Actor Steve Buscemi believes in luck, up to a point. As he notes, it usually has nothing to do with what you do to get it but what you do with it.
"I think luck sometimes has its place," the 52-year-old actor says in a telephone interview. "You should never depend on it, though. I've always believed in doing things yourself and making your own breaks."
The luckiest thing that ever happened to him? "Being born in New York. I liked growing up there. I give a lot of credit to people who are from the Midwest who make the decision to come to New York. It can be intimidating. It's intimidating enough to move to the Lower East Side from Long Island, which is what I did. I feel lucky I knew New York a little before I moved here."
The vagaries of luck come up because Buscemi is on the line to pump St. John of Las Vegas, a film that opens in limited release today (1/29/10). In it, he plays an insurance adjuster with a gambling problem, who has to steel himself when he's given an assignment to investigate a possible insurance fraud in Las Vegas. The film is one of those rare instances where he gets to play a lead, instead of a sidekick or foil.
"I always like playing characters who are going through something, who are complex and funny," Buscemi says. "I like a character-driven film, but I like ensemble films too. This one fit the bill. It was more character-driven than plot-driven. He has a past, he's trying to rebuild his life - but he still has this weakness and yearning for his former life as a gambler. That's an everyday struggle for him."
Buscemi is not only the star but an executive producer on St. John, a co-production with Olive Productions, a company Buscemi started with his friend, Stanley Tucci: "We came on as co-producers. It seemed to make sense. At the same time we were putting the company together, the film was being put together. We helped in casting, crew and such.
"We've been developing a couple of TV ideas. We've been getting close on a couple of films that Stanley and I would like to direct. This climate is really tough. It's always tough with independent film."
If there's an actor who has come to embody independent film, it's Buscemi, whose first starring role, in 1986's Parting Glances, happened to be as one of the first movie characters ever depicted as suffering from AIDS. In the subsequent 25 years, Buscemi has amassed scores of film credits and nearly as many TV roles. He's worked with everyone from Jim Jarmusch to the Coen brothers to Quentin Tarantino to Robert Altman to Martin Scorsese to Michael Bay.
He's a go-to guy for the Coens, having appeared in more Coen films (six) than any other actor - but he's also a regular in the films of Adam Sandler. He's as visible in the indy scene as he is in big-budget fare (Con Air, Armageddon"). On TV, he's appeared in everything from Nickelodeon's Pete and Pete and The Simpsons to Miami Vice, 30 Rock and, of course, The Sopranos.
It's a long way from Valley Stream, L.I., where Buscemi grew up, or even from the Lower East Side, where he did everything from tend bar to become a firefighter, while also trying to gain a foothold as an actor.
"When I started, I couldn't imagine I'd be doing what I'm doing," he says.