Steve Buscemi on the Making of Interview

Steve Buscemi has made a name for himself as a supporting character actor in many big movies, but he’s also earned a reputation as a well-respected filmmaker, which may be why the producers of Interview contacted him to helm a remake of the late Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh’s drama about a celebrity interview gone awry. It’s the first part of a planned trilogy of remakes dubbed “Triple Theo” which has Buscemi pulling double duties, directing it while playing jaded political journalist Pierre Peders, who isn’t happy about being assigned to interview a shallow actress named Katya, played by Sienna Miller. What starts out as an awkward interview turns into a night of debate and revelations.

When had a chance to talk to Buscemi about the movie, he shared a few thoughts on his co-star’s trouble with the media, the strange phenomena that is the celebrity interview, and defended Adam Sandler’s upcoming movie I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry in which he also appears. Why did you feel it was necessary to remake this movie at this particular point in time?

Steve Buscemi: I don’t know if it was necessary. I was asked to do it, and I found it a compelling film and one that is not known here. I think I would have been less inclined to make it if it was a film that was really known here. I would be very pleased if people liked this film and wanted to check out Theo’s work and then discover his film.

CS: Were you first approached as a director or as an actor and how did you end up doing both things on the movie?

Buscemi: I was approached as a director first, but they did ask me if I was interested in acting in it as well, but my first choice was to direct it, and I considered casting it with someone else, but then I decided it was too good of a role to pass up.

CS: Did it make it easier or harder, doing both at the same time?

Buscemi: I don’t know, but it’s not necessarily easier just to have another actor. In some ways, it would have been harder to schedule three people—me and two other actors—and in some ways, you’re cutting out the middleman. I’m the guy who’s doing it. Especially doing “Trees Lounge,” that whole film was so personal, it would have been hard to give that up to another actor only because I knew that character so well, but also with this character that I just felt like it was a character that I could really play, that I was right for. I didn’t feel that in the two previous films that there was a role that I could have had. It’s not like I’m looking for things that I can direct that I can also act in, but when it’s right, I feel like the actor side of me wants to have that opportunity.

CS: What made you think of Sienna for the role of Katya?

Buscemi: I think she not only looked the part, but she had the talent to back it up. This character was a very complex role with a lot of shades to it and had to have a sense of humor and I think she was able to pull that off and make the character real, make the character a human being. That’s what I was after.

CS: She’s an actress who sometimes gets overshadowed by her personal life. Was that something she wanted to play with?

Buscemi: I don’t think she gets overshadowed by it. I think her personal life is her personal life and it’s the media that makes this news out of it. I don’t think that’s her fault. She lives her life and then she has her work, but the media is really interested in her personal life, so that becomes a focus. I do find it distracting. People have asked me, “Is this good for the film that Sienna has her own tabloid interest?” And I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I do think it’s distracting.

CS: Was there something particular that Sienna had done that made you want to cast her? Did she read for the part?

Buscemi: No, I only saw “Alfie” and “Layer Cake” and an interview she did for the DVD of “Layer Cake.” It was just based on those three things. Just based on that, I thought she would be perfect for the part and we offered her the role, and she accepted the day that we made the offer.

CS: In making this film, did you set out to emulate the original movie or start fresh?

Buscemi: Well, I was certainly inspired by the first one and wanted to keep true to the spirit of the original, but I wanted to make a film that was my own and I was given that freedom. I sort of had the best of both worlds, to be working with the cinematographer and camera crew that worked on the original and to have the support of so many people who worked on the original. Like I said, the creative freedom… we changed plot points and details and naturally, it’s going to change with different casting and location, but the feeling I got from watching the original was having a real experience of being with these two people for an evening, who developed this weird codependent relationship over the course of a couple of hours and being totally absorbed in what they’re going through. That’s what I tried to keep intact.

CS: What aspects of Theo’s work did you take from the original movie?

Buscemi: I was interested in how he was able to get the performances that he got from his actors, so by employing his techniques, I think we were able to make those same discoveries. He liked to shoot the close-ups first, which I found interesting, because usually it’s done the other way around where you shoot the master and by the time you get to the close-ups, the actors are very well-rehearsed or at least they’ve decided what they want the camera to see.

CS: Is that intimidating to start with the close-ups?

Buscemi: Yeah, it was very awkward, but it was something that I wanted to try. I think it worked for the characters and it does lend an aspect in that it enhances the spontaneity that you look for, even in the close-ups.

CS: How personal did this character become for you as you were playing him? Did you find notes that rang true to you from your own experiences?

Buscemi: Well, no, but just the fact that he’s a guy who’s got a wife and a kid is already that’s something that I can relate to, and a guy who’s serious about his work and what that must mean to him to have to compromise on his work, a guy like that. I really sympathized and had empathy for him, and I also could appreciate his sense of humor and knowing his weaknesses and all of that. But that’s just fun as an actor, to have a character that has that many problems.

CS: You say he’s serious about his work but at the beginning, he shows up completely unprepared and hostile about having to belittle himself by interviewing her.

Buscemi: Yeah, but I mean that he’s serious about the world that he came from, which is political as a war correspondent, so he feels like it’s a compromise to have to this other type of work. I feel like that could be a mistake on his part that he goes into this interview with the attitude towards her, but that’s really more about him than it is about her. He brings his own baggage to the interview and he’s seemingly unprepared, but you know what? He had plenty of time to read that brief while he was waiting for her and as it was revealed, he did see at least one of her movies, and I’ll bet he knew more about her than he led on. Whether it was part of his plan to push her buttons in that way or he was doing that because he was waiting there for so long that he was going to be a little bit passive/aggressive or confrontational. These are questions that when I watch the movie, it changes even for me.

CS: Were there any journalists or scenarios you had in mind that you incorporated into this?

Buscemi: Nothing that I can say specifically and it was much more than making any commentary on the media. It was about these two very specific people.

CS: Have you ever found yourself in a similar situation where an interview crosses the line into something more intimate?

Buscemi: Yeah, but nothing like what happened in the film. Sometimes it’s weird when you’re doing these one-on-one interviews and you feel like there is a level of intimacy that is sort of reached, but then afterwards, you go, “What was that about? I don’t know that person.” So yeah, my defenses are definitely up whenever… I just think it’s just natural. I think it’s sort of an unnatural phenomenon to be interviewed.

CS: When those moments happens, does it come from a need in yourself to spill or is it a skill of the interviewer to bring that out?

Buscemi: I think it’s both. I think some people are good at drawing that out and making somebody feel comfortable enough that you’ll want to tell them that like “Oh, I can trust them” and then walk away going, “That something I told them that I don’t necessarily want to get out there.” Then you feel like, “Oh, I guess I was manipulated.”

CS: But isn’t the interview process a way for you to examine things that you wouldn’t normally think about?

Buscemi: That is what I have therapy for! (laughter) I don’t want to air that publicly. No, I understand what you mean. Look, anybody who reads an interview is looking for something other than funny stories that happened at work, and it is a fine line about how revealing you want to be and what does feel like crossing the line or you feel uncomfortable sharing with the public. By nature, I think I am a pretty private person, and that is what is hard even doing interviews for films that I really love doing, because in some ways, it diminishes the experience that I had. To have to talk about it so much with strangers that I find myself when I’m with a friend and they say, “Hey, I have a question about…” and I go (rolls eyes) but he’s the person I want to be telling! It’s tricky. It’s something that I haven’t quite figured out, but I learn as I go.

CS: Did you and Sienna talk about how these two characters deal with self-deception in the movie?

Buscemi: We really didn’t talk much. We just really rehearsed it a lot. I remember just talking with Sienna about that we don’t need to judge these characters, that there’s a reason that they do everything. It’s not always motivated by self-interest or something sinister, that they’re both survivors, and that I like them both. I didn’t have an interest about making a film about people that I wouldn’t want to be in a room with for that amount of time.

CS: The movie by its nature is very dialogue-based like a stageplay. Because you had three cameras going at all times, did you and Sienna try to do longer continuous scenes as much as possible?

Buscemi: Well, yeah, because it’s digital, you can do these really long takes and because it’s primarily one location, you can shoot in sequence, so we did that, and that’s a great tool for an actor to have. That’s why that (technique) was developed, it was for the actors. Theo came up with that because he didn’t want the actors to be off-camera. That’s one of the frustrating things about acting is that I often do my best takes off camera. It’s like, “Why wasn’t I doing this when the camera was on me?” or “You do your scene and then when it’s on me, you give a completely different performance and if I knew you were going to do that, I would have done this!” Now, with the three camera, you’re always on camera, so none of it’s lost.

CS: Is it all blocked? (note: blocking is the process in which directors decide where and how the cameras will move compared to the actors)

Buscemi: It was roughly blocked. We roughly knew where we wanted to be in the loft, but we weren’t hitting marks. In that way, it was pretty loose so if one character wanted to just walk into another area of the loft and come back, we had the freedom to do that.

CS: Is there any room for improvisation in a movie like this?

Buscemi: There definitely is, but it was tightly scripted, but the structure is set-up so that there can be improvisation and if there was, it’s not like you get it on one take, you get it on all three cameras, so you really can incorporate.

CS: Was it important to find a location that enhanced the claustrophobia of this encounter?

Buscemi: We definitely looked for a place that was big enough to inhabit all of these little worlds within that one big world, knowing that we were going to be in one location for that long. You’re right. I think it’s claustrophobic in that you usually don’t spend that much time in a film in one location with two characters, but I don’t think it was suffocating. I think it was still visually interesting with the way it was shot that it has this energy to it that I find compelling.

CS: Considering the process used, how many days did you take to shoot the movie?

Buscemi: Nine nights, but we rehearsed it for two weeks before we shot it.

CS: Were those nine nights all in a row and did that help enhance your relationship with Sienna on the film?

Buscemi: Yeah, shooting in sequence, I think it intensifies everybody’s relationship, the crew, the actors. You have to be very focused and shooting at night is a challenge, because you get tired. I think it requires a special kind of concentration but it’s also exhilarating.

CS: Has making this movie changed your approach to filmmaking and how you’ll direct or act in future films?

Buscemi: I think it all depends on what the next thing is. I think this story lent itself to the way it was shot. It really all depends on the nature of what the next thing is, but even on “Lonesome Jim” we were sometimes shooting with multiple cameras, and I think that is useful.

CS: Changing gears before we wrap things up, the gay community seems to not be too happy about your next movie “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.” From the trailer, it doesn’t look like the most gay-friendly movie of the summer.

Buscemi: What have you heard? First of all, I don’t think you can tell what any movie is like by the trailer, and the premise is two very straight guys who are homophobic, pretending to be gay. One is more homophobic than the other I think. It’s what they learn about people’s attitudes about gay people and gay marriage and that’s what I found very interesting about the film, that this is being explored in this broad comedic, hopefully commercial film, and from what I’ve experienced on set, to me it champions gay rights and gay marriage. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I think Adam has touched on this before in his movies, and I know him personally and know that he’s not homophobic, so I don’t think that is any kind of the message that he wants to portray. I haven’t seen the trailers, and I’m sorry if that’s what is seemingly coming through because I don’t believe that the film is that way, and I would not have been involved with it if I felt like that’s what it was doing. I feel like it’s bringing this to the forefront, this whole issue of gay marriage, which I think is a non-issue. I think it’s ridiculous that it’s even a debate. That “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I think it’s criminal that in the Republican debate, you have these politicians who are talking about how important the war on terror is and not one of them said that they’d repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They would rather see good soldiers being released from the military because they’re gay. I think it’s so hypocritical… and dangerous! We need every soldier… who cares if they’re gay or straight? You just want them to be good soldiers.

Interview opens today, Friday July 13, in New York and Los Angeles. Check out’s Interview with Sienna Miller.

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry opens on July 20.


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