WHEN I grow up I want to be like Stanley Tucci. There, I’ve said it. Given that he’s now 56 and I’m only a few years behind him I realise I’m cutting it a bit fine. But just look at the man. Unless you cleave to some Hollywood mumbling, monosyllabic man-mountain model of masculinity (it’s up there on the shelf marked Sylvester Stallone, I think), Tucci is a vision of style and grace and scene-stealing ease. Frankly, he’s a reason to see any movie he’s in, whether that be in the Hunger Games films or Burlesque. (OK, I didn’t go and see the new Transformers movie, but there are limits to my man crush.)
More than that, he dresses well, dabbles in a bit of sculpture and he cooks. There are even a couple of cookery books – The Tucci Cookbook and The Tucci Table (co-written with his wife Felicity Blunt) to prove it. Even his name has a touch of class to it. You pronounce it “tu-chi”, he says. “Like Gucci.” But of course. Like I said, stylish. What’s not to aspire to?
This June morning he comes into the room at the Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian, shakes my hand, sits down and immediately oozes a classy self-confidence. (Note to self: does class ooze? Surely that’s the wrong adjective. If anything class would shimmer or infuse. It wouldn’t ooze. That sounds like something septic wounds do.)
Anyway, Tucci is dressed down this morning but it suits him. He orders a
double espresso and a tomato juice and sits down to talk.
It’s been a busy year, onscreen at any rate. You may have already seen him in Beauty and the Beast earlier in the year and, yes, then there was the latest Michael Bay Transformers noiseathon.
But Tucci’s in Edinburgh with a film he doesn’t even appear in. Final Portrait is a film he’s directed. He’s Travelled up from London, which is where he lives these days with Blunt (yes she is related – she is Emily’s older sister; the pair met at Emily’s wedding), his three teenage children from his first marriage and Tucci and Blunt’s two-and-a-half-year-old son Matteo.
Final Portrait is a quiet, modest thing, a world away from the Michael Bay approach to filmmaking. It’s a movie about art, one of Tucci’s great passions, and features Geoffrey Rush as the Swiss artist and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, Clemence Poesy as the artist’s French mistress and Armand Hammer as the American subject of the portrait of the title.
It is a film that attempts to take the measure of artistic creation. By the end of it you will know every plane of Armand Hammer’s face. Watching actors playing artists painting other actors could, as Tucci says himself, be like watching paint dry. But Final Portrait is never that. Tucci takes the art seriously, but the film has a lot of fun around the edges.
Fun does appear to be something of a watchword for Tucci. “I run a set the way I’d want a set to be run,” he tells me. Which is? “I like to have a good time. It should be a nice fun set. I like to move swiftly. I don’t like to belabour things. It should move quickly.”
Is that normal in your experience, Stanley? “No. No! Sets can be fun but a lot of times one department doesn’t know what the other director is doing. So you have these moments where you’re waiting and then somebody will go: ‘What are we waiting for?’ ‘Are you ready?’ ‘I’m ready.’ ‘What about wardrobe?’ ‘They were ready half an hour ago.’
“So much time is wasted and … It’s just boring. So to me you’ve got to keep it moving and keep it energised.”
Final Portrait is not his first film as a director. He’s been behind the camera off and on since 1996 and his directorial debut Big Night, set in a failing Italian restaurant. By now he must have the chops to say yes if Bay came to him and said the next Transformers movie needed the Tucci touch.
“I would have no idea how to do that. It’s anathema to me. They’re fun to be in but I would have no idea how to direct a movie like that.
“And I really am interested in directing movies that are intimate stories. Are they the most commercial movies? No, but that’s not …” He pauses, has a sip of his espresso. “If the producers are kind enough to give me the money I’ll hope they break even. That’s all I can say.” He starts to laugh.
Directing is something he’d like to do more of. “But I have to act because I have to make money. But if I had my way I would act less and less. I really love directing. It’s really fun because you use all of you and you don’t have to wait around. That’s a real issue for me. I f****** hate waiting.”
Is this a just a work thing? Or are you a naturally impatient person in real life? “Yes I am.”
He’s lived in the UK for four years now. Does he feel British yet? He puts on his best posh aristo voice. “Completely.”
What’s the most British thing you do, Stanley? “I say herbs as opposed to erbs, which is the way we say it in America. And I do on occasion say ‘to-mat-to’.
“We have a two-and-a-half-year-old who – we don’t know why – has a very posh accent. Felicity is not really posh, the other three kids are American and talk like I do. His nanny is from Slovakia. Another woman who works with us is Hungarian and my assistant is British but not posh British. But he sounds like …” He pauses, reaching for a comparison. “… Prince Charles. I can’t figure it out. And it’s really funny to listen to him.”
He resorts to his best posh British accent again: “’Oh no, thank you, Daddy.’”
I have to say, Stanley, much as I want to be you, I’m not sure I’d be have the energy required to have a toddler running around my feet at the age of 56. “It’s tough,” he says, smiling. “I’m not going to lie. However, he’s so joyful. He’s very funny, very smart, very chatty. He literally never stops talking.
“But it’s also really nice to see the older kids, who are 17-year-old twins and a 15-year-old, with him. And also have them see me parent because then they go: ‘Oh, yeah. I think I get it.’”
Are you a different parent this time around? “I’m more relaxed, yeah. Maybe I’m just exhausted.”
Tucci with Cher in Burlesque
Stanley Tucci grew up in Katonah in New York state. His dad was an artist and an art teacher. When Tucci was a child the family went for a year to live in Florence. That beats a week in Majorca, doesn’t it?
He looks back on it as an idyllic childhood. “Of course as a kid you don’t know it’s a great childhood. Once I got older I really couldn’t wait to go to New York. I wanted to live in the city. I wanted to be a tortured artist.”
He made his big-screen debut in John Houston’s 1985 comedy thriller Prizzi’s Honour and has the usual bit-part roles on his IMDB profile (second dock worker in the Madonna movie Who’s That Girl; first tenant in an episode of Kojak) before moving up the cast list through the 1990s, cementing his prime character actor status in the Steven Bochco TV drama Murder One. By 2009 he had tagged an Oscar nomination for his role as a child murderer in The Lovely Bones.
Inevitably, in the early days he would be tapped for the stereotypical Italian-American mafia roles, even though his family background was more about painting than protection rackets.
“You have to fight against it. You have to take some jobs because you have to, but then there was a period where I didn’t do anything that was gangster-related. I hate all that stuff.”
So if Scorsese came knocking, would he be interested? “Yeah, because it’s him and he knows how to tell those stories. They’re not just stupid caricatures of gangsters, they’re brilliant movies. I did Road to Perdition which was the first time I played a gangster because it was so beautifully written. And nobody was good in the movie. The Irish were worse than the Italians.”
Tucci has always said he feels more comfortable on stage than offstage which seems strange to me, firstly given that he comes across as so laidback in real life. And secondly the very idea of standing up in front of an audience … Well, I mean, hello! I’m guessing if I’m going to be Stanley Tucci this might be where I fall down.
“A lot of people don’t feel in control onstage,” Tucci admits. “They feel out of sorts. But I actually felt much more in control. You had this audience seated there and the thing was very clearly defined. Even the space was defined, right? And there’s a beginning, a middle and an end, and then it’s over.”
And that’s not how it is in the real world, he says. “We wake up every day and nothing is defined. See, that’s a little frightening. And I think that part of what the theatre does, or filmmaking does, or any art form is, it allows you to structure your life, to make organisation out of the chaos.”
And Tucci knows all about chaos.
A couple of things happened to him in 2009. Yes, there was that Oscar nomination. But that was also the year Tucci’s first wife Kathryn died after a long struggle with cancer. They had been married for 14 years.
Coming to terms with Kathryn’s death was one of the reasons, he admits, that it took him 10 years to return to directing. (He starred in and directed his second film, Blind Date, in 2007.) I’m not surprised. How do you even begin to come to terms with losing your wife?
“You get through it because you have to get through it. Because you have kids. You get through it because your family is incredibly supportive. It’s hard. It’s really hard.
“She died in April and in June or July, I think, I went and did [the film] Easy A, which was a very good thing for me to do. That was just three days and then I didn’t work again until the next January and I went and did Burlesque. I had the kids with me and my parents came out.
“I knew I had to get everything in order before I could go and work again. Because you have to figure out who’s going to take care of your kids when you do have to go to work. How’s the household going to run? Your family can help to a certain extent but ultimately you can’t be living with your parents. Eventually, you have to create a whole new structure for your family that’s going to keep them moving forward.”
This is the practical family man speaking, of course. The husband and father in him was coping with his own grief and that of his children.
“The kids all went to therapy. Trying to answer all those questions is hard.”
In the past he has admitted he suffered from survival guilt. “Completely. I still have it. I dream about my wife.
“It’s horrible. We tried so many options. That was eight years ago so there’s a lot more that people know about cancer now although her diagnosis would be the same result today unfortunately with all the billions that are spent, still the same result.”
The pain doesn’t ever really go away. But here’s the thing. Stanley Tucci picked himself up and rebuilt his life. No, more than that, he created a new one for his children. He is acting, he is directing, he is dreaming of building a little arts studio.
In short, Stanley Tucci has sculpted a life for himself and his family not once but twice. Quite frankly, that’s a model of masculinity worth aspiring to.
Final Portrait (15) is in cinemas now
Source : HeraldScotland