Jock Shock: Buscemi, for whom the phrase "death warmed up" might have been coined, actually made his name in high school as an athlete before discovering acting not long before he left. Within a couple of years, Brooklyn-born Buscemi had managed to win himslef a place at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Manhattan, which he paid for with insurance settlement cash he'd won after a childhood accident.
Fire Power: "The method" - as the style of acting taught at the Lee Strasberg Institute is famously known, failed to bring Buscemi instant success, but the civil service exams that he passed in the meantime only emphasised Buscemi's yen for the dramatic - he was now qualified to enter the New York Fire Department. However, the competition for firefighting posts proved high at the time, and Buscemi was forced to while away three years in what he called "drinking money jobs" - furniture removal, waiting tables, working as a petrol pump attendant and driving an ice-cream truck. Even when he finally got the chance to fight fires, he continued staging collaborative fringe performances in East Village by night. "When I was a fireman I was in a lot of burning buildings. It was a great job, the only job I ever had that compares with the thrill of acting. Before going into a fire, there's the same surge of adrenaline you get just before the camera rolls."
America's Most Wanted: Buscemi's big break came in 1986, when he landed a supporting role as an embittered rock star succumbing to Aids in Bill Sherwood's Parting Glances. Sherwood's film was amongst the first to address the impact of the disease and, even though Buscemi had been a mere co-star, few doubted that the actor had stolen the film. Since then, Buscemi's been dubbed "the most important actor in American independent film", a reputation that appearances in two Tarantino, three Jarmusch and five Coen brothers films have won him.
Bar fly: Trees Lounge, the bar that is at the centre of Buscemi's semi- autobiographical flick of the same name, no longer exists. The joint had been a fixture in Buscemi's boozy early days when his ice-cream van was often to be seen parked up outside. When the bar was demolished, the actor retrieved the sign as a memento, which he then stashed for years behind his parents' garage before putting it to good use in the film itself.
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