One of the most important character actors of the 1990s, Steve Buscemi is unmatched in his ability to combine lowlife posturing with weasely charisma. Although active in the cinema since the mid-'80s, it was not until Quentin Tarantino cast Buscemi as Mr. Pink in the 1992 Reservoir Dogs that the actor became known to most audience members. He would subsequently appear to great effect in other Tarantino films, as well as those of the Coen Brothers, where his attributes blended perfectly into the off-kilter landscape.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, on December 13, 1957, Buscemi was raised on Long Island. He gained an interest in acting while a senior in high school, but he had no idea of how to pursue a professional career in the field. Working as a fireman for four years, he began to perform stand-up comedy, but he eventually realized that he wanted to do more dramatic theatrical work. After moving to Manhattan's East Village, he studied drama at the Lee Strasberg Institute, and he also began writing and performing skits in various parts of the city. His talents were eventually noticed by filmmaker Bill Sherwood, who was casting his film Parting Glances. The 1986 drama was one of the first feature films to be made about AIDS (Sherwood himself died from AIDS in 1990), and it starred Buscemi as Nick, a sardonic rock singer suffering from the disease. The film, which was a critical success on the independent circuit, essentially began Buscemi's career as a respected independent actor.
Buscemi's resume was given a further boost that same year by his recurring role as a serial killer on the popular TV drama L.A. Law; he subsequently began finding steady work in such films as New York Stories and Mystery Train (both 1989). In 1990, he had another career breakthrough with his role in Miller's Crossing, which began his longtime collaboration with the Coen brothers. The Coens went on to cast Buscemi in nearly all of their films, featuring him to particularly memorable effect in Barton Fink (1991), in which he played a bell boy; Fargo (1996), which featured him as an ill-fated kidnapper; and The Big Lebowski (1998), which saw him portray a laid-back ex-surfer.
Although Buscemi has done his best work outside of the mainstream, turning in other sterling performances in Alexandre Rockwell's In the Soup (1992) and Tom Di Cillo's Living in Oblivion (1995), he has occasionally appeared in such Hollywood megaplex fare as Con Air (1997), Armageddon (1998), Big Daddy (1999), and 28 Days (2000), the last of which cast him against type as Sandra Bullock's rehab counselor. Back in indieville, Buscemi would next utilize his homely persona in a more sympathetic manner as a soulful loner with a penchant for collecting old records in director Terry Zwigoff's (Crumb) Ghost World. Despite all indicators pointing to mainstream prolifieration in the new millennium, Buscemi continued to display his dedication to independent film projects with roles in such efforts as Alaxandre Rockwell's 13 Moons and Peter Mattei's Love in the Time of Money (both 2002). Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and Buscemi's memorable appearances in such big budget efforts as Mr Deeds and both Spy Kids 2 and Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over served to remind audiences that Buscemi was still indeed at the top of his game, perhaps now more than ever.
In 1996, Buscemi made his screenwriting and directorial debut with Trees Lounge, a well-received comedy drama in which he played a down-on-his-luck auto mechanic shuffling through life on Long Island. He followed up his directorial debut in 2000 with Animal Factory, a subdued prison drama starring Edward Furlong as a young inmate who finds protection from his fellow prisoners in the form of an older convict (Willem Dafoe). Moving to the small screen, Buscemi would next helm an episode of the acclaimed HBO mob drama The Sopranos. Called Pine Barrens, the episode instantly became a fan-favorite.
In 2004, Buscemi stepped in front of the camera once again to join the cast of The Sopranos, costarring as Tony Blundetto, a recently paroled mafioso struggling to stay straight in the face of temptation to revert back to his old ways. In 2005 Buscemi reteamed with Michael Bay for The Island in the same year that he directed another low-budget film, Lonesome Jim, with a stellar cast that included Seymour Cassel, Mary Kay Place, Liv Tyler, Casey Affleck, and Kevin Corrigan. He also played one of the leads in John Turturro's musical Romance & Cigarettes. His very busy 2006 included an amusing cameo in Terry Zwigoff's Art School Confidential, and continued work in animated films, with vocal appearances in Monster House and Charlotte's Web (2006). His contributions to those projects earned critical acclaim; Buscemi achieved an even greater feat, however, that same year, when he mounted his fifth project as director, Interview (2007). Like Trees Lounge (1996), Lonesome Jim (2005) and other Buscemi-helmed outings, this searing, acerbic comedy-drama spoke volumes about Buscemi's talent and intuition, and arguably even suggested that his ability as a filmmaker outstripped his ability as a thespian. With great precision and insight, the narrative observed a roving paparazzi journalist (Buscemi) during his unwanted yet surprisingly pretension-stripping pas-de-deux with a manipulative, coke-addled prima donna actress (Sienna Miller).
At about the same time, the quirky player geared up for a host of substantial acting roles including parts in We're the Millers (2008), Igor (2008) and Keep Coming Back (2008). He appeared as the father of a deceased soldier in The Messenger in 2009, and the next year he landed the lead role of Nucky Thompson, an Irish gangster, in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. His work on that show would earn him Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe awards.