FILM / Rushes

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The Independent Culture
Steve Buscemi may not have a name the public instantly recognises, but he has a face that can't be forgotten. Thin, angular and foxy, it shuttles between the oddball extremes of nerd and sleazebag with eerie ease, sometimes blurring the distinction. Very Nineties. Maybe that's why Quentin Tarantino relinquished the role of Mr Pink in Reservoir Dogs to him, having written it for himself. In Tarantino's case, nerd 'n' sleazebag practically equals alter-ego.

'Quentin and I are definitely on the same wavelength,' Buscemi says, his Brooklyn twang vibrating. 'We have similar traits and the same sense of humour. When I read the script I really responded to the part of Mr Pink. Quentin saw that.'

Buscemi is in Tarantino's forthcoming Pulp Fiction, but the role this time around is strictly talismanic: a cameo as a waiter at a fast- food joint where the staff are dressed as Fifties stars. Which idol does Buscemi play? 'Er, that's under wraps.' You can hear his embarrassment all the way down the transatlantic line. 'I'd really rather not say.'

He'd also rather not say anything about the British video release of Dogs, which is still being delayed, except to mention that he's heard about its limbo status. 'I can't understand it. Reservoir Dogs was a bigger commercial success in Britain than it was in America, though it did well here. It was shown in cinemas over there, right? So why can't it be on video?'

What is on video from this week is In the Soup, another cult addition to Buscemi's bulging CV: Miller's Crossing, Parting Glances, Barton Fink, Mystery Train, New York Stories. In the Soup allows his nerd side a field day. He's appallingly convincing as an obsessive first-time director who'll do anything to have his terrible script shot. It's a shoestring work, so Buscemi is top- billed and dead centre of the plot, something his big-budget Hollywood forays (Rising Sun, Billy Bathgate) have yet to allow. It's a question of physiognomy: studios think that feral face is for vivid support, not for romantic leads, despite the actor's college circuit following.

'I couldn't be Robert Redford. Certain parts are not going to be offered. I'm not the knight in shining armour. And I wouldn't do them for the sake of doing them. What I do has to be, hmm, interesting.'

What Hollywood does is let Buscemi play the interesting roles. The big fees mean he can afford to do the risky stuff - and build his growing reputation as Prince of the US Independents. 'Yeah, I've been lucky. I've worked with Quentin, the Coen brothers, Jarmusch. I hope it continues. I want to work with that fantastic new director that we just don't known about yet.'

(Photograph omitted)