Brooklyn-born Steve Buscemi is the latest US celebrity to go digging up his family’s past for the American version of Who Do You Think You Are? USA tonight (10:45pm, BBC1, BBC1 HD). Most recently seen presiding over Sky’s Boardwalk Empire as crooked politician Enoch “Nucky” Thompson, the wan-faced actor is best known for bringing edgy life to supporting roles in which he lurks malevolently on the fringes.
So, as Steve goes in search of the real-life characters who shaped his family history, we look back at the stand-out roles from his career so far, from the geek to the gangster to the gay lover.
Love interest: Nick, Parting Glances, 1986
Buscemi’s career in film begins – surprisingly, perhaps – not with a crook or a weirdo but as young, gay, HIV-positive rock singer Nick, in one of the first American movies to deal with the subject of Aids. A romantic comedy drama, Nick is the former lover of Michael – now with new partner Robert but still really in love with Nick. The New York Times praised newcomer Buscemi for his “powerfully anarchic presence”.
Gangster: Mr Pink, Reservoir Dogs, 1992
Buscemi got the chance to look evil in a sharp suit as Mr Pink in Quentin Tarantino’s debut crime thriller, picking up the role from Tarantino, who originally intended to play the part himself. Mr Pink likes to skive off when the shooting begins and appears to be the only survivor when all the other Misters have gone down. Famously hates to tip and positively struts through that unforgettable title sequence.
Barfly: Tommy, Trees Lounge, 1996
Having by now excelled on the sidelines playing drug dealers, pimps and mobsters, Buscemi gave himself a casting break when he took the lead in Trees Lounge, which he wrote and directed. Slowing the pace for this Cassavetes-inspired slice-of-life movie, Buscemi claimed Tommy, an unemployed mechanic, was the person he might have been had he not left his home town for the bright lights of Manhattan. An amiable slacker who’s drifting gently into a lonely middle age, Tommy’s going nowhere on a daily basis at the local bar.
Mad scientist: Rockhound, Armageddon, 1998
Combining creepiness and cleverness, Rockhound is a complex character who runs amok in space in this blockbusting disaster movie about a team of scientists tasked with saving planet Earth from an oncoming asteroid. Plenty of smart comedic one-liners for Buscemi meant he stole a lot of scenes from A-listers Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton and Ben Affleck, who were busy being action heroes.
Geek: Seymour, Ghost World, 2001
How to play a middle-aged misfit who befriends an adolescent girl – and still have the audience onside at the end credits? Buscemi took on the challenge and delivered an award-winning performance. Adapted from Daniel Clowes’s comic book stories, Thora Birch plays Enid, a confused young high-school graduate who gets to know Buscemi’s melancholy record collector, Seymour, when she and a friend play a cruel practical joke on him. Buscemi portrays what is, in essence, a nerd with sensitivity, intelligence and warmth, so the relationship that develops between Seymour and Enid is affecting and never creepy.