He was a ruthless gangster in "Reservoir Dogs"; a serial killer in "Con Air"; a kidnapper in "Fargo"; and the Best Man from Hell in "The Wedding Singer."
Long a second (or third) fiddle, and a familiar face in independent films and blockbusters alike, Steve Buscemi climbed to stardom in the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire" (now beginning its fifth season), playing a crooked and cruel politician.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
Back at Engine 55
As a kid growing up on Long Island, N.Y., Steve Buscemi had dreams of being an actor. But his father, a career sanitation worker, had another dream for his four sons: a steady paycheck.
"Whatever civil service exam came up when we were 18, we had to take it if we chose to live under his roof," Buscemi told correspondent Tracy Smith.
And the idea was? "He was looking out for us."
Buscemi took and passed the test for firefighters, and in 1981 wound up at Engine 55 in Lower Manhattan.
"It was very intimidating," he said. "I was just nervous, you know? I was like the quietest guy in the firehouse for a long time."
And when his shift ended, he'd moonlight as an actor, performing with experimental theatre companies (such as the Wooster Group), or in short films by up-and-coming directors like Christine Vachon.
He kept up his double life for four years. But when he got a part in the Bill Sherwood movie "Parting Glances," playing a gay man with AIDS, he quit the department.
The guys at Engine 55 thought he was nuts.
"They were really worried about me," Buscemi said. "Because nobody leaves this job, you know? You just don't. You don't leave, first of all, a great job like this, and then also a secure job."
After playing a drug dealer on "Miami Vice" (top left) Buscemi played other low-lifes on "The Equalizer" ("A weasely guy who worked in a pawn shop"), and a character named Switchblade in the movie "Call Me" (top right, bottom).
"It was kind of fun to play these guys -- your hair slicked back, and the cheap leather maroon jackets. But I never would've imagined that years later, I would be playing, like, a boss on 'Boardwalk Empire.'"
Buscemi also began working for such directors as Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese, Abel Ferrara, and the Coen Brothers.
"In the Soup"
Alexandre Rockwell's Sundance award-winner "In the Soup" (1992) starred Steve Buscemi as an aspiring and desperate screenwriter who finds a possible guardian angel for his moribund film project in a gangster and wannabe-producer (Seymour Cassel).
In "Reservoir Dogs" (1992), Steve Buscemi played Mr. Pink, one of a band of jewel thieves who turn on one another when the heist goes sour. Harvey Keitel (as Mr. White) co-starred in the film that put writer-director Quentin Tarantino on the map - and that gave Buscemi one of his most memorable characters.
"I was lucky to do 'Reservoir Dogs'; Quentin gave us all a gift. In the beginning of the film, those credits, you see the face, and the name was, like, right there in the beginning. And so it did [alert] people who may have known my face before that, but were like, Who is this guy? Now they knew the name better. And within the industry, I felt like I was better known. And so I didn't have to move out [to L.A.]. And it was really because of that film."
"Living in Oblivion"
Steve Buscemi played the frustrated director of a low-budget movie in Tom DiCillo's comedy-drama, "Living in Oblivion" (1995), inspired by DiCillo's own tortured efforts to get projects in front of the camera.
In addition to Danielle Von Zerneck, Dermot Mulroney, Kevin Corrigan and Hilary Gilford (pictured, left), the cast included Catherine Keener and, in his film debut, Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones").
After appearing in small roles in "Miller's Crossing," "Barton Fink," and "The Hudsucker Proxy," the Coen Brothers cast Steve Buscemi in the critical role of Carl Showalter, a petty criminal and none-too-brilliant kidnapper, in their darkly-comic crime film, "Fargo" (1996).
"It's the Coen Brothers - this is who you want to play these creeps for," Buscemi laughed. "Because the dialogue is so great, and the story itself, I thought, was really moving. I felt like I was a part of something that was just really special. If it was that character in another type of film, and if the dialogue wasn't the way it was, I probably wouldn't have wanted to do it."
Peter Stormare and Steve Buscemi as the kidnappers in the Coen Brothers' "Fargo" (1996). Spoiler: One of these two ends up in a wood chipper.
Tracy Smith remarked that of the "creepy" characters Buscemi has played, they are mostly "sympathetic creepy guys. There's something that you find to like about them. Is that important to you, to make them likable?"
"It's not important to me that they're likable," he replied. "But there has to be something that I like about them. So like Carl Showalter in 'Fargo,' I wouldn't necessarily want to hang out with that guy. But in just thinking about him, thinking of what he's been through in his life and what makes him the way he is, it makes me have sympathy for him, and makes me like something about him.
"I like playing characters who have problems, who are struggling with something and who don't have it all figured out, you know? That's exciting. It's fun."
In "Trees Lounge" (1996), his film film as a director, Steve Buscemi played an alcoholic seeking direction in his life, who takes over his late uncle's ice cream truck route.
Steve Buscemi was among the tough cast of Robert Altman's crime drama, "Kansas City" (1996).
"The Big Lebowski"
The Dude (Jeff Bridges) commiserates with his bowling buddies, Donny (Steve Buscemi) and Walter (John Goodman), in the Coen Brothers' comedy, "The Big Lebowski" (1998).
What do you do when you discover an asteroid hurtling toward Earth? Get a team that includes Steve Buscemi, Will Patton, Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck and Michael Clarke Duncan to save the world, as in Michael Bay's 1998 blockbuster, "Armageddon."
"Right before I did 'Armageddon' I did Stanley Tucci's film, 'The Imposters,' and it was really important for me to do Stanley's film. As I remember it, the dates were conflicting, and I said to my agent at the time, 'You know I'm gonna pick Stanley's film over "Armageddon." I don't care.' And they worked out the dates.
"But it's great to do. I loved the fact that they wanted me to do 'Armageddon.' And I thought that Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay were really smart in the cast that they put together, 'cause it was really like an independent film cast. And it afforded me the opportunity after that to do films with Tom DiCillo ["Living in Oblivion"] and Alexandre Rockwell ["In the Soup"], guys whose work I so admire."
Adam Sandler's Buddy
Buscemi has appeared in several Adam Sandler comedies, including "Big Daddy" (left), "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry" (center), and "Mr. Deeds."
The Concert for New York City
Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi are seen backstage at The Concert for New York City at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Oct. 20, 2001, benefiting victims of the World Trade Center attacks.
Thora Birch played a high school student who slowly befriends a lonely man (Steve Buscemi) in Terry Zwigoff's "Ghost World" (2001).
Independent Spirit Awards
Actor Steve Buscemi accepts his award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in "Ghost World," at the 2002 IFP/West Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, Calif.
"Coffee & Cigarettes"
Cinque Lee and Joie Lee are waited on by Steve Buscemi in Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes" (2003).
Steve Buscemi as poet Norther Winslow in Tim Burton's 2003 fantasy, "Big Fish."
Sundance Film Festival
Actor Steve Buscemi ("Lonesome Jim") poses for a portrait during the 2005 Sundance Film Festival January 24, 2005 in Park City, Utah.
Steve Buscemi appeared in the 2005 science fiction thriller, "The Island," alongside Ewan McGregor and his "Ghost World" costar, Scarlett Johansson.
On the TV series, "The Sopranos," Steve Buscemi played Anthony Blundetto, a cousin of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), who tries - and fails - to steer for himself a life away from crime.
Buscemi also directed four episodes of the series, for which he earned his second Directors Guild of America Award nomination (his first being for "Homicide: Life on the Street").
"Paris, je t'aime"
In the anthology film "Paris, je t'aime" (2006), Steve Buscemi starred in a segment directed by the Coen Brothers, about a man at a Paris Metro station who finds himself in the middle of a passionate argument between two Parisians.
Steve Buscemi directed the 2007 "Interview," a remake of a Dutch film by Theo Van Gogh, in which a journalist interviews a TV soap star (Sienna Miller). Various ethical lines are crossed.
Sarasota Film Festival
Actor Steve Buscemi speaks during the Sarasota Film Festival April 17, 2007 in Sarasota, Fla.
"The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"
Steve Buscemi and Steve Carell played flamboyant (and dated) Las Vegas stage magicians in the comedy, "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone" (2013).
Steve Buscemi as crooked politician "Nucky" Thompson on the HBO series, "Boardwalk Empire."
He told Tracy Smith that he did not think he'd get the role. "When I read the pilot script, I thought, 'Oh my God, I could really do this part. I really want to do this part.'
"Terry Winter [with whom Buscemi had worked on 'The Sopranos'] was doing it, and Martin Scorsese, who I had worked with. And it was HBO. So I was flattered that I was even being considered. But I just thought, 'No, I'm just a name on a list. I wasn't sure why I was even being considered! I thought that they sort of needed, like, maybe, a bigger name. Or even a bigger guy!"
"And the truth is, they didn't have a list of names -- you were the list, right?" said Smith.
"There had to be somebody else that they were thinking of, you know? I don't want to know! But I'm glad it was me. I feel really blessed."
Kelly Macdonald as Margaret Schroeder, mistress and later wife of "Nucky" Thompson (Steve Buscemi), in "Boardwalk Empire."
Screen Actors Guild Awards
Steve Buscemi (center) is pictured in the press room at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California on January 29, 2012.
For the second consecutive year, Buscemi won two SAG Awards for "Boardwalk Empire" – for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series, and Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series.
9/11 Memorial Service
Actor and former FDNY firefighter Steve Buscemi greets firefighters after a memorial service at Old St. Pat's Church to mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks - when 343 firefighters who died in the line of duty - on September 11, 2011 in New York City.
"A Good Job"
In 2014 Buscemi produced the HBO documentary "A Good Job," filled with interviews (done by Buscemi himself) that offer an inside look at what it means to be a firefighter in New York City.
"Firefighters are great at helping others," he said. "They're great at helping each other. But they don't always know that they themselves are in need, you know? Their first reaction would be, 'Oh, the next guy has it worse, you know? It was nothing, you know, that I went through. It wasn't just that bad. But that guy? Oh, that family, you know? They had it worse. So what right do I have to seek any kind of help?' So really the film is for them."
Steve Buscemi and Jo Andres
An undated portrait of actor Steve Buscemi and his wife, artist Jo Andres. The two have been married for 27 years and have one son.
Steve Buscemi and Jo Andres
Actor Steve Buscemi and his wife, artist Jo Andres, attend the Season Five Premiere of "Boardwalk Empire" at the Ziegfeld Theatre, September 3, 2014 in New York City.
Steve Buscemi (center) with director Tim Van Patten and Shea Whigham on the set of "Boardwalk Empire."
The series' final season premieres on HBO September 7.
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