Since his breakout performance in Jim Jarmusch’s 1989 film Mystery Train, Steve Buscemi has become one of New York’s most recognizable and beloved actors. With his distinctive voice, gaunt visage and agitated manner, Buscemi has breathed life into unforgettable and eminently quotable characters in movies like The Big Lebowski, Reservoir Dogs and Fargo. In real life, the Brooklyn native (and current resident) is a far cry from the criminals and misfits he often portrays on screen. A former New York City firefighter, Buscemi returned to his old firehouse to volunteer in the weeks following 9/11, and he has been active in the relief effort post-Sandy. Most recently, his community activism has inspired him to endorse Public Advocate Bill de Blasio for mayor. City & State Editor Morgan Pehme talked with Buscemi about de Blasio, Superstorm Sandy and whether playing a party boss in Boardwalk Empire has affected his outlook on politics.
The following is an edited transcript.
City & State: Why are you supporting Bill de Blasio for mayor?
Steve Buscemi:I think he’s right for the job. I’ve known him for 12 years. I met him first when he was running for the City Council in Brooklyn. I live in Park Slope … [where] he was going door-to-door … talking to people, listening to people. It’s a quality that I like about Bill that he wants input from the community. I don’t think he’s the kind of guy that would impose his will on New York. He’s a progressive. I just agree with his outlook on things. He fights for teachers, he fights for the working class and he fights for the underprivileged. And … he’s always been there for the firefighting community. I used to see him at all the rallies and protests when they were closing firehouses in the early 2000s, and much more recently he was instrumental … in figuring out with the City Council, with the mayor, how to make the numbers work so they don’t have to close firehouses. … He’s been really helpful post-Sandy, because a lot of firefighters were struggling. We know that these communities which you don’t always see or hear about in the news, that they have such a long road ahead of them, and Bill understands that. He’s compassionate … I’ve come to him for a few things … on the ground in the Rockaways needs weren’t being met, and I gave him a call, and he got right on it. I also am pleased with what he’s done for the film industry. Part of that’s selfish on my part, because I like working in New York, and I’m grateful that I can on the show that I’m on—but I think that it’s good for New York in general to get the tax incentives that keeps the industry here. … We’ve seen in the past few years that production has really flourished.
CS: When you said that de Blasio wouldn’t impose his will on the city, was that a subtle dig at Mayor Bloomberg’s tenure in office?
SB: Of course not! Our third-term mayor? No! [Laughs] I’m really proud of Bill [for] his stance on term limits. He really stood his ground there. … And, really, I’m not out to criticize Mayor Bloomberg. I think his heart is in the right place … but I think it’s important that the city take another direction when Bloomberg leaves, and I think that Bill is the right person to lead us in that direction and take all of us along with him—every borough and people in every walk of life who live in this city.
CS: Celebrity endorsements often get a fair amount of ink, but do you think that they motivate people to actually vote for a candidate?
SB: I’ve never been swayed by a celebrity. [Laughs] I think what it does maybe is if you hear, you know, Alec Baldwin say something, that he’s interested in Bill de Blasio, maybe that will prompt people to take a closer look at Bill who maybe weren’t looking so closely. But no, I don’t generally believe that there’s people who say, “Oh, I’ll vote for whoever Steve Buscemi votes for.”
CS: Do you intend to endorse any other candidates this cycle?
CS: As a former firefighter and a Brooklynite, what has been your take on the government’s response to Superstorm Sandy?
SB: I find that there’s been a general lack of communication on the ground. I think the volunteers’ effort has been truly amazing, and that they have led the effort. From what I’ve seen, [many people] don’t really even know how to get the support [they need] because … it just doesn’t seem that accessible. That’s on a citywide level. And I know that the mayor’s office has been doing a lot of wonderful things, and they have been trying, but I just find that they haven’t been leading the effort, and that’s what’s been frustrating.
CS: Has playing a politician in Boardwalk Empire influenced your thinking about politics?
SB: It makes me more interested in politics in general, just sort of reading about it, and kind of seeing how things were done back then, [and] seeing how things are done now. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing a politician. Of course, Nucky’s no longer a politician, and I actually miss that. [Laughs]
CS: We’ve had so many troubles in New York since 2001. Are you optimistic about the future of the city?
SB: I am optimistic only … because it’s New York, and I think that New Yorkers will see their way through … I’ve seen a lot of strength on the ground. I’ve seen firefighters who not only went through a harrowing experience during the storm but … a lot of them, their own homes were damaged either by flooding or fire, and I’ve seen other firefighters come in and pitch in. There was this amazing effort in Breezy Point where this whole pump-and-gut operation was led by firefighters on their days off. When I see people doing that, I just go, “Wow, I love the people in this city.”