Anyone who has ever gambled in a Las Vegas casino probably has encountered that awful downturn, the moment where your luck starts to turn bad and then even worse; soon, you’ve lost all the money you’ve gained as well as the money you had when you sat down. (Or maybe that’s just us!)
That sinking feeling seems to be the normal pattern suffered by Steve Buscemi’s John Alighieri in Hue Rhodes’ comedy Saint John of Las Vegas until he leaves Vegas and takes a job working at an insurance company in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While trying to get a raise to impress his cute cubicle neighbor Jill (Sarah Silverman), John is coerced by his tough boss (Peter Dinklage) to team with the company’s top fraud investigator Virgil, played by Romany Malco (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), to look into reports of a car accident just outside Vegas, forcing John to return to the place where his luck is at its worst. Along the way, they encounter all sorts of strange characters including a wheelchair bound stripper (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a malfunctioning human flamethrower (John Cho), and a nudist militia man played by Tim Blake Nelson, an actor who arguably shouldn’t be doing full frontal nudity. This quirky mix of strange and dark sensibilities shows that there’s a unique sense of humor at play in the film, and much of what will win most people over is the genius pairing of Buscemi and Malco.
Over the years, we’ve had the chance to talk to Buscemi quite a few times and we were equally excited to talk with Malco, having been fans of his comedy since The 40-Year-Old Virgin. ComingSoon.net sat down for an impromptu chat with the two actors who spend much of Rhodes’ movie out in the desert together.
ComingSoon.net: How long ago did you guys make this movie? It must have been some time ago, because it premiered at CineVegas last year.
Romany Malco: Yeah, August, the summer before last.
CS: How did you guys get involved with the movie? Steve, you’re also producing the movie, so did you get involved very early before casting anyone else?
CS: Was that the main reason you got more involved in production, to help other new filmmakers?
CS: Was he going to play Romany’s part by any chance?
CS: Had you had a chance to work with him since “Living in Oblivion”?
CS: Romany, how did they approach you for this? Was it the same thing where they sent the script through the normal avenues? Did you know someone involved with it?
Buscemi: We were depending on your bag of tricks! (laughter)
Malco: Yeah, you guys shut that down real quick. I remember that first day of rehearsal, I was like, “Oh, sh*t, okay…” Hue was like, “The word’s not ‘ain’t’, it’s “it’s not.”
CS: Yeah, I think we’re used to you doing far more comic, almost outlandish character roles, and in this one, you’re really playing the serious half of the equation here.
CS: There’s quite a few outlandish things in the movie, such as the characters the two of you meet along the way. When you were reading the script the first time were you thinking, “Who is Hue going to be able to convince to play this character?” Or did you just figure that Hue could pull it off and figure it out.
CS: And that role is played by John Cho, where he’s basically playing a role where no one sees his face, which is just so rare, because people are used to him playing certain characters as well.
CS: Was it Hue who decided he wanted to cast a lot of people against what they normally might do? Did that come from him mostly?
CS: Romany, what was your first impression of Virgil when you first read the script and what he brought to John’s journey? Was it very clear from the script?
CS: Right, the movie just goes against what we’re normally used to seeing. Of course, he builds John’s confidence until John sits down at the blackjack table, which is just a horrifying thing to watch, and I have to say that I had that exact same thing happen to me. Not that much money though… but have either of you guys ever had that kind of experience in Vegas or known anyone like that?
Malco: I grew up gambling. I’ve been going to the racetrack with my father since I was like seven years old. I’d place my show bets when he placed his win bets and I’d just do them through him, because at that time, you had to be 18, and I’d be the winner a lot of nights, but not really a gambler. I’d just do it because it was a way of bonding with my father, who was very much a gambler. I associated my character with street gambling, where I’ve been caught in a game of Three-Card Monte where they’re laying out three cards and you guess which one. There’s the guy dealing the cards and then there’s a guy on the side, and every time the guy dealing the cards looks away, the guy would look under the cards and go, “Oh, it’s right there.” So I’d pick that card and it wouldn’t be there. And $240 later, I’m in my car and it hits me that I’d been duped. In this particular scenario, I got to be the dealer and I saw John as me…
Buscemi: It’s funny you mention the Three-Card Monte, because I was thinking I’m not the guy who would spend his last five bucks on lottery cards, but I do remember in New York, Lower East Side, 1979, move to the city, spending my last 20 bucks, literally my last 20, on Three-Card Monte, because I saw somebody else win and it wasn’t until later where I went, “Oh, yeah. Of course that guy won. He was working with the dealer!” You think, “Oh, he just did it,” and you watch and go, “I got it!! What the f*ck!?!?” (laughter)
Malco: Yeah, we’ve had that. It happens.
CS: In New York when you’re starting out as a poor starving artist, you often think that spending your last five bucks on the lottery is what might help you, so in that sense, John is a very relatable character. Steve, you’ve played a lot of characters who gain a lot of sympathy even though you do question their reasoning and motives. Did you see something in this role that was very different from past characters you’ve played?
Malco: That’s the thing. There’s just a quality about Steve that’s himself. (To Steve) I’m not trying to read you here, but I think he’s just naturally empathetic, and I get the vibe that he can see and relate from different angles, so he sees things other than the way he sees them. In this weird way, there’s a likeability and a comfort that comes with his package and who he is. So he can play this despicable character, he can play this less than credible character, and you still develop empathy because (to Steve) I’ve never seen you play any of these characters in a glorified sense. Did you ever see a movie where these robbers come in and they rob an Asian family in their little shop in the neighborhood, and then they leave and it’s all a gangsta thing? Steve is like what happens if you STAY with the Asian family. (laughter)
Buscemi: That’s really funny, yeah.
CS: This is somewhat of a tangent, but you mentioned being a fan of Steve’s, and I know that some of the other guys from the Apatow gang, like Adam Sandler, he has worked with Steve and John Turturro. There certainly seems to be a lot of respect from the current comedy guys to the character actors who came out of New York in the ’80s, and was that something you noticed when you worked with Judd?
CS: What have you guys been working on since finishing this?
CS: You’ve also been directing a lot more television yourself in the last couple years.
CS: Romany, what do you have going on? Don’t you have another movie with Peter Dinklage yourself?
Buscemi: With Billy Connolly? Did he do “Gulliver’s Travels”? Do you know Billy Connolly?
Malco: I’m going to in a second here… I did all the shooting in England and then one week we were shooting in Ventura, so I ended up working with Jack Black the majority of the time, and I didn’t get to meet Billy. Me and Jason (Segel) missed each other by days, so no, I didn’t get to meet him. That and I’m doing the Kate Hudson movie, “Earthbound,” about a brash woman who discovers that she’s dying of cancer and meets the love of her life, and realizes that she’s more afraid of falling in love than she is of dying. I play her best friend. It’s the most emotional taxing project I’ve ever worked on. I cry almost every single time during rehearsal.