Many actors tend to play heroes. After all, it's easy to save someone's life when that someone is just a mannequin or an extra.
Celebrated actor Steve Buscemi, however, was a hero—you know, for real:
The star of Fargo, The Big Lebowski and Armageddon was a firefighter with Manhattan's Engine 55 for four years in the early 1980s, before he got bit by the acting bug.
That's him on the left:
His fellow firefighters thought he was crazy to leave a secure job in search of stardom:
“They were really worried about me.” Buscemi says of his friends' reactions.
“You just don't—you don't leave—first of all, a great job like this, and then a secure job.”
Fame and fortune hasn't diluted the urge to serve, however.
Since becoming a star, Buscemi has gone back to help his old ladder-mates on several occasions, most notably in the days following 9-11, when the actor put in 12-hour days to help sift through the rubble and find missing persons.
All told, four of NYC's finest from Buscemi's Engine 55 were killed in the 9-11 attacks. Reconnecting with his firefighting brothers, even in dark times, was cathartic to the actor:
“I went there to help, but I was the one who was—who was helped, you know? It really helped me.” Buscemi told CBS Sunday Morning.
Nowadays, Buscemi sits on the board of Brooklyn-based Friends of Firefighters and makes time to share a meal, a story or a laugh with his old friends:
Last year, he also helped make a documentary that put the spotlight on his FDNY compatriots. A Good Job: Stories of the FDNY, which screened on HBO, was his way to give back to the community that gave him so much:
“Firefighters are great at helping others,” he said. "They're great at helping each other. But 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?'
So really the film is for them."
Incidentally, Buscemi met his wife of nearly 30 years, Jo Andres, while serving as a firefighter.