This much is true: honey is good for you. It’s rich in antioxidants (especially buckwheat honey), it’s beneficial to the skin, and it can lower triglycerides which is healthy for the heart. Oh, and it tastes great slathered on toast or in a pot of thick Greek yoghurt. But as everyone knows, bees are in trouble, and need our help.
A rise in the popularity of beekeeping has been welcome news for our most beloved pollinator, but keeping hives in the city has drawbacks: a study of honey harvested from urban bees in Vancouver showed trace elements of heavy metals, including cadmium, copper, lead, arsenic and zinc. Meanwhile, in a recent story in TheNew York Times, a Cornell University professor, Scott McArt, specializing in pollination, told of a study of Manhattan bees communicating to their fellow pollinators that the best pollen could be found not in the flower troughs and parks of New York, but across the Hudson River in New Jersey’s meadows.
We recommend that humans follow the instincts of the bees and cross the river, and then keep going through New Jersey, and all the way up the Delaware Valley to Narrowsburg, the beekeeping capital of New York – which hosts its 4th annual Honey Bee Fest on Saturday, September 22. With the region’s abundant forest canopy, apple orchards, and rich tradition in organic farming, plus the diverse riverside flora, there’s little risk of accidentally covering your English muffins with pesticides or heavy metals when you indulge in the local honey.
The one-day festival take place in the heart of this beautiful river town that has emerged as a favorite destination for New Yorkers, thanks to its location on the Delaware River, several excellent restaurants, boutique homeware stores, and specialist shops including Narrowsburg Proper, a food emporium that sources regional and international gourmet products. It’s also owned by Joan Santo, the creator of Honey Bee Fest.
With a new luxury bus service to Narrowsburg, operated by Catskill Carriage (departing NYC at 4pm on Fridays; tickets $55 each way if booked five days ahead), and plenty of Air BnB options, why not make a weekend of it? In addition to a street fair on Main Street featuring honey vendors, mead tastings, beekeeping classes and cooking demos, there will a special performance by the Wallenpaupack Marching Band, dressed as bees.
With honey bees in decline, expect to hear a vibrant rendition of the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive,” among other numbers. And then book dinner and brunch at The Laundrette and The Heron, two Narrowsburg mainstays that could easily hold their own with the best of New York City. Honey is guaranteed to be on the menu.
Diana Ross, the original disco diva, has made music history with a remix of her iconic disco hits “I’m Coming Out,” and “Upside Down.” The final product, remixed by Swedish producer StoneBridge (responsible for remixes of Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry,” and Blondie’s “Fun”), hit No. 1 on the BillboardDance Club Songs chart in just 8 weeks. The original versions of both songs made No. 1 on the same chart during the same week in 1980, 38 years ago. (Who says club kids and their grandparents can’t bond over the good old days?)
Other disco and funk remixes that are on our summer jam list include the slinky, sexy extended remix of Chakha Khan’s new single, “Like Sugar,” and Ralphi Rosario and Erick Ibiza’s remix of Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff.” If you needed proof that disco ain’t dead, these legends are it.
It’s a weirdly persistent myth that you should only eat oysters in months that have an “R” – in other words, avoiding summer (May-August) when the weather is warmer and seafood is more prone to spoiling. But while might have been true before refrigeration, technology means an oyster can stay as cool as, well, a cucumber, from ocean to plate. Typically, an oyster needs very little to be fully enjoyed—perhaps a squeeze of lemon or a dash of Tabasco, but how about the tipple that accompanies it?
Sparkling wine can create a nice textured contrast, and a glass of Chablis is a time-honored tradition in France, but how about something that brinier, with a quality of the ocean in which oysters live? Try the 12-year old Old Pulteney, from the historic Scottish fishing own of Wick, once the largest herring port in Europe. The pairing is spot-on, with the oceanic tang of Old Pulteney, and its citrus notes, perfectly complimenting the salty-sweetness of oysters.
If you’re feeling ambitious, Oysters are also great fried. Dip them in beer batter to make a crispy fritter, or bread them with cornmeal and pile them on a baguette with lettuce and tomato for a traditional New Orleans po’boy. And wash down with a tumbler of Old Pulteney on ice. Wick may have lost its herring industry, but it has kept its whisky, so much the better for us.
Once you’ve tried this at home, here are three New York stalwarts to let the experts show you how:
1: Upholstery Store Food & Wine, 713 Washington Street, NYC. Austrian chef Kurt Gutenbrunner casts magic on the half shell.
2: MP Taverna, 31-29 Ditmars Boulevard, Ditmas Park, Queens. This Greek taverna has a terrific happy hour, with oysters a dollar-a-piece.
3: Grand Central Oyster Bar, 89 E 42nd St, NYC. Because the classics never go out of fashion, and this is the king of them all.
At a recent panel for her HBO documentary Jane Fonda in Five Acts, the actress confirmed a sequel to her 1980 workplace comedy 9 to 5 is in the works. She’s poised to appear again alongside Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton.
“My role is as an executive producer, and I’m working with the writers,” Fonda said. “Right now, Dolly, Lily and I are all intending to be in it.”
In case you haven’t seen the OG feminist comedy (what’s wrong with you?), it follows the female trio as employees of Consolidated Companies. As the ladies find themselves at the insufferable will of their opportunistic boss, Franklin Hart, Jr. (Dabney Coleman), they hatch a plan that involves kidnapping and overthrowing their superior. The film remains a big screen feminist landmark.
It seems to be perfect timing for a sequel, given the steady rise of the #MeToo movement; themes such as the wage gap and sexual harassment are sure to be present in the contemporary update.
Working with the curated bookstore, One Grand Books, with branches at BlackBarn in Chelsea Market, NYC, at the Arclight Cinema in Hollywood, as well as in the Catskills town of Narrowsburg in upstate New York, we put together a list of ten books selected by ten luminaries to help us all find meaning into today’s scrambled world.
“The first book I read as a young adult that truly spoke to me about egocentric beauty ideals and white supremacy. I saw myself clearly in these pages as Pecola searched to be seen. A powerful, powerful book.”
Books selected by Michael Pollan, Gabrielle Union, and Greta Gerwig
3. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
(Selected by Greta Gerwig)
This book doesn’t fit neatly into a category. It’s personal but also global. It doesn’t prescribe anything; it raises questions. It allows the reader to feel as if they are watching this brilliant woman think in real time. It seems as if you are inside her mind with her. It’s funny and sexy and made me cry. And it is one of the best books on being a stepmother I’ve ever encountered.”
4. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
(Selected by Rose McGowan)
“The hopelessness of character assassination and being trapped by evil people’s lies is something I know a little about. I fell in love with Dàntes and his quest for justice long ago. Dumas’ writing helped form me. I wish I could thank him in person, but this’ll have to do.”
5. What Are People For? by Wendell Berry
(Selected by Alice Waters)
“Berry puts that stake in the ground. He’s a poet as well as a wonderful writer, and his message is simple: Nature is our teacher. We just need to listen and feel it, and try not to get in its way.”
Books chosen by Rose McGowan, Alice Waters, and Roxane Gay
6. We are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
(Selected by Roxane Gay)
“I can’t, nor do I want, to unsee the essays in this collection. Irby is well known as a humorist, and the essays in “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life” are, indeed, very funny. They are also poignant, and incredibly honest. Humor makes way for vulnerability and by the end of this book you will have cried as much as you laughed about what it means to be a black woman, what it is to live with chronic illness, how poverty marks you, how love always finds a way.”
7. My Prizes: An Accounting by Thomas Bernhard
(Selected by John Waters)
“Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth! The Austrian intellectual sourpuss hilariously rejects every literary award he was ever given. Refusal as an art form.”
8. Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
(Selected by Chelsea Handler)
“Rebecca Solnit goes deep with statistics, personal stories, and others’ accounts of how brutal this world can be for women, the history of how we’ve been treated, and what it will take to change the conversation: MEN. We need them to be as outraged as we are and join our fight.”
Books selected by Chelsea Handler, John Waters, and Dev Hynes
9. The Last Interviews: James Baldwin
(Selected by Dev Hynes/Blood Orange)
“I’m a sucker for this morbid yet informative series which chronologically prints interviews from deceased artists ending with their last interview. Baldwin’s words could be applicable today.”
10. But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman
(Selected by Trevor Noah)
“A question the architects of apartheid should have stopped and asked themselves at the start, and a question I try to ask about my own deeply held convictions every day.”
IN her native England, Nigella Lawson is something of a dining deity. Her second cookbook, “How To Be a Domestic Goddess,” was largely credited with kick-starting the country’s renewed love affair with baking, leading Lawson to a fruitful career as a TV chef with a passionate relationship to her ingredients, and a penchant for alliteration (“pink picante prawns,” anyone?). Her 11th book, “At My Table: A Celebration of Home Cooking” (Flatiron Books), came out this week. In honor of the occasion, we invited her to identify the tools and treats she can’t live without.
“For sure, this is not the most refined of ingredients. It is no doubt looked down on by food snobs and purists. But I always have to have a can of it in the cupboard — mixed with heavy cream and whisked, it makes the basis of staggeringly easy, no-churn ice creams. The best shortcut to making dessert with instant wow factor.”
MIX ’N’ MASH
“Humor me here. I know it sounds odd to have a machine just for mashing potatoes, but this really does make the best mashed potatoes ever, and my family favors mash over all. It’s not a beautiful implement, but function sometimes trumps form — it mashes and aerates at the same time.” “Dash Masha 2X” masher, $50 at ByDash.com
“These are also known as pul biber or Turkish red-pepper flakes. They have a mellow heat and distinct lemony-ness that I turn to when cooking fish, meat, pasta and one of the favorite recipes in my new book, Turkish eggs.”
“I’ve been cooking with these Finnish saucepans and oven trays for years and they are as sturdy as they are beautiful. They manage to combine a ’70s chunkiness with sleek elegance — they are a cook’s dream: They conduct heat excellently and wash up easily.” Iittala Tools stainless-steel saucepan, $295 at BedBathAndBeyond.com
“Cumin’s citrusy, peppery earthiness enhances everything it’s added to. I stir-fry cabbage with it; add it to stews; mix it in with other spices to make curry pastes; in my new book, I even use it to flavor a pound cake.”
“I have a particular fondness for Le Creuset enameled cast-iron cookware. It’s certainly heavy, and I keep mine on open shelves at easily reachable level. It not only conducts heat so well, it also seems to get more flavor out of the food. I slow-cook a lot in mine and however burnt they look inside, a bit of a soak in the sink and they clean easily. I somehow feel that the original ‘Volcanique’ orange can’t be improved on — I consider it a bold neutral.” 5-piece signature cookware set in “Flame,” $525 at LeCreuset.com
“I regard ginger to be as essential as garlic in my cooking: Its freshness and fieriness give oomph to anything it’s added to, sweet or savory.”
“I love the feel of a Füri knife in my hand: it’s comfortable and secure and has just enough heft, but is still light and easy to wield. They are also very beautiful to look at — I keep my collection on magnetic strips out on the wall.” Füri “Pro East/West Santoku” knife, $100 at Amazon.com
“This cocktail shaker is so beautiful I don’t keep it in the cupboard, but out on gleaming display on my bookshelf, just under some Dickens. It’s small and handy and good to whip up a sudden urgent martini — the top doubles as a measure — and the copper insulates wonderfully, so your second drink will be as deliciously cold as well.” New York Mutual Trading Japanese copper cocktail shaker, $130 at Food52.com
“I picked up my first Mud pieces on my first trip to Melbourne about 14 years ago and have been adding to my collection ever since. Everything is made by hand in their Sydney studio, and the pared-back aesthetic is combined with a jubilant sense of color. It all goes in the oven and dishwasher as well. I have a particular love for their ‘Pebble’ bowls.” “Pebble” bowl, $153 at US.MudAustralia.com
“It’s about the food I’ve cooked and the people I’ve cooked for. It’s not just a manual, but a collection of stories and a container for my memories.” “At My Table” by Nigella Lawson, $23 at Amazon.com
“I always have some of this in my fridge and really have to stop myself [from] adding it to nearly everything I cook: It combines a caramelly richness and salty depth and brings instant umami.”
Photos by by David Ellis. Getty Images (2). Alamy (2). Rex. Courtesy of the Designers.
Anna Wintour has not reigned the Condé Nast realm quite as long as another fashion icon, Queen Betty 2, has reigned her realm; but publishing houses are not the same as royal prerogative – and rumors suggest that Wintour’s time may soon be up. After all, having been knighted by the Queen last May (only to become her chaperone at a recent London fashion show), what’s left for the woman who has defined Vogue for the best part of three decades?
It can’t be much fun presiding over the collapsing fortunes of a once mighty publishing house; and Wintour is too savvy to have her legacy tarnished by tectonic shifts within the industry that she simply cannot control.
Sources have told the New York Post‘s Page Six that Edward Enninful, who recently took over as editor of Vogue UK, was the likely heir apparent. That makes sense. Enninful has taken a broom to the UK title, and made it feel fresh and contemporary, and most importantly inclusive, with cover stars like Gugu Mbatha-Raw and a hijab-wearing Halima Aden. With the replacement of Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair by Radhika Jones, it makes sense that Vogue might be in for a similar shakeup.
Considering the death last year of Condé’s patriarch, Si Newhouse, it was clear that the status quo would no longer hold – though Wintour has been proactive as group creative director in consolidating the editorial and business creative staff into one team, and encouraging editors to focus on revenue-generating schemes.
Not surprisingly, Condé Nast has denied that Wintour is departing any time soon; but we’ve all heard that one before.
“How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself,” wrote Gore Vidal, himself a cunning wordsmith who left us such enduring classics as The City and the Pillar and Burr. He was also a master of the political essay, who famously wrote that “any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically by definition be disqualified from ever doing so.” If only he were around today to write about Donald Trump.
We might not have Vidal’s penetrating insights and vicious wit, but plenty of other books are interrogating this strange political era in which a President can tell us that black is white, and two plus two equals five – and then the next day decide that black is actually pink, and that two plus two equals 15.
In the midst of such socio-political divisiveness, here are five upcoming books to put on your spring and summer must-read list. If they don’t serve to help you make sense of these turbulent times, at least they’ll underline that no, you’re not crazy: the world really is this effed up.
Adjustment Day, by Chuck Palahniuk
As with anything by the author of Fight Club, expect plenty of deviousness and depravity in the author’s 20th novel, in which the United States is a country on “the brink of chaos,” according to advance press, and feisty millennials are in the gunsights, literally, of a senator seeking to prevent an uprising. Like everything by Palahniuk, his newest novel delves deep into the psychosis of contemporary America: a website is used as a way to name and shame people who threaten the social order. Journalists inevitably rank high, and are targeted as a result. Democracy crumbles, and the country is fragmented into three ethnic entities: “Blacktopia,” “Gaysia,” and “Caucasia.” It may all seem a little too close for comfort. (W. W. Norton, May 1)
No Immediate Danger: Volume One of Carbon Ideologies, by William T. Vollmann
No Immediate Danger launches a two volume investigation into the human actions that have caused global warming. At his own personal risk, Vollmann undertook multiple visits over seven years to the contaminated zones and ghost towns of Fukushima in Japan, beginning shortly after the tsunami and reactor meltdowns of 2011. Presented in part as a letter to the future, Vollmann, among our most ambitious, and prolific, of writers, seeks to understand why we closed our eyes and ears to scientific consensus. “Back when I lived,” he writes, “some of us believed that heavily polluting coal could somehow lift people out of poverty without impoverishing us in any more fundamental way.” (Viking, April 10)
Adjustment Day and No Immediate Danger
Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso
If his 2016 graphic novel, Beverly, captured the melancholy banality of the American suburb, Drnaso’s new tome interrogates a world in which technology has alienated us from one another and enabled the rumor and conspiracy theory to take the place of news. In Sabrina, a UD airman undertakes a search for a missing woman. (Drawn & Quarterly, May 22)
Captive Audience, by Lucas Mann
Given that reality TV gave us our current president, we should perhaps care about the ways in which this most popular form is influencing (degrading?) our critical faculties. Mann comes at this well-worn subject with a little more joie de vivre. He understands the formulaic nature of shows such as the Housewives franchise, while admiring them nonetheless. By tracing the relationship of reality TV to his own marriage, Mann emerges at the end with a surprisingly soulful love story. (Vintage Books, May 1)
Florida, by Lauren Groff
Having rocketed to fame after President Barack Obama named Fates and Furies his favorite book of 2015 (what, one wonders, might the current incumbent of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave nominate?), Groff’s latest is a collection of 11 short stories set in America’s weirdest state. Capturing the alienation and complexities of contemporary life, each of Groff’s stories is a marvel of description (a great dane “the color of dryer lint”), and lyricism. (Riverhead Books, June 5)
Like Tommy, the aimless barfly he plays in Trees Lounge, the 1996 indie favorite that he also wrote and directed, Steve Buscemi found himself in a spiral of hopelessness after leaving school, jumping from one part-time job to another: cinema usher, ice cream man, petrol station attendant. There were many long nights in bars. “I really had difficulty there [on Long Island] in my last couple of years because I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing,” he says. “I felt my life was going nowhere.” His father had pushed all four of his sons to take a civil-service exam, in Buscemi’s case as an avenue to a career with the fire service.
Although he knew he wanted to be an actor, he had only a dim notion of how to realize his dream. It was his father who suggested he apply for acting school in New York, ostensibly as an interlude until he the fire department came calling. At his interview for the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute, Buscemi was asked why he wanted to be an actor, and casually parroted his dad’s well-meaning advice that acting classes would stand him in good stead for whatever path he chose in life. “I remember her telling me, ‘Well, we really want people here who want to be actors,’” he recalls. “In that moment, I felt that I really blew it.” He didn’t, as it happens, but it taught him never again to be so cavalier about the thing he was most passionate about in life.
Steve Buscemi told the story of his Lee Strasberg interview as we sat in a quiet neighborhood bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He was already there when I’d arrived, seated in a wooden booth, baseball cap pulled over his head, a pint of beer at his hand. Like the bar itself, his demeanor was low-key, and unassuming. He talked quietly, the way someone might talk if they were nursing a hangover, but grew more animated as he went into his early days as one half of a comedy duo, Steve & Mark, with Mark Boone Junior, best known for his role in the outlaw cycle gang drama, Sons of Anarchy.
Their shtick was a kind of stream of consciousness situation comedy that introduced them to New York’s then-vibrant performance art scene. Often, they could be found at rinky-dink East Side clubs like Darinka, where They Might Be Giants was the de facto house band, and no-one much cared about fire codes. Downtown legend Rockets Redglare, famously the first person to enter Sid Vicious’ room at the Chelsea Hotel after the murder of Nancy Spungen, took the young Buscemi under his wing, helping secure gigs and introducing him to the scene. That version of New York disappeared in the ’90s, vanquished by rising rents and Rudy Guiliani and the devastation of AIDS. “We lost so many good people in their prime, who were just getting started, in the theater world, the dance world, the performance art world,” says Buscemi.
His break out role in 1986 was as a musician dying of AIDS in Parting Glances – a bold choice for an actor launching his career. “When I played that character I only knew one person that maybe had AIDS,” he recalled. “This was right smack in the middle of all that fear and anxiety: ‘could you get it from somebody by just being in the same room?’ Of course, later, so many of my friends died of AIDS.” He talks poignantly of Ethyl Eichelberger, a drag performance artist who dominated the ’80s scene before being diagnosed with HIV and taking his life in 1990. Most of those people have faded from public memory now, but they hang on in Buscemi’s memory as the mentors and guides of his career.
At one point, Buscemi summoned a quote by Frank Capra to the effect that every character in his Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, is worthy of his or her own film. “I tried to keep that in mind as I wrote Trees Lounge,” he said. “I thought I was being careful not to romanticize the life of someone who hangs out in a bar all the time, and yet I do find these characters romantic, and I still find bars really alluring.” He was touched when the owner of the bar they were scheduled to film in changed his mind at the last minute. “He said, ‘I don’t think I can close my bar for a week and let you guys film here,’ and we said, ‘Why?’, and he said, ‘Where are my regulars going to go – what are they going to do?’”
That bond with people who depend on each other resonates with Buscemi. On September 12, 2001, he reunited with his old fire unit, Engine Company 55, working ten hours a day for five days in the rubble of the World Trade Center. It was a way to be useful at a time when being an actor felt like a grotesque whimsy. It was only afterwards, when he no longer felt useful at Ground Zero, that the magnitude and desolation hit him. (In 2005, Buscemi went back to his old high school in Valley Stream, a predominantly Irish-Italian neighborhood within spitting distance of JFK, to receive an award. Talking to students he recalled his anxious youth. “I still get scared,” he told them. “I try to live with it, and you keep going.”)
In Park Bench, Steve Buscemi’s charming, little-watched web-only talk show, a telling moment comes during a conversation with the Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA. The rapper recalls his childhood inspirations, including Don McLean and Neil Sedaka, prompting an elated Buscemi to offer a formative experience of his own. “I went to the mall and bought some 45s. I run into a bunch of girls from my school and they reached into my bag and pulled out ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around the Old Oak Tree’,” he says. “I could tell they were embarrassed for me, and I thought, ‘I don’t care, I like this song.’”
Something about his response to being shamed for his dubious musical tastes – “I don’t care” – captures the animating spirit of an actor. Buscemi is among the least pretentious actors you will find, as comfortable working with Adam Sandler as with the Coen Brothers. When he describes Sandler as an “auteur,” he is not doing it to be funny or contrary; he means it. “We just really hit it off when we did Airheads,” he says, referring to their first film together, pithily reviewed by Time Out in 1994 as a movie “about airheads, and for them, too.” Bad reviews, the few there are, glide off Buscemi like water off a duck’s back.
As a rule, it’s not Sandler’s movies that fans think of when they picture Buscemi. That honor is more likely to go to his Atlantic City kingpin, “Nucky” Thompson, in HBO’s mafia origins epic, Boardwalk Empire, or to his memorable date with a wood chipper in the Coen Brothers’ snowbound masterpiece, Fargo. His tip-kvetching Mr. Pink in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs transformed both the director and his ensemble cast into touchstones of a new era in independent filmmaking. That film, made for just $1m, defined a ’90s cinematic “cool” that would have impressed those girls in the mall – if Buscemi cared about such things.
It’s partly because he doesn’t care, you suspect, that he manages the tightrope walk along the tremulous line of popular and hip, equally at ease in popcorn fare like Con Air as in cult films like Coffee & Cigarettes.
Buscemi is one of the industry’s busiest actors, with over 125 films to his name, and an equally impressive resume in television, from The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire, to cameos in The Simpsons (as himself), 30 Rock (as a private detective turned lesbian drama teacher), and the recent Amazon series, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams – in which he falls in love with a self-advertising robot in a dystopian vision of marketing gone rogue. There can’t be many days when he is not working. The director Jim Jarmusch, who has cast Buscemi in several of his films, once joked in The New Yorker that Hollywood had a “Steve Buscemi tax” to explain the actor’s ubiquity from the mid-90s onwards: “It was like, ‘You want to make a film? You must have Steve.’”
No one could have been more surprised by his catapulting fame than Buscemi himself. Although his passion for acting was cemented early – he recalls clambering adorably onto tables at family weddings to crack jokes – he spent much of his teens and early adulthood feeling thwarted by circumstances. He got an early taste of rejection when he failed to get cast as the dwarf he had set his heart on in his Catholic school’s production of Snow White. He was seven at the time. “I was a little crushed,” he recalls. “I asked our nun if I could have that part, and she said, ‘Oh no, I’m giving the part to another kid.’ She was sweet about it, but I just remember being really disappointed: ‘Oh, this is what life is.’”
Years later he had a similar epiphany when he started auditioning for movies. “I remember going in to read for one part and asking the casting director if I could read for the lead, and she looked at me, and said, ‘Oh no, they’re going to get a name for that part’,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘What is she talking about?’ And then I realized: ‘Oh, you’re going to get a name – you’re going to get an actor whose name people know.’” Buscemi laughs at his naiveté now, but at the time it was another flash of illumination. “I was like, ‘Ok, I have to get a name now, it’s not enough to be a working actor.’” Years of being left on the cutting room floor – in Woody Allen’s Alice, Stephen Frears’ The Grifters, and Gus Van Sant’s Even Cowgirls Get the Blues – taught him a similar lesson: audition for roles that are too big to be cut.
Buscemi has been a name for over 20 years at this point, yet through whatever combination of humble origins and insecurity he exhibits almost no ego. When, like other fans before me, I marvel at his direction of the “Pine Barrens” episode of The Sopranos – in which the show’s acute combination of menace and burlesque is on full display – he shrugs off the compliment, insisting that any director would have done the same. He tips his hat instead to the writers. This is typical of the way Buscemi views his craft, in which his emphasis is almost always on collaboration, rather than individual genius.
“He’s the opposite of an asshole,” says Armando Iannucci, who cast Buscemi in his satirical new movie, The Death of Stalin, which opens March 9. “On set he’s very generous, and he’s not taking up anyone’s time, he’s almost apologetic when he comes up with a thought.”
The Death of Stalin
In that movie, which also stars Simon Russell Beale, Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Palin, Buscemi plays Nikita Khrushchev, stealthily coming from behind to take over the sudden vacancy created by Stalin. Iannucci recalls how, during rehearsals, Buscemi would observe and watch but rarely chip in. “He’ll only ask little questions but you can see him going away and just thinking through each moment, and knowing when to turn it up a tiny notch, and then another tiny notch, and then another tiny notch, so you don’t notice the shift at any one point,” he says. “It’s just when you stand back to look at the whole thing you can see how delicately and cleverly he’d gradated that transformation.” Riseborough, who has just wrapped a second movie with Buscemi, Nancy, concurs. “He’s the most humble, down-to-earth, funny, easy going genius, sweetest man that I’ve ever worked with,” she says. “He has an enormous amount of gratitude for his work.”
The gratitude is genuine. For all his professed angst, Buscemi never doubted his talent. What he fretted over was finding the right opportunity. A few years after the Snow White fiasco, he auditioned for the part of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. “I knew it was between me and this other kid, and I was really wanting to do this part so badly, and thinking, ‘It probably won’t happen, but what will I do when I don’t get it?’” Buscemi got the role, and a standing ovation for his efforts, but it did little to quell his fear of being rejected by an indifferent world. “I don’t know if it was my dad’s world view, or something, but it was about not expecting much,” he says. “I’ve never really analyzed it that deeply, but it’s something that I know is still in me. It hasn’t stopped me altogether.”
He pauses. “It did stop the character I play in Trees Lounge, but what I find saddest about that character was that he didn’t seem to have an awareness that there could be a way out.” Shortly before he died three years ago, Buscemi’s father, the man who set him on the path to acting, had a cameo in the first episode of Park Bench. Seeing him among the cadre of friends and family that lend the series its distinctive Brooklyn tenor was moving in the way that glimpsing the departed affects all of us. As we drank in the neighborhood bar, Buscemi – who tries to practice meditation every day – talked fondly about his father’s belief in reincarnation and the afterlife. As a child, he would come home to find visiting psychics communing with the dead. One year Buscemi sought out a psychic for a private session, and confided his hopes of being an actor. “He said, ‘I don’t really see acting so much as writing – writing is what I see for you’,” Buscemi recalls, his brow furrowing. “So, in some ways I feel that I haven’t fulfilled my true potential.”