The popular Saturday Night Live comic plays Scott Carlin, an aimless, pot-smoking Staten Islander who struggles with mental health issues and the trauma of the death of his firefighter father at a young age, maybe his only ambition in life being to open up a tattoo parlor (hilariously called Ruby Tattoosdays).
The actor not only had to tap into suicidal thoughts he's had at points in his life (the opening scene finds him almost speeding into certain death on the Staten Island Expressway), but also revisit the pain of losing his father Scott Davidson, a New York City firefighter who died heroically while responding to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11 when Pete was 7.
"It's definitely difficult to revisit firefighters and that aspect of it," Davidson tells Yahoo Entertainment during a recent remote press junket, where he was joined by his co-writer and director Judd Apatow (watch above). "But I really have to give it up to Judd and the co-writer Dave Sirus and the cast and crew because they made it so easy for me. They were such a family and so sensitive to my feelings and they made everything OK."
Davidson's backstory, particularly when it comes to his father, is well-known, so it's somewhat surprising to find out that Scott's father in the film died in a building fire, but not on Sept. 11, 2001. Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Trainwreck) explained how they landed on that decision.
"We talked about it a lot, and I think what we decided is we wanted the movie to be about Pete's character's grief, and his family's grief," he says. "With 9/11, it’s really something that affected everybody in the country and it would be hard to tell this story if everybody is sharing in the same pain.
"But we also knew that when people watched the movie, they would be aware that that was what we were really talking about."
Scott must confront the tragedy of his past when his mother (Marisa Tomei) begins dating another member of the NYFD (Bill Burr). Meanwhile, he struggles to commit to the young woman (Bel Powley) he is seeing — or at least hooking up with.
"It's definitely what my life would've looked like if I didn't get into comedy, that's what I imagined happening," says Davidson, whose high-profile relationship with ex-girlfriend and pop singer Ariana Grande has made fodder for countless gossip headlines. "But the issues that Scott deals with in the movie are very true, and very transparent, and the same kind of issues I have to deal with. And that's one of the reasons why I wanted to put those on screen is so that I could grow as a person and maybe after this I could move on from it and grow from it and learn from it."
Davidson's alternate timeline perspective on his character is shared by his accomplished and beloved costar Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, Fargo), who plays Burr's firehouse chief. The Brooklyn native was actually a New York City firefighter before he left the profession to pursue acting.
"In many ways I wonder, 'Is this the guy that maybe I would've been had I stayed on the fire department,'" says Buscemi, who has over 160 credits on IMDb but has never before played a firefighter. "To do a movie like this where I'm connecting with [Pete] on such a deep level, I just loved it."
The King of Staten Island is available on streaming platforms starting Friday, June 12.
Watch the trailer:
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