Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Garland Greene From Con Air Looks So Familiar

If the criminally insane plot of the action thriller flick "Con Air" isn't enough to bring you on board (plane pun intended), the cast list should be. It's often thought of as a Nicolas Cage movie — albeit not one of the best Nicolas Cage movies, according to Rotten Tomatoes – but in addition to a muletted Mr. Cage as Army veteran Cameron Poe, the film stars John Malkovich, Dave Chappelle, Danny Trejo (who went from prison inmate to action star in real life before playing Johnny Baca in "Con Air"), and Steve Buscemi.

In "Con Air," Buscemi plays Garland Greene, a man so dangerous he has to be locked in something resembling a moving safe and gives the other convicted criminals the jitters.

Despite his terrifyingly convincing performance as a sadistic serial killer in "Con Air," Buscemi is actually one of the most badass actors to ever have lived, having served as a firefighter in New York City. He temporarily returned to the job in the aftermath of 9/11, something the public only found out about much later. Still, many of his most prominent roles do lean on the sinister side — but then there are the Adam Sandler collaborations.

Let's take a look at Steve Buscemi's filmography to reveal why Garland Greene from "Con Air" looks so familiar.

Steve Buscemi is a gangster with a grudge against tipping in Reservoir Dogs

Steve Buscemi has been working pretty solidly since the mid-1980s, but in 1992, he had a prominent role in what would prove to be a classic film. He played the reluctantly nicknamed gangster Mr. Pink in Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs." The character's most memorable scene — in a movie packed with them — is a rant against tipping culture. 

In 1994, two years after "Reservoir Dogs” came out, Buscemi made a brief appearance in Tarantino's subsequent directorial effort "Pulp Fiction," another future classic. If you're struggling to place him in the movie, it's because he was heavily disguised, playing a waiter dressed as Buddy Holly. That's right: Immediately after casting Buscemi as a character who refuses to tip waiting staff, Tarantino cast him as a waiter! 

Buscemi spoke about this during an appearance on "The Late Late Show with James Corden" in June 2021. He also offered up a new theory that involves Mr. Pink's fate. Buscemi told Corden that he thinks this connection means Mr. Pink escaped the police at the end of "Reservoir Dogs," and is "hiding out as the Buddy Holly waiter." The disguise would definitely make it hard to spot him. Buscemi added with a laugh, "And he probably gets tipped terribly."

Steve Buscemi is in a ton of Adam Sandler movies

Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler might not be names you'd necessarily put together based on their respective careers. Where Buscemi is most famous for critically beloved dark comedies (and also "Con Air"), Sandler is almost notorious for slapstick humor (pre-"Uncut Gems," anyway.) However, the two are longtime collaborators, as Sandler-only fans could tell you but Buscemi-only fans probably couldn't. The actors first starred together alongside Brendan Frasier in 1994's "Airheads," about an aspiring rock trio that takes over a local radio station. Buscemi later Variety that he and Sandler "just really hit it off" while starring in "Airheads." Since then, they've appeared in 15 more movies together, up to and including 2020's "Hubie Halloween."

Sandler's 2019 sports-gambling-slash-jewelry-business-slash-Jewish-mob-drama film "Uncut Gems" was the first sign to many casual observers that he was capable of more than basic gross-out humor, but Buscemi recognized his friend's talents long before that. Speaking with the Guardian in 2017, he described Sandler as an "auteur" — and no, he wasn't being dry.

In addition to consistently asking Buscemi to be in his movies, Sandler has aired his appreciation of his friend in song form. At a virtual fireside chat in aid of the non-profit Friends of Firefighters, hosted by IGN, Sandler performed a specially written song that praises Buscemi's appearances in his movies. Love is in the airheads.

Steve Buscemi is Fargo's grouchy kidnapper-for-hire

Before "Fargo" was an award-winning anthology series, it was a movie (and possibly a true story, but probably not). In the 1996 movie, Steve Buscemi plays Carl, one half of an unlikely duo hired to hold to ransom the wife of struggling car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy). Everything goes wrong, of course, especially for Carl.

Where Carl's kidnapping partner Gaear (Peter Stormare) is the silent, menacing type, Carl leans towards irritable chatter (and away from pancakes). This clash of personalities causes the duo to crumble under the pressure of the mission, and Gaear ultimately kills Carl. He attempts to dispose of Carl's body in an especially gory way that's best watched from behind fingers and not while eating.

Although that was memorable (even scarring) moment for viewers, a more subtle death scene in a different Coen Brothers movie became Buscemi's favorite of his many onscreen demises. (He's worked with the writing-directing duo six times to date.)

In 1998's "The Big Lebowski," Buscemi plays mild-mannered bowler Donny. Buscemi told Steven Colbert in April 2016 that while reading the script, he thought he'd finally found a character that would make it to the end of the movie — something the audience probably believed too — only for Donny to die of a heart attack near the end (via YouTube). "I was like, 'Damn it — again!'" Buscemi said, laughing.

Steve Buscemi is a sleazy oil-driller-turned-astronaut in Armageddon

The prime example of Steve Buscemi's ability to shine in both blockbusters and cult classics is "Armageddon." The movie about oil drillers who turn out to be Earth's only hope for dealing with an incoming asteroid collision came out the same year as "The Big Lebowski": 1998. Although both were hits, the scales of the productions were vastly different.

In "Armageddon," Buscemi plays Rockhound, a sleazy oil driller whose dry sense of humor fails him at a crucial moment, and nearly costs the entire mission. (Adults watching "Armageddon" today will also notice that sense of humor is actually pretty disturbing.)

Moviegoers who got whiplash from seeing Buscemi follow "The Big Lebowski" with "Armageddon" weren't the only ones surprised at the divergence. Billy Bob Thornton, who plays a NASA executive in "Armageddon," told an interviewer that he sat next to Buscemi at the first script read-through. Looking at the rest of the cast — mostly made up of then-blockbuster actors like Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis — Buscemi reportedly turned to Thornton and whispered, "Hey buddy ... What the hell are we doing here?" Thornton's response was, "Yeah, I know. What are we doing here?" Making the movie with the highest worldwide box office take of 1998, that's what.

TV fans know Steve Buscemi from Boardwalk Empire

If you don't get to the movies much but you never miss hot-ticket prestige TV, the reason you recognize Steve Buscemi is probably from HBO's period gangster drama "Boardwalk Empire." In the show, Buscemi plays the highly corrupt and ruthless Atlantic City politician Enoch Thompson, aka Nucky. 

This role was widely seen as a welcome break from the neurotics, pushovers, and creeps Buscemi has often played. Plus, it gave him the chance to be the lead for a change. However, Buscemi himself told the Guardian that he primarily sees all of his characters as being credible humans, even if they aren't likable — a pattern that Nucky fits into as well. "I don't know if he's a good guy. He's a politician," Buscemi said.

"Boardwalk Empire" ran for four seasons before wrapping in 2014. The following year, Buscemi told CBS that he missed making the show, but added that he believed that it had "ended at the right time."