blame on everyone but himself, Toby is always ungrateful. Les is always a saint. What Les is is a person in dire need of a friend, but after how he uses Toby, he’d be lucky to warrant a second chance. If that sounds harsh, then you haven’t seen Delirious.
Verdict: Buried Treasure
Tales from the Crypt: “Forever Ambergris” (1993)
It’s interesting to revisit Tales from the Crypt and spotting all the guest stars. From Brad Pitt to Daniel Craig, the show featured some of the biggest names to ever grace the big screen throughout the years, and because of that, it’s easy to overlook their small screen work. Steve Buscemi might not have the mega star prowess of Pitt and 007, but even I was surprised to find that he was one of many big names to crop up in one of the Crypt Keeper’s spooky tales, and it’s a good episode in a series I really need to revisit.
“Forever Ambergis’’ revolves around a jealous, washed up photographer Dalton (Roger Daltrey), who seeks to get his career back on track by plotting the demise of his younger, talented protégé, Ike (Steve Buscemi) when they’re on an assignment in the wilds of Central America.
Based on a title of the same name from the iconic EC Comics series of which the show is based on, which told the story of sailors instead of photographers, “Forever Ambergris’’ is a satisfying slice of jealousy, betrayal and revenge. Basically, it’s standard Tales fare that reminded me just how fantastic this show was, even though it’s a far cry from the series’ apex. The story is fine, but it’s the acting from the two leads that elevates the episode.
Buscemi slides into the role as easily as you’d expect as the young, fresh photographer. However, Daltrey steals the show spectacularly as his conniving, sleazy mentor. Sure, Ike is a likable kid and all, but you almost wish for Dalton to succeed in his mission because you just want slimeballs this awesome to potentially grace the screen again in another story. I do have a tendency to root for the baddies, however. I’d say Daltrey’s performance here is up there with the best Who jams he’s known best for…
This is a great fun.
Verdict: Buried Treasure
Things to Do In Denver When You’re Dead (1996)
By Adam Thomas
Let’s start this off with a question. Have you ever seen a picture of or a performance by Steve Buscemi and thought “This guy looks like a serious bad-ass?” If no was your answer, don’t worry, you fit right in with everyone else in the world. However, if you do in fact want to see an occurrence where that bizarre scenario actually comes to fruition, look no further than Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead.
Considered by many to be the greatest Tarantino film that Tarantino didn’t actually have anything to do with, it contains one of the coolest casts possible: Andy Garcia, Treat Williams, Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Christopher Walken and of course, the man of the hour: Steve Buscemi. It’s filled to the brim with not only powerhouse performances, but also with slick dialogue and a awesome crime caper story. So yeah, Tarantino….
Andy Garcia is sort of the leader of a group of has-been criminals that come together for one last score so they can all retire and live a life full of boat drinks. Naturally, they botch the hell out of the job and then the proverbial shit hits the fan. Forced to answer to the head mafioso and accept whatever punishment dished out, they are given a “buckwheat”. Buckwheat in this film means a slow painful death exacted by an appropriate agent. That agent, the killer of killers, the one you call to do the dirtiest of work is none other than Steve Buscemi.
While his role lasts all of 10 minutes, his presence is always looming causing a constant fear and worry amongst our protagonists. He is such a cool and calm killer that does not give a damn where his targets may be, he’s going to get them. He walks right into a busy nightclub that is harboring one of the crew, demands he be brought to him and when he is denied, he single handedly decimates the bulk of the patrons with closelines, knives and handguns. Unbelievable.
So, I know I didn’t get into the meat of the film and that’s because it would ruin the experience.. I truly believe that this movie needs more attention than it has garnered to this point. This would fit nicely on a shelf next to Reservoir Dogs and Heat. Dingy, dark and daring. Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead needs to be unearthed.
Verdict: Buried Treasure
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (2002)
Robert Rodriguez’s films are not without their quirks, and the casting of Steve Buscemi as the neurotic scientist Romero was just one of the many charms of the sequel to Rodriguez’s first family-film franchise, Spy Kids (2001). Since the first entry in the film, the precedent was set for these secret agent siblings to encounter and combat the imaginative and absolutely bonkers villains. Spy Kids pitted the kids in finding and rescuing several lost agents from a deranged children’s show host, who has mutated them into chipmunk-sounding multicolored mutants for the show’s cast. The henchmen are giant walking thumbs, robotic doppelgangers of the kids, and a cast of “Fooglies” (read: mutant freaks) that stand in the way of finding the prisoners of the madcap host. Sound like the ramblings of a journeyman who talks to buildings at 2.00 AM while tripping on peyote? Take a look at this clip for a sizeable peek into the gaping maw of madness.
With such a high bar set, it seemed almost impossible for a sequel to outshine the predecessor. That notion was crushed by Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, where the two travelled to an island to stop a mad scientist from creating a colony of dangerous hybrid species (as in a monkey and a spider put together) from wreaking havoc on the world. This scientist named Romero is played by our golden boy, Steve Buscemi. His role in the film does add to its overall zaniness, but it also brings forth a surprisingly profound revelation that one would not expect to find in a movie that is so obviously for kids.
The eponymous kid spies stumble onto the lair of Romero, and interrogate him about the damage his beasts have caused. Romero, a neurotic and off-kilter man, profusely apologizes but claims that the animals are out of control. He introduces them to the idea that started it all: a miniaturized zoo full of miniaturized animals. When he created it, he figured that kids would be thrilled by having “their own miniature zoos, right there in their bedrooms,” and he would make a fortune from it. One day, he experimented and created the hybrid miniature animals (usually a pun in their name, like the aforementioned “spider monkey” or “horse fly.”) From there, Romero wanted to know if these hybrid beasts could live like real, life-sized animals. He added a growth serum, which caused the beasts to grow to giant status, leaving Romero holed up in his hovel as the monsters ran amok on the island.
Buscemi’s performance as Romero certainly presents itself as fitting for the series’ manic nature, but Buscemi takes the character’s plight a step further when he utters a bone-chilling quote: “Do you think God stays in heaven because he too is afraid of what he created?” Romero’s tragedy transcends the goofiness of the franchise, though when he teams up with the spy kids he does provide semblances of neurotic comedy.
Buscemi’s presence as this tragic mad scientist brings an edge to a series that has usually been about whacked-out premises and completely psychedelic visuals made on the cheap, and the Romero character is one of the most redeeming parts of the film. While it may be a bit too saturated in guano-level lunacy, Romero’s parts are (somewhat) grounded in understandable human conditions.
Verdict: Buried Treasure