Interview with Academy award nominee Stanley Tucci

Chiara Pizzi

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Stanley Tucci receiving Volta Award at JDIFF

Academy award nominee Stanley Tucci attended a public interview yesterday 15th February, 2014 at the Lighthouse cinema as part of Jameson Dublin Film Festival.

Italo-american actor Stanley Tucci is mostly know for popular characters such as Ceaser Flickerman in the Hunger Games or Nigel in the Devil wears Prada. Truth is that Tucci’s IMDb page is endless.

Not many people know that Stanley Tucci is not only an actor; he is also a producer, director and a writer, featuring in about 108 productions.

Tucci was invited to attend a conference and receive a Volta award yesterday 15th February, 2014.

During the public interview with the festival director Gràinne Humphreys, he opened himself up about his career and he charmed everyone with his impeccable style, his sarcasm and his warm voice.

This interview reveals the reason why Stanley Tucci is the perfect man: not only a great actor, but a family man with strong principles, a good sense of humor and an insane passion for cooking.

Which woman would not fall for him?

 

It is a saturday afternoon at the Lighthouse cinema, there is a long queue in front of Screen 1 where the event is going to take place. Stanley Tucci arrives with his gorgeous wife, she is taller than him, hairs tighten up in a pony-tale and wearing a long red coat, they are escorted by two young men.

He is wearing a stylish black suite which shows his long grey socks underneath as soon as he seats down to start the interview with Gràinne.

The room is packed, no seats left, and everybody gets extremely quite as soon as Stanley walks in and seats on the yellow chair, besides the festival director.

Stanley Tucci and Grainne Humphreys
Stanley Tucci and Grainne Humphreys at the Lighthouse cinema

The interview starts:

 

Hi Stanley, it is an honor having you with us today.

Thank you for having me, it’s wonderful to be here.

 

So let’s talk about your start, you were casting for a part in a John Huston film?

Here this is the thing, I was understudying a play at Broadway at the time,I was in audition for one line they gave me one line so it’s like you are not even going to speak (he says ironically).

I was on set for a few days and when I thought I was going to do the part they say they gave the part to a Jack Nicholson’s friend. So it is kind of a sad…story. Sorry (the audience laughs).

 

But it is still a start…

Oh yes it was great – Stanley comments with a sarcastic tone and everyone laughs.

 

Talk me about one of my favorite movies of you, Big Night, did you find difficult to direct your film and acting in it?

Acting can be frustrating at times, there are certain laws in the acting job, so I started to write with my cousin a screenplay, and none of us has ever written something before.

It took us a long time, about 8/6 years on and off because I had to go work and every time I was questioning myself if I was doing the right thing, so anyway it took me a while.

As I said acting was a bit frustrating even if I was getting many roles, a part of me thinks it is really wonderful to be a character actor, to be able to do different things, but it’s hard sometimes because people just don’t know what to do with you, they want to do what you just did if the film was successful. If you do the mafia thing they want you to do the mafia thing, if you do the funny thing they want you to do the funny thing.

I was interested in creating my own aesthetic cinematically and tell a story in a way that would have been considered more european and a film that wasn’t necessarily plot driven but character driven. In the early 1990s there was lots of space for independent movies so you could do it.

 

You put up an amazing cast: Mark Anthony, Tony Shalhoub, Isabella Rosselini…

Yeah we were really lucky. We made a movie 16 years ago with 4.3 million dollar. To get a movie for 4.3 million dollar today is actually very difficult. And at that time none of these people were film stars except for Isabella.

 

There is a sense of intimacy and warmth in that movie which is just extremely rare, when you go back and watch it there was a wonderful sense of ease within the cast, a sense of people living together. That was as scripted and how you as a director felt about it?

I had a very specific ideas of what I want things to look visually, but then you always have to leave room open for interpretation without questions and you have to be ready as a director to throw away what you have written sometimes. You can have a shot-list in your mind, you can have very specific ideas of what you want in your mind however those sometimes can just be ideas and they mustn’t be imposed upon the actors; that said, I would also direct actors like cattle sometimes (the audience laughs).

Grainne asks her stuff to screen a short clip from Tucci’s Big Night.

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Stanley Tucci in Big Night

Big Night has a complete different take on Italians: there is no guns there is no killing, there is lots of threats I wondered if that was deliberative, if you want to readdress to that particular community on the screen?

Yes without question, we wanted to show the italian-american in a different way. We didn’t want to romanticize that world or putting up on a pedestal because I just don’t believe about it.

We didn’t want to give a positive picture of them,we just want to portray a story of two guys who are italian,who are human who happened to be italian, and the intricacies of their feelings of their relationship, just showing them as people,that’s it. I was really happy that we pulled it off.

There was always the question of why there wasn’t Mafia in the movie, I mean I grew up as an italian and I never met anyone from the Mafia…except for my mother, but then she shaved… (the audience bursts laughing).

But the thing is the statistics tell than less than 1% of italian-american have had any involvement with the Mafia and we are talking about a population close to 35million people.

You were also working on Murder One; that was a huge phenomenon in Tv series in america..

Yes that was great, and I was really happy because I was completely broke (everyone laughs),so we shot the pilot then we shot the film.

It was a really good show that Steven Bochco made. So it was really fun for me.

 

Can I ask you… did you know who did it?

No actually it was a general mystery man who committed the crime in the show, but I wanted to know as well so I asked Steven – did I do it?- and he said -no you didn’t but I am not going to tell you who did it- then I said -oh it’s fine I just needed to know that it wasn’t me- then I said -can you please make sure that it doesn’t end up being a mafia guy?!-

But I think he told everybody something different because when everyone asked him – did I do it?- he said -No you didn’t do it-  (Tucci pulls off a very deep voice leading to the laughter of the audience).

 

The other thing is that Big Night got a huge distribution and went around the world, so that’s kind of exciting.

Yes we went to every festival we went to Sundance,Cannes it was really great. It was a very different time for film making, it made at the box-office 12million dollars which was a big deal for an independent movie at the time.

I think if you would re-release the film now I could probably retire, although I retain no rights to it so somebody would retire (everyone laughs).

 

You then came out with another movie, The Impostors, which was really funny but it wasn’t as well received but you really got into directing..

Yes I had these three movies in mind that I really wanted to do, they are all completely different genres but ultimately the theme is the same, they are all about identity and the role of the artist in society. So we did Impostors which was a huge failure at the box office, a very funny movie… a cult classic for…people in mental institutions (Tucci says ironically and the audience bursts laughing).

Then we did Joe Gould’s secret which was pretty well received, and then I didn’t direct for three years because I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do and I had kids, so the last movie I directed was about 6years ago, Blind Date, and it was probably the film that I am mostly proud of in a way as cowriter and director.

 

You also at that stage went to Broadway to do a play, is it different playing on screen and on stage?

Yes that was an hard experience but very valuable I learnt a great deal out of it, I haven’t done it for a while and it was great to do it again. It was a tremendous amount of work and then I haven’t done a play since, but I directed one three years ago on Broadway and it was incredibly satisfying.

 

A lot of actors seem to love the theatre because of the richness of the characters but it seems that you find that on screen too it was also the time when you played in Conspiracy.

Yes I was playing that and it was so satisfying because I was experiencing different parts of myself.

You know I think everybody has a multiple personality..everybody sitting here..especially THAT GUY! (Tucci points his finger to a guy on the first row causing the laughter of the audience).

I think that being an actor just means allowing yourself to explore these parts…when I went to that darkness to play Adolf Eichman (Conspiracy) and try to find that humanity in him, if there is any humanity, that’s an actor’s job.

 

And how difficult is it to come in a movie in that way when you move from film to film that quickly? How much work do you do in preparation?

Yes some films you do extensive research for the part, some others you don’t, it’s just there on the paper. So I was doing this comedy down in Florida and I was reading about the Holocaust and all the details of the trial and we ended up dramatizing and then I had to run on set and doing something ridiculously farcical and then going back to the Holocaust…so it was a sort of very schizophrenic time. But the reading was a key thing for me.

 

A short clip about Nigel from the Devil wears Prada is screened.

They actually had already started shooting when they cast you for the Devil wears Prada…How is that even possible?

I don’t know; actually a friend of mine was casting the film and she wouldn’t cast me…I was the last man standing on the film (the audience laughs).

 

It is a fantastic script so everyone would have died to deliver those lines…

Yes, the script was really fantastic and I had a week to prepare. I was very cautious about it because I didn’t want to set up a flamboyant homosexual, that would have been incredibly offensive, so I had to be very,very careful about how to represent him. I guess it was great because I didn’t have the time to think about it.

 

But you are familiar with that particular world in the sense of the importance of clothes.

Yes, to a certain extent, I am very visual and I like clothes, so I felt comfortable with the visual language of the film and the character.

 

You obviously have the ability to come in a group that has been working for months and fit in.

I think it’s part of your job to understand not only the film but the people you are working with and the set and if the set needs a little bit of lightening you can bring that, or if people are disorganized you can help with sort of organize the set.

 

You really seem to bring this sense of commitment in the film, and the portrayal of Nigel is the end of the film and in four scenes you actually steal the film. The next film I want to talk about is the Lovely Bones and I’d rather not seen you in this film because it is a really hard part. Can you talk about taking the part and the challenge of deciding to make it.

 

Yes, it was really hard to take the part, I find that people are fascinated with serial killers: there are so many Tv shows in america about this topic. In my opinion  it is kind of gross and unnecessary but I guess people find it titillating. I don’t like it, particularly things that have to do with kids.

I am not talking about Schindler’s list where obviously dark things happen, I happen to love that movie but what I don’t like it is the gratuity of violence and the evil that it’s portrayed in Horror films.

But anyway, I happen to do this because the script was so beautiful and it wasn’t about the gratuity of violence but about loss and how we are able to overcome it. My late wife…she was alive when I chose the film… she didn’t want me to do it,but then I told her I read the script and I find it so beautiful so I had to do it.

Probably the hardest thing that I ever did as an actor. I had to go to that place, and do research and looking at documentaries and photographs, talk to cops and reading the true accounts of what happened. It was really horrible I could do research for about an hour a day not more, in order to become him; and then once you look in the mirror you are him and you can’t wait for it to be over.

 

Peter Jackson knew exactly what he was doing when he was casting you: he was taking this person that everybody loved and put it into this really dark part.

I guess so and I asked him – why do you want me to do it?- and he said –because you are funny- which makes Peter Jackson…quite sick  (Stanley lowers his voice while he says that and the audience laughs).

 

 A short clip from Lovely Bones plays on the big screen. 

You worked with Saoirse Ronan when she was about 13, it was a year after Atonement…

She is amazing and you know, we shot that scene in Pennsylvania for a very long time because Jackson likes his takes, and we did a lot of coverage and that scene was the last I shot after five months. We had a very long break in between and shooting that scene was really hard, after every take I was going to Saoirse and ask her -are you ok?- and she was – I am fine, you know?!how you doing Stanleyyy?!- (Tucci  raises his voice which leads the audience to laugh).

 

Do you remember what she commented about you in the film?

Oh yes (he giggles). Once she said something like -if I have to choose my murderer, I would choose you- (the audience laughs).

 

She is a woman now and she is fantastic, I bet she will be playing your girlfriend probably in a few years ,that’s a casting idea…

Oh how weird would that be…

-Back together again!!- Tucci shouts and the audience burts laughing.

 

Actually talking about your co-star, I asked people on twitter about their favorite scenes of you and Easy A came up. It seems to be the general consensus that you and Patsy are the best parents ever in film.

Yes, very likable very easy going, and… I am the complete opposite of that person. I mean you wish you could parent like that: they are very forgiving parents, very funny and very friends with their kids which I don’t believe in…maybe a little bit (he giggles and the audience laughs).

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Stanley Tucci in Easy A

 

I mention Meryl Streep earlier, and the things that strike me of Julie and Julia it was that it was going to be you two,Paris and lots of food. I mean what else do you need?! And from your perspective, as an acknowledged foodie what is that a reason to take the movie?

Oh well I received the email when I was on set for the Lovely Bones, and I guess it was the antidote to that movie because I did it straight afterwards, so it was much needed. I know a lot about Julia Child, I love her and I love her story and Norah was so excited to do it. She is a huge foodie as well even if she is that skinny. It was a wonderful experience, because it was Meryl and me and Norah, but it wasn’t Paris, saved for ten days at the end, it was Queens in a kind of really shitty studio (the audience laughs) where we shot the Devil Wears Prada too.

 

But you made all the food, I mean wasn’t the whole point of the movie that the food was cater on set?!

Oh yes everything was eatable, they had to hire a chef because we had to eat all the time, so that was good and…we had real wine too so that was fine, I insisted (Tucci ironically points out followed by people’s laughter). Then we went to Paris and that was really fun.

 

According to my research it was Meryl who nominated you to play Paul.

Yes,it’s true, in fact we were at Liam Neeson’s christmas party and she said -do you want to play Paul Child and I play Julia Child?-

Well… what do you say?! No ?!Pff… (everyone in the room laughs).

 

I was just wondering… do you play Charades at this party?

Yes.

 

I think this is hilarious can you imagine there is in one team Meryl Streep and in the other Stanley Tucci…who wins?

Well, first time I went to Natasha and Liam’s party it was few years ago… I was just trying to make irish connections,you know,Liam Neeson…and Samuel Beckett was there too! (Tucci ironically adds).

So anyway, we played Charades and there were so many talented actors at the party that I almost walked out, then Natasha said that we were going to play Charades and I was like – oh f**k I can’t play Charades with these people- (the audience laughs) but anyway every year was fun.

Liam was very bad though …you know he doesn’t talk, which you think it would be good but you kind of go -ok forget it, just get out-

(the audience bursts laughing in the room)

 

One thing I thought about this film that was interesting is that it’s based on real people so the research was different…

Yes, I met with Alex Prud’homme who is Julia’s great nephew so Paul was is great uncle, and he actually looks similar to him. He is a great guy who I became friend with. I mostly read biographies about Julia and Paul, because he was actually a really interesting guy and I wanted to know more about him.

 

Was Paul a spy?

No, I don’t think he was a spy, neither was she. I think everybody wanted to believe so. He was a Renaissance man that’s what he was.

 

You and Meryl have such a great chemistry…

Yes, we get along pretty well but I guess she is such a good actress that she can have chemistry even with people she hates. I can’t tell you who these people are but luckily I am not one of them.

You know when you just feel comfortable with somebody you just feel comfortable, we actually have a strong trust.

Stanley Tucci as "Paul Child" and Meryl Streep as "Julia Child"
Stanley Tucci in Julie and Julia

You also wrote your own cookbook right?

Yes, I locked myself up in my house for four days and produced 17 recipes a day, which is not really Julia Child’s style but I was tight with times. It was released in 2012.

 

We talk about Twitter,  how do you feel about it and all these technological devices in general?

Actually I don’t know much about them. I don’t really like using technology. I don’t use the phone or computer so often, I think we lose so much of our life and time using these things, I don’t even know how to use a computer, I mean only to do research.

 

The last question I wanted to ask you: when did you decide to start acting?

Well… I guess, since I was a kid in school, I always felt more comfortable on stage than in normal situations. It’s the opposite of what normal people feel, they usually feel uncomfortable on camera,but I guess that actors are not normal people… they cannot be normal.

 

The interview with Gràinne concludes, but Stanley remains seated on his chair to answer the questions of the audience in Screen 1 of the Lighthouse cinema.

After the talk with the public comes to an end, Love/Hate Actor Killian Scott awards Stanley Tucci with a Volta award.

The irish actor looks a bit intimidated by the Emmy award winner, and he nervously seats beside him and starts making jokes about how he was invited to present this award and how excited he was, which Stanley well receives and he plays along with him; especially by mocking Killian about his “as you were coming from the docks”-outfit.

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Killian Scott giving the Volta award to Stanley Tucci

Once he receives the award the audience stands up from its seats and applauds Stanley for at least five minutes.

After taking few pictures with his fans Stanley leaves the Lighthouse cinema with his wife, escorted by his two bodyguards.

 

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Chiara Pizzi