Over the years Steve Buscemi has gained a reputation for playing lovable losers in films “Fargo,” “Trees Lounge,” “The Big Lebowski,” and “Ghost World.”
But the 60-year-old actor recently told me he actually disagrees with this label Lovable? Sure. Losers? How can they be? “They haven’t given up.”
Buscemi’s powerful yet empathetic approach to his roles has turned him into one of the most beloved character actors in movie history.
“Lean On Pete” is yet another example of his prowess, and I recently had the chance to talk to him about the emotional drama, director Andrew Haigh, his reputation for playing loveable losers, and his troubled past with mentors.
What originally attracted you to “Lean On Pete”?
On anything I always look to see who is involved before I even read the script. Andrew’s work definitely made me interested. I liked the script. I just liked the whole thing. Del just seemed like a character I could have fun with. I kind of like that he was a hard scrabble guy. But you could tell underneath that at one point in his life he was more like Charlie. I thought that definitely came through. But in subtle ways. So I liked it.
“Lean On Pete” feels like a rare film in the modern movie climate.
I think Andrew is a rarity. It all comes down to the filmmaker. If you want to make a film like this you just get it done. There aren’t that many films out there that are really about something. You have to search for them. I think the ones that get picked up for release are maybe safer bets. I really hand it to A24 for getting behind this film. I do think there are filmmakers out there like Andrew that are interested in getting films like this made. I will say that there is a lot that I love about this film for what it is and for what it isn’t. There’s a lot of times it could have slipped into sentimentality or big emotional moments, or musical swelling. It resisted it all. And just kind of told the story. In a simple and powerful way. It would have been so easy to push the emotion. Andrew trusts his audience to get things. He doesn’t need to hammer shots, sounds and moments over your head so that you know how to feel.
There’s also a strong working class root to the film that we don’t often see nowadays.
I think definitely characters like Charlie are underrepresented in film. What I love about “Lean On Pete” is that it is full of heart and makes you think of people like him. Not necessarily people that young, too. But how do people end up like they do? Charlie is definitely someone who could fall through the cracks of society. It is kind of like he has been through his own war zone. The film isn’t without hope, though. Because he has these really rich experiences, too. He gets to see a side of the world that most people are protected from.
Del is another character you play that is described as a lovable loser, even in the press notes for the film.
I’ve never paid much attention to labels. The loveable loser thing I have heard before. But I don’t see any of the characters I play as losers. They haven’t given up. They’re still in the game. Del is still trying hard. If he is lovable. Then I take it. But he is a hard ass, too. The world is full of characters like this. When I was Charlie’s age I would always love meeting older characters who were really salty, maybe you didn’t want to hang around them too much, but I was always grateful for that experience and hanging out and talking to them.
Did you ever have your own mentor? One that guided you, or took advantage of you in some way?
When I first moved into New York City the guy who lived on my floor, in the first building I ever lived in. Which was on Avenue A in the East Village in the late 70s. There was a guy who took a liking to me. He worked for a furniture moving company. One day they were short and he asked me if I wanted work today. I did it, he took me under his wing. We became friends. He was an older guy that was into things I was just learning about. He was into the beat poets, Kerouac, and we shared the same musical tastes. He taught me a lot. But he lived hard. He ended up leaving New York for a while. Then coming back a few years later. But in a desperate way. I was living in a bigger place and had a better job. He asked if he could stay with me. He slept on my couch for months. He ended up robbing me and leaving town and I never saw him again [Laughs]. But I don’t regret knowing him.
“Lean On Pete” is released on April 6.