Stanley Tucci on the highs and lows of the film industry

Jack Whitehead 30 May 2016

There’s suave, there’s downright classy… and then there’s Stanley Tucci.

From his rounded Céline glasses to his patent brown shoes, everything about him oozes charisma and charm. Twenty seconds into the interview I’ve decided that I want to be him when I grow up. He reveals that his own aspirations were fixed much earlier.

‘As a kid I loved movies’, he admits. ‘I realised I didn’t want to go through life as myself. I did a play at school when I was nine or ten and when I stepped onto the stage I found I was much more comfortable there than I was in real life. There’s a comfort in acting: there’s a clear beginning, middle and end… acting is just pretending, beautifully written.’

Much of Tucci’s acclaim has followed his chilling depiction of serial killer George Harvey in The Lovely Bones (2009), for which he was nominated for a Golden Globe. But he recalls the struggles he had with such a macabre project:

‘It’s terrible – you do research which is really hard to do because it’s sickening…’ He shakes his head. ‘Also I’m a step parent and a parent and my kids were young at the time. You piece together this person, the look of the person and the behaviour of the person, take what’s there in the script then you shape it. Once you have the look of the guy you can see him in front of you, then you can strip that away again’.

Yet, he later adds that another sinister role has ‘stayed with me to this day’. He alludes to the part of Adolf Eichmann in the 2001 film Conspiracy, an exploration of the psychology of the Nazi officials who met to discuss the ‘Final Solution’ in 1942. Describing how he grappled with the part, he explains that ‘what was most helpful for me was understanding that he was a human being and not a monster. [The Nazis] were people. What they did was monstrous.’

He runs through some of his favourite roles and briefly considers The Hunger Games. ‘Caesar’s very different – he’s a freak… it really was fun to play.’ He adds that ‘Julie and Julia was great. And Captain America… that was truly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.’ However, he settles on Nigel from The Devil Wears Prada.

The role wasn’t one he was expecting, he remembers. ‘I wasn’t cast until the eleventh hour. In fact, it was a friend of mine casting it and she looked at every other actor in Christendom before me.’ At the suggestion that they were ‘very lucky to cast you’, he cheerfully agrees. As he describes working alongside Meryl Streep, Tucci breaks out into a smile. ‘Meryl tells me she is the greatest and I believe her… is there a best anything in any art form? No.’ But he adds resignedly: ‘If there were it would be her.’

So what of Tucci’s future plans? He alludes to his involvement with Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast, the teaser trailer of which was released last Monday.

‘I don’t sing in it…’ He trails off then hastily adds: ‘Which is a great thing. I told them I don’t. I really don’t. I’ve been acting for fifty five years – I’m not going to ruin it now.’ He laughs.

But he won’t only be in front of the camera, it seems. Tucci has already directed (and written) a number of films such as The Imposters (1998), Blind Date (2007) and Final Portrait, which is currently in production. He remarks that he’d like to ‘move into directing a bit more. The problem is that the directing I do is all very small… I have to go back to [acting to] make money but maybe in a few years that’ll change. I think the good thing about making small movies is that I have autonomy.’

I ask whether cinema is a unique experience in touching its audience.

‘Yes, I think so… although the melding of film and television is inevitable.’ He gestures in frustration. ‘Many of us just watch films on television rather than going to the cinema. That said, going to the cinema is a really great experience because everything is larger than life. We can see things and do things at a cinema that we could only imagine twenty years ago… so you’re creating these whole worlds that are incredibly real.’ He pauses and adds: ‘Yes. It touches you in different ways in the theatres.’

Yet, Tucci is careful not to glamorise the film-making industry. He describes the ache of missing his family, of being stuck in a trailer on location with a director who hasn’t a clue. He laments the arduous editing process, working through endless reels of material in the knowledge that most of it is entirely disparate from the way it was first imagined. For a moment I wonder why he continues to experiment with so many aspects of film-making with such energy.

But he doesn’t wait for the question. ‘I like telling stories’, he says. ‘And this is the way I like to do it. Art helps make order out of the chaos of life. Being able to tell a story using words and images that last for a long time… now that’s a really exciting thing.’