Like many people, I first really noticed Steve Buscemi in 1992 when he played Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs. Despite that film's wealth of iconic performances (it virtually introduced much of the world to Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and Tarantino himself, and revived the careers of Harvey Keitel and Chris Penn), Buscemi managed to stand out not only because of his choice dialogue ("do you know what this is? It's the world's smallest violin playing just for the waitresses") but because of his survivor-rat personality, which, perhaps not coincidentally, makes him the only character whose fate we don't know at the end of the film.
Like with many of the other folks in that film, I followed his career from then on with great interest, seeing what qualities he carried from one character to the next, admiring his versatility, his sensitivity, his fearlessness. In In the Soup, he's Adolpho Rollo, an ambitious, naïve filmmaker who gets in over his head when a neighbor who agrees to help him get a film made turns out to be a low-level mobster; just a few years later, he plays Nick Reve in Living in Oblivion, another director, except this time a beleaguered and exasperated one ready to ruin even a room tone with a foul-mouthed, vitriolic rant.
Then of course there's his ongoing collaboration with the Coen brothers, from Barton Fink's attentive hotel clerk Chet to Fargo's casually cruel, bumblingly inept kidnapper Carl Showalter to The Big Lebowski's dim-witted bowler, Donny Kerabatsos. Suffice it to say that he's played characters sublime and mundane and everything in between, and best of all remains gloriously un-pigeon-holed as any one type of performer.
But I think my favorite of his performances – or perhaps the quintessential one – is his turn as Seymour in Ghost World.