Steve Buscemi is one of my favorite actors. And it’s not just because he’s great in every role. The main reason I love his work is the way he jumps back and forth between genres in both movies and TV, and he always makes his character believable and authentic. In director Don Scardino’s upcoming comedy, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Buscemi plays a Vegas magician whose relationship with his partner (Steve Carell) becomes strained as the two start getting upstaged by a hipper illusionist (Jim Carrey).
During a break in filming last year on the Los Angeles set, I got to participate in a group interview with Buscemi. He talked about making the film, how he got involved in the project, his character, working with the rest of the cast, improvising, magic, preparing for a drama versus a comedy, and a lot more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Before getting to the interview, watch the trailer:
So talk a bit about getting involved with the project. Was this something that you went after, did it come after you?
How hard was it to work around Boardwalk Empire?
BUSCEMI: Not to bad, because we’re on hiatus now. We overlapped a little bit, but not by much, so both sides really worked hard to work the dates out.
Are you enjoying doing comedy again?
BUSCEMI: Yeah, yeah. It’s great working with Steve Carell and Jim Carrey. Those guys are really funny.
You’ve always had a great balance of dramatic work and comedy work. Is it a very different mindset coming onto a set and knowing it’s a comedy?
BUSCEMI: No, I mean, the preparation is the same. But I’d say on this it’s just a bit looser, and there’s room for improv. Whereas on, say, Boardwalk, we really stick to the script. Not that we’re not sticking to the script on this, there’s just more room for improvisation.
Do you appreciate that?
BUSCEMI: Sure, yeah. I think that really helps when you’re doing a comedy and working with guys like Steve Carell, who came from Second City. He’s really used to it, and Jim Carrey as well.
Were you a big magic fan as a kid?
Have you been picking it up again recently?
BUSCEMI: Just a little bit. We’ve been working with David Copperfield, who’s a consultant on this, and he’s been great. There’s a magician, Jonathan Levit, and he’s been teaching me some of the sleight-of-hand stuff. Yeah, it’s fun.
Can you talk a bit about what we were watching just a second ago, with you guys coming out, and where it is in the film?
BUSCEMI: It’s not the first time you see our act, but it’s sort of in the beginning. We start out as kids, and then it transitions to us as adults doing magic. Then it spans over the course of ten or 15 years, so this is now at the tail end of our partnership.
We know that you and Steve Carell’s character Burt have this kind of argument that breaks you up. What is that thing that breaks the camel’s back between your relationship? Why do you start fighting?
BUSCEMI: It really comes down to personality differences. He’s just always wanting to do things his way. Every time my character tries to introduce something new or tries something different, I just get shut down. Then it comes to a head with this stunt that goes horribly wrong in Las Vegas.
Is this your first time in a harness here?
How was it?
BUSCEMI: I’m still catching my breath, because it really is tight, so it’s a little bit hard to breath. Yeah, it was a little bit frightening at first, but after doing a few takes it was fun.
Do you have a fear of heights?
BUSCEMI: It’s funny, we do this stunt in Las Vegas where we’re suspended in the air in a plexiglass box, and I didn’t have a problem with that. But with this, when they first lifted us up on the harness and when we were coming down what I think was fast, that was a little frightening.
How many takes of this did you do?
BUSCEMI: I think we did about four.
I know that you’ve done a few episodes of 30 Rock. Have you worked with Don before?
BUSCEMI: Yeah, that’s how I met Don.
And has that relationship changed between working with him in TV and film?
BUSCEMI: Not much. There’s certainly more time to try things, and we had a whole rehearsal period, which we didn’t get on 30 Rock — you just kind of show up and rehearse it before you do it. But we had about a week and a half of just going over the script and talking about the characters, and things were changing at rehearsals, so that was nice.
A lot of actors enjoy the Clint Eastwood method of two takes, and some like the David Fincher method of 50. Where are you on that scale?
BUSCEMI: I certainly wouldn’t want to do 50 takes of flying in — or 50 takes of anything for that matter. But we’ve been averaging about five or six, and that seems about right.
If you don’t mind, what’s the most you’ve ever done in any of your projects?
BUSCEMI: I don’t tend to count. I really couldn’t tell you.
Chris just described Burt as a little bit of a douchebag. How would you describe your character? Is he shy, is he outgoing?
BUSCEMI: He’s maybe more of a thoughtful guy. I don’t know if he’s necessarily shy. But I think his feet are on the ground a little bit more. He’s in awe of Burt, and I think he really loves being in this partnership, even though at times it’s frustrating. I think he really loves having a partner, and he just thinks the world of Burt.
So does Burt get all the ladies?
Did you work at all with the actor playing you as a kid?
BUSCEMI: No, I haven’t met him yet.
Do you get approval on that?
BUSCEMI: No, I trust Don. I’m sure they’ll come up with a great kid.
I enjoyed you guys’ dance moves out there. Did you guys choreograph that together?
BUSCEMI: Some of them, but some of them were improvised on the spot.
Steve’s obviously improv’d a ton. Is it intimidating for you to go with him when he brings that sort of improv out there? Talk about that dynamic.
BUSCEMI: I never did improv professionally, but that was certainly in my training as an actor. I like it. Actually, when I did theater, I used to have a partner, and that was the way we used to write a lot of our sketches, through improvisation. So it’s something I feel comfortable with, and when you have somebody like Steve, he really listens. He really plays off of the person he’s improv’ing with. It’s a nice give and take.
Do you ever have a goal when you’re improv’ing with Steve to try and get him to break? Is that part of game?
Where does this outfit rank in craziness for the film? Is this the standard outfit, or are you guys going to go worse or better?
BUSCEMI: No, this is probably the most flamboyant.
Obviously a lot of us enjoy your work on Boardwalk Empire. Could you just talk about the enjoyment you’ve had doing it and what you’re looking forward to for next season?
BUSCEMI: Well, I just learned that the actor Bobby Cannavale has just joined the cast, so I’m really excited about that. I know very little about the arc of the third season, but I have full faith in Terence Winter, that he’ll come up with something that will be just as compelling as Season 2 and Season 1. I’m looking forward to getting back there.
Here are the rest of my on set interviews from The Incredible Burt Wonderstone which opens March 15:
- Steve Carell Talks Scary Stuntwork, Sexy Costumes, Working with Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi, and More On the Set of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
- Olivia Wilde Talks Outrageous Costumes, Improv with Steve Carell, and More On the Set of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
- Director Don Scardino Talks The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Jim Carrey’s Perfectionism, and Film vs. Digital
- Producer Chris Bender Talks the Competitive World of Professional Magic, Filming in Las Vegas, and More On the Set of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone