Celebrated actor Steve Buscemi spent four years as a firefighter with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) before becoming an actor full-time. And while acting has made him a household name, the lessons he learned as a firefighter and his ongoing efforts to help firefighters is his passion, as he tells Tracy Smith in an interview for CBS SUNDAY MORNING WITH CHARLES OSGOOD to be broadcast Sept. 7, 2014 (9:00 AM, ET) on the CBS television Network.
Buscemi joined the FDNY in 1980 and was assigned to Engine 55 in lower Manhattan. The star of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” highlights the work of firefighters and the struggles they face in a new documentary he’s produced and appears in called “A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY.”
“Firefighters are great at helping others,” Buscemi tells Smith. “They’re great at helping each other. But they’re not always–you know, they don’t always know that they, themselves, are in need, you know? Their first reaction would be, ‘Oh, the next guy has it worse, you know? It was nothing, you know, that I went through. It wasn’t just that bad. But that guy? Oh, that family, you know? They had it worse. So what right do I have to seek any kind of help?'”
Raised on Long Island, New York, Buscemi always wanted to be an actor, but was pushed by his father to take a civil service exam. He took the firefighter test and worked at Engine 55, auditioning for acting roles in his spare time. He gave up firefighting four years later to pursue acting full-time. His fellow firefighters thought he was crazy because “nobody leaves this job,” Buscemi says. “You just don’t–you don’t leave–first of all, a great job like this, and then a secure job.”
But acting has certainly paid off greatly for Buscemi, who has carved out a remarkable career playing a series of memorable, off-beat characters in films like “Fargo,” “Con Air,” “Reservoir Dogs” and “The Big Lebowski.”
His love of firefighting, though, never left him. Indeed, a day after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in 2001, Buscemi put on his old firefighting gear and pitched in at Ground Zero. The scene of the attacks was confusing and disconcerting, he says.
“It was also–there was something about being there that was also very comforting, and I remember that surprising me,” Buscemi tells Smith. “I went there to help, but I was the one who was–who was helped, you know? It really helped me.”
Buscemi talks with Smith about his acting choices and his unique image. Smith also talks with Buscemi’s wife, artist Jo Andres, whom he met while still at Engine 55.
CBS SUNDAY MORNING is broadcast Sundays (9:00-10:30 AM, ET) on the CBS Television Network. Rand Morrison is the executive producer.