If, like me, you have often wondered why the hell Sienna Miller is on so many magazine covers and a permanent fixture on television tabloid shows, Steve Buscemi has finally provided us with the answer. Casting Ms. Miller in his new film Interview, Buscemi, a character actor from countless films and director of Trees Lounge, has finally given her the opportunity to transition from wannabe starlet to full-fleged actress in a little under 90 minutes.
Based on a Dogme film by the late Theo Van Gogh (namechecked on the side of a moving van in a pivotal plot scene early in the movie), Interview is an acting tour-de-force from two actors who aren't afraid to go out on a limb together. I know it sounds rather silly to call a performance "brave," as there is a difference between the emotional soul mining that occurs on a cushy movie set and the real bravery of people who save lives or have dangerous jobs, but there is something to be said for performers who put it all out there and risk failure and public ridicule. I'm rather low-key as far as public image is concerned, but yet I often get strange and abusive mail from people who read my reviews. I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like when everyone recognizes your face and can put it together with the $10 they paid for a ticket to a bad movie.
Which is just one of the many things that comes up in Interview. Cowritten by Buscemi and David Schechter, the film's script concerns itself with a grizzled political reporter, Pierre Peders (Buscemi), sent to interview a low-level celebrity, the single-named Katya (Miller), the star of B-horror movies and an insipid Fox TV drama. As Pierre suggests, she's more famous for who she sleeps with than any of the work she has actually done, and he finds the assignment beneath him. For Katya's part, she senses his contempt and questions why he is even there. We wonder this, too, after their intitial meeting in a restaurant ends disastrously.
A series of contrivances put Pierre and Katya back together in her apartment. The actual interview continues off and on as part of a game of mental cat-and-mouse the two play, challenging each other who can race faster to the bottom of how much they detest one another while also exposing things about themselves in the process. In response to an inquiry about what she finds attractive in a man, Katya says a scar draws her to the opposite sex, because all women have scars, and she likes to see that a man might understand. By the end of the long, drug and alcohol-fueled night, many such scars will be exposed, and the audience's perception of both of these people will be challenged countless times before we are given anything close to a definitive answer about what is really going on between them.
Steve Buscemi must be some kind of genius for seeing what he saw in Sienna Miller. He had to be aware of the crossover that her own public image would have with the character's back story. Katya's fiercest battles with Pierre come when he underestimates who she really is based on his slight knowledge of her reputation, and Miller's performance is electric with her own determination to prove she is more than she seems. The way the script is written, the actors are required to change moods at the snap of a finger. No sooner will one line be delivered before the next one reveals that it was a lie; Katya will let Pierre kiss her (or did she kiss him?) only to declare how much she hates him as soon as their lips part. While some transitions may be a little too easy from a writing standpoint, the rollercoaster is otherwise absolutely believable, and the actors never betray the power of a given moment.
As much as Buscemi plays on Miller's celebrity image, he uses his own appearance as a craggy indie intellectual as a tool to exploit, as well. Even when Katya is being a petulant brat, the director is tweaking our prejudices, because more often than not we're going to feel sorry for the lost little blonde girl who is being persecuted by the weathered old journalist. It makes us no better than Pierre, like we're his coconspirators or something, more than willing to go with the mental violence as he tries to break her down. Anything to make better copy, anything for our motion picture enjoyment.
Though the story takes place in one room, Interview never seems stifled or stale. The movie opens with a black-and-white shot, like something from a surveillance camera, a visual cue from the director that we're going to be experiencing something voyeuristic in the time that lies ahead. That's the end of his visual trickery, however. Buscemi never gets self-conscious about the confined space. He has no need to show off or try to make it flashy. He trusts himself, his actress, and the material, and he inspires the same trust from the viewer, thus keeping The Interview from ever growing dull.
So, check your preconceived notions at the door. Interview will challenge your perceptions and keep you questioning its trajectory all the way to the end. Who is zooming who, and is any of it sincere? Even as certain things are revealed, you'll still wonder, and you'll probably be compelled to go back again, debate it with your friends, and even second-guess yourself. It's not easy entertainment, nor is it transitory, and thankfully, Interview chooses to delve deeper into celebrity and how the culture interacts with it much further than your standard US Weekly puff piece. Ironically, Steve Buscemi might have made a star out of his lead actress in the process.
Jamie S. Rich is a novelist and comic book writer. He is best known for his collaborations with JoŽlle Jones, including the hardboiled crime comic book You Have Killed Me, the challenging romance 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and the 2007 prose novel Have You Seen the Horizon Lately?, for which Jones did the cover. All three were published by Oni Press. His most recent project is the comedy series Spell Checkers, again with Jones and artist Nicolas Hitori de. Follow Rich's blog at Confessions123.com.