Steve Buscemi has played his fair share of losers (from the lovable, lonely Seymour in Ghost World to the not-so-loveable, lonely paparazzo Les Galantine in Delirious), but his title character John in Saint John of Las Vegas is a real loser, coming up empty every time he gambles. John’s trying to quit, but his insurance-claim office is sending him on a trip to Sin City to investigate a case of possible fraud. Buscemi, who also served as executive producer, talks about the gamble that is filmmaking, working with Sarah Silverman and how he balances his funny parts with the serious ones.
Q: Do you gamble?
A: When I was working on the movie, there’s a website where you can play blackjack and not actually spend any money, so I did that a lot. It was hard to actually stop doing it, even when the movie was over! There was something relaxing about it, and I like the escape of it. I could see how easily gambling could become an addiction. I could see how for those gamblers, it becomes less about wanting to win a lot of money, and more about just wanting to stay in the game. But I’m too cheap to actually have that be one of my addictions! [Laughs]
Q: Is independent filmmaking a kind of gamble too?
A: Well, show business is just one big gamble. If you want to
make money, you have a better shot going to a casino than investing in
a movie. Talk about a crapshoot! [Laughs]
Q: Your character’s not much of a gambler though — he
doesn’t have any system to speak of, or anything that would require any
A: With the lottery cards, what skill is involved there? You’re
scratching something off. My character thinks you could just have a
lucky day, and if you’re having a lucky day, you want to be buying
those cards. And how do you know you’re having a lucky day? You got to
buy the cards.
There was something endearing about this guy who obviously has
been through something horrible in Vegas, and was starting over, but
still had to buy not one, but multiple lottery tickets a day, even it
it meant spending his last five bucks on them. That to me is both sad
Q: Do you think he wins, even if he doesn’t win? That last scene with Sarah Silverman is a bit ambiguous.
A: I think he does win. And not just because I get the girl.
Hey, I like any movie where I even get to even just talk to a girl!
[Laughs] It’s nice to have a romantic relationship in a film, whether
it’s good or bad, and certainly, working with someone like Sarah, whose
work I really admire, that was nice. I wouldn’t have thought, with her
comedic persona, that she was necessarily the best person to play this
part, but it turned out she was. I found that in real life she’s
really, really sweet, and she brought a lot of that sweetness to the
Q: You had some say over her casting, as one of the film’s executive producers. I heard you were really involved in every step.
A: I’ve never been a producer before, so maybe I worked too hard! [Laughs] Maybe I need to scale back a little bit next time.
Q: But not like your film producer character in the upcoming Pete Smalls Is Dead…
A: He’s all over the place! He’s sort of a nutty character, and he’s had his own addictions, for sure.
Q: How do you balance wildly comedic parts with the more dramatic ones? Your dad characters in The Messenger and Youth in Revolt couldn’t be more different.
A: You never know what’s going to come along. I probably wouldn’t have done The Messenger
if it hadn’t been for [director] Oren Moverman specifically asking me
to do it. I was a little nervous about it, and the kinds of places I
would have to go to as an actor. But I wanted to do it for Oren, who
I’ve known for years, and I’m glad I did — I love the film. I was a
little hesitant about doing Youth in Revolt as well, because I
didn’t like the dad character at first. But it turned out that I had
been given an earlier draft of the script, and when I talked to
[director] Miguel Arteta, he assured me that he could put in some other
stuff and we could change the character. So nothing with me is ever
planned. I just take things as they come.