You may know Steve Buscemi as Boardwalk Empire‘s Nucky — or as any of the dozens of other roles the actor’s played over his lifetime — but in a new Web series for AOL, he’s just being himself.
In the new series Park Bench, Buscemi sits on the park benches of New York chatting up his friends, both famous and not. The idea came to him last year when he met Geo Orlando as he was filming one of the promotional videos for Vampire Weekend’s American Express-sponsored concert on a — foreshadowing! — park bench. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about this guy Geo and how much I just liked talking to him on the park bench,” Buscemi says. So naturally, he turned this idea into a show.
We caught up with Buscemi as he was on his way to work (the new season of Boardwalk Empire is in its first month of filming) to talk about his family’s involvement in the show, how he feels about Jerry Seinfeld, and why he won’t tell you what to look forward to in Park Bench.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why a park bench?
STEVE BUSCEMI: This whole thing grew out of these promotional videos and concert I directed last year for the band Vampire Weekend. So during the course of that, I met a guy named Geo Orlando, and one of the, I don’t know what you would call it, sketches we did or one of the little videos that we did, involved the singer Grimes where I was going to run into her in the park and invite her to the concert or this Easter dinner I was having with Vampire Weekend. Anyway, I needed somebody to be talking to in the park so I just pulled this guy that I met in the bar that we were shooting at, we had just met, so we were sitting on the park bench, talking to him, and then Grimes comes up. So later, we’re looking at everything, I just couldn’t stop thinking about this guy Geo and how much I just liked talking to him on the park bench. And I just wanted to work that way again. So we just came up with this idea to just do a whole series where we talk to people on a park bench. And then it kind of grew out of that. We don’t stay on the park bench, but that was just the starting point. I find park benches very relaxing, and it’s easy to talk to people when you’re sitting in a relaxed atmosphere.
Do you have a favorite park bench in New York?
I don’t, no. I mean I don’t really. [Laughs] I take walks in parks, it’s not like I go to parks to sit on benches. I mean, sometimes I do.
So it seems like this sort of style of shows is becoming more and more commonplace where celebrities like yourself take a regular setting, like a car or in your case a park bench, and hold a talk show of sorts there. Did you take inspiration from any of these other shows, like Jerry Seinfeld’s?
Well, certainly. I mean, Seinfeld has always been an inspiration in general. I used to do stand-up, or rather I used to go to the improvs and not get on the stage, but I used to sit in the back of the club and this was the improv that was in New York, the improv club in New York in the ’70s, and I used to watch a lot of comics and Jerry was one of the comics that I loved. So I’ve always tracked his career and his show and I love how he just reinvents himself. I love this idea that he does, driving around in cars. I don’t know if my idea was taken from that, because I already kind of wanted to do this thing for about a year with Geo, but certainly when Jerry’s show came on, it just gave me that much more encouragement. Like, yes, this can be done. Because I love the way that he did it. His show is just so entertaining and free-wheeling and easygoing.
How did you make the decision to include both your more famous friends and also just everyday people on the streets of New York?
The basic premise was I just wanted to talk to people who interested me. Either people that I already knew and had worked with, or people that I didn’t know that well in this business that I was interested in, and then people that I just sort of meet on the street or in the park. That was it. Just a very simple idea. And then also my family. My brother Michael is part of the show and my dad is part of it a little bit. It’s basically my opportunity to talk with people that I like and that I know or that I want to get to know.
What roles do your brother and your dad have on the show?
They’re just around. [Laughs] They’re just part of the fabric of the Park Bench world.
What was the craziest moment you had during filming?
I don’t know that we had any crazy moments. The whole thing was sort of, can sometimes be surreal, and some of the things that people brought to it were unexpected. Some people I really did interview and talk with, and then other people, like Michael Shannon, wanted to bring something a little different to it, and so his section was not really like a straight-up interview. I don’t want to give too much away. And then we also discovered along the way this wonderful band called the Main Squeeze Orchestra and they are an all-female accordion band, so they were a lot of fun to have around.
What are you most looking forward for us to see from the show?
These kinds of questions I never know how to answer because I would never want to tell an audience what they should be getting from the show. The things that I might be excited about the show might be different. The audience might discover something in it that I don’t even know it’s in there. I just hope that they watch it, and that they watch all the episodes, because there is a thread between them all.
Park Bench premieres May 15. Watch a clip from the show below: