– . – Independent Spirit
Having starred in everything from modern independent classics, including Fargo, Trees Lounge and Ghost World, to blockbusters like Con Air, Armageddon and The Island, Steve Buscemi may not be a typical Hollywood leading man but remains one of the most exciting actors working today. That’s not least because of his willingness to choose unique and original roles; indeed his latest film, Florian Gallenberger’s John Rabe, sees him play real-life German doctor Robert Wilson who was caught up in the horrendous Nanjing Massacre of the late 1930s in which ‘Nazi’ businessman John Rabe (played by Ulrich Tukur) saved the lives of thousands of Chinese who were being bombed by the Japanese. As Buscemi explains, however, his method of choosing projects is simple enough despite his reputation; it all comes down to the basics of story and character.
How did you get involved with John Rabe?
I got an email from [the] producer saying they were interested in me for this film. I didn’t know anything about Florian, and they sent me his short film [Quiero ser (I want to be…)] which I really liked. I talked to him on the phone after reading the script and I was ready to sign on, but he insisted on coming to New York to talk to me! And it was really good to meet him in person. There was something about him that I trusted. He had a real sensitivity to the material and I could tell from his [short] film that he was a really good director.
It’s certainly a potentially controversial film, given its Nazi elements. Did you have any concerns about this aspect of the project?
No, I never had any qualms about that. I thought that was a really interesting part of the story; here was a guy, a businessman, who was also in the Nazi party but was living in Nanjing for 27 years, and that he used his influence with the Japanese. I thought, ‘That’s a story!’ I mean that’s a story that you don’t hear about. And the fact that this was true I found really fascinating. I love stories that are about complex people, and John Rabe was a very complex person.
And I love how Florian wrote my character, based on the real Dr Wilson. Really we don’t know what their relationship was, but at least my character was opposed to Rabe. He just saw him one way: he saw him as a Nazi, saw him as a businessman who was exploiting the Chinese, and were it not for this horrible, horrible atrocity, his opinion of him probably wouldn’t have changed.