Since his landmark role in the Coen brothers’ 1996 masterpiece “Fargo,” Steve Buscemi has made a career of playing ill-fated underdogs. As executive producer and lead actor in his latest project, “St. John of Las Vegas,” that persona hasn’t changed much. But Buscemi has found that adventure comes from working with newcomers, like this project’s director, Hue Rhodes.
You’ve mentioned you like working with first-time directors, but they must make a lot of rookie mistakes. Why work with them?
It kind of brings you back to your own roots, to feel like what it is to start new again. I like having that fresh perspective of someone who is really discovering things and has a certain kind of enthusiasm that you really only get with first-timers.
Do you find there’s a common thread in all the characters you’ve portrayed?
I mean, I like playing guys who have problems and are struggling. I like material that has humor in it. Other than the fact that they’re all played by me, I don’t know that there are other common threads.
Your character in “St. John” is a compulsive gambler. Do you play the slots much?
No. I’m too cheap. In order to win big you have to bet big. I’m just not willing to do that. It’s fun to play a little black jack but no, I feel like life is enough of a gamble.
Speaking of risks, we heard you used to be a fireman.
Well, I was a firefighter in the early ’80s in Manhattan. After 9/11, I worked with my former company at Ground Zero and volunteered my time for about a week at the site.
Countering that generosity, what is your biggest flaw?
I don’t know. I don’t think anything physical. Sometimes I wish I was more disciplined. Sometimes I wish I prepared better. Other than that, I feel pretty good and lucky.