Stanley Tucci Still Doesn’t See Himself a Leading Man

The Oscar-nominated actor turned travel host is searching for Italy—and settling in to the aesthete he’s always been
654

Hollywood is home of the multi-hyphenates: Actor-directors. Model-actresses. Actress-models. Athlete-actors. Comedian-actor-showrunners. The list goes on. Since the launch of his CNN travel show in February, actor-director-cookbook author Stanley Tucci has even more hyphens than most. And if making a mean martini counts as a title, tack that on too.

Despite the yearlong pandemic, which Tucci has spent in his adopted home base of London with literary agent wife Felicity Blunt (sister of his The Devil Wears Prada costar Emily Blunt) and their two young children, Tucci is having a surprisingly sizzling season.

In the much-praised indie Supernova (available on VOD), Tucci takes a dramatic turn as a celebrated author descending into early dementia while on a road trip with his longtime partner (Colin Firth, one of Tucci’s real-life best friends). And just last month, the actor’s six-part docuseries Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy premiered, establishing the Oscar-nominee as a force in the food world (on top of going viral as an at-home cocktail master).

In advance of the show’s premiere, we talked to Tucci about role-swapping with Firth, how his travel show came about, and his affinity for a nice suit and tie.


How’s London lockdown going over there?

Culturally? Politically? Weather wise? It’s all pretty bleak, as it appears to be in the U.S. But my family is luckily safe, secure, and surviving pretty well.

I think Supernova, which was written and directed by newish Brit filmmaker Harry Macqueen, is one of the best reviewed films I’ve seen in the last 14 months. There’s no one is doesn’t seem to touch.

Jesus. Wow. Well, that’s pretty good! I read some of the early reviews, but nothing more recent. Listen, I’m thrilled—I think Harry has a great future ahead of him as a filmmaker. He’s only in his thirties.

The combination of you and Colin Firth, without anyone even knowing the plot, was a huge draw right off the bat.

I’m so glad. We’re very different actors, even though we share an aesthetic. And also, God knows, we have completely different careers: Colin is a leading man. And also a wonderful character actor. He’s just a great actor. And he has been for almost three decades. He’s extraordinary. So maybe it’s the idea of these two very culturally different people together that made people excited, which is great. I think another reason is we’ve both played gay roles and the gay community is very comfortable with us, which makes us both very happy.

So you read the script first, and slipped it to Colin Firth before the director even knew. What made you think of him for this role of a concert pianist who’s watching as the love of his life slips into dementia?

Well, he’s one of my best friends. And a great actor. Our sensibilities are very much the same. So it just made sense.

How did Macqueen, who’s British, decide the film’s central character should be American, when the film’s all set in England?

(Laughs) Well, I think originally Harry wanted me to do a British accent. And originally, Colin and I were playing the opposite roles.

What?! You’re both so suited to the roles you’re in.

Well, I was cast as the partner taking care of his longtime lover as he slips away. After Colin signed on, we’d been talking, having meetings with Harry, and then Colin said to me, “I think maybe we should switch roles.” I said, “I’ve been thinking that, too.”

Why?!

I don’t know! And Colin doesn’t know! When we approached Harry with that, he was like, “Oh, God, what have I gotten myself into?” And then we read a few scenes both ways. It seemed like the way it ended up was the way it was really supposed to be. But I had said, prior to this, “Harry, I don’t want to do a British accent. It doesn’t matter where he’s from. He can be from anywhere. It’s just about a relationship. After we switched it, there was something about the rhythm of Tusker, it was something—maybe—that lent itself more to my cadence. And Colin felt more comfortable in the other role.

Well, one could argue that you put yourself in the tougher role, having to slip back and forth, in and out of dementia, while trying to disguise your fragility to your partner.

Yeah, yeah. Harry was kind enough to give us so much research, we met with a doctor who was working with dementia patients for a long time; I watched countless documentaries, did a lot of reading. I don’t know if my part was harder. They’re both really hard. Just like in real life, those are both tough roles—the question arises, who suffers more? That’s a big part of the movie. But ultimately, it’s about love, I guess. And so many other things.

Lots of gay actors play straight, lots of straight actors play gay. But you’ve done it a number of times.

I’ve done it four times. A little movie called The Day Trippers that’s lovely. I play Hope Davis’s husband who she thinks is having an affair with a girl named Sandy, then discovers they’re actually a man. The Devil Wears Prada, then Burlesque—which is quite fun—and now this.

Why do you think you’re so good at it?

(Laughs) I have no idea! To me it has to do with the script: If it’s something that’s incredibly camp or insulting or sort of silly about a gay character—or any character—you don’t do it. I need to believe it—in whatever the genre. To me, it’s just like playing any other character. You just need to be truthful. And you can’t make fun of it or send it up or whatever. It’s your truth; it’s that simple.

Do you realize you’ve made something like 97 movies in 40 years and that doesn’t count the TV projects?

Yeah. Yeah. And the plays I did. Some of the movies, I popped in for two days or two weeks. You know, it’s really just about scheduling (laughs). And then sometimes you go through those periods where you’re languishing. You need a job. It sort of comes in fits and starts.

Do you think The Devil Wears Prada was some kind of turning point for your career?

No. Here’s the interesting thing: it was very successful. And it’s an absolutely beautiful movie—the perfect Hollywood movie. It’s brilliant, brilliant. That script was just so gorgeous. And Emily was great—my now sister-in-law! But after that job—I’m telling you—I could not get a job. I’m not kidding! I don’t know why, I just couldn’t. The cooking movie with Meryl Streep—Julia and Julia was a few years after that. It’s not like the phone starting ringing off the hook. Not at all. Not at all. (Laughs)

Some actors just go crazy when they’re not working and get severely insecure.

Yeah, it’s weird. Now that I’m older, it’s a little easier not to work. But I still have to pay the bills. I have to pay off a mortgage. (Laughs.)

And you have very little kids (Matteo, 6, Emilia, 3).

Yes, yes (laughs). And three adult ones. There’s still work to be done. Luckily, my wife has an actual job, as a literary agent.

At what point in your career did you discover you were more a leading man and not a character actor anymore?

I have never realized that and I still don’t believe that to be true. I’ve gotten to be a leading man in a few films, most of which I’ve directed myself. But, no, I don’t consider myself a leading man. Perhaps someday Hollywood will (laughs). I think people have always been confused about where to position me. But I have, more the most part, played secondary or tertiary roles.

It seemed like you were going to drop acting after you directed Big Night, was such a huge success.

Well, I have still directed. But these movies are not as well known. I made three movies in a row, The Imposters in 2012, then Joe Gould’s Secret. But those last two movies weren’t so successful financially. After Joe Gould’s Secret, I didn’t direct another movie for eight years. There were a lot of reasons, scripts that almost came to fruition. It takes a long time to put a movie together. I wasn’t sure what kind of movie I wanted to direct again. When my late wife [Kate Tucci] got sick [with breast cancer], that was hard. But, during that time, I ended up directing Blind Date (2007) in six days in Belgium—it might be my favorite movie I’ve ever directed. After that, my wife passed away and I didn’t direct a movie for a long time till four years ago, called Final Portrait, about [Swiss sculptor Alberto] Giacometti. There is a big gap between Blind Date and Final Portrait—I had to figure out my life again.

It looks like you have a lot of projects coming that you’ve already shot, yeah?

Yes! I think so! The pandemic seems to have melted some of my memory away. The King’s Man is the prequel to The Kingsman: Secret Service.

Are you the bad guy or the good guy?

I can’t tell you that! But it was really fun. And there are a few other ones. [In an animated TV series airing this year called Central Park, he voices an 80 year old woman.]

So how did the CNN documentary series about Italian regional cuisine wind up happening?

It’s an idea I’ve had for a long time. CNN came to me and said, “Do you have any ideas?” So I gave them a few ideas. This was the one where they said, “We love it.” So after during the last year and a half, we’ve been filming it. It’s a trip through regional food like Neapolitan pizza, pasta a la Norma in Sicily, rigatoni in Rome.

It sounds pretty yummy. All we need in this pandemic is more food porn! I saw you on James Corden where you were mixing martinis—now this show and after your two cookbooks (one with Blunt), you’re known almost as much for being a foodie as an actor and a director. And cocktails. Which is pretty funny, don’t you think?

(Laughs) I guess so! It is very funny, actually. No, it’s very exciting too—I love food, I love cooking. And I don’t mind a cocktail.

How come you never gain any weight?

I’m blessed with a very fast metabolism. And I exercise like a fiend. When I was younger, I’d lift heavier weights and so on. But I don’t do that anymore. A lot of it is my own body weight, a certain amount of weights and pilates. It’s basically five, six days a week, every morning. When you’re traveling and have a gym in the place, great. Now I can zoom or get a recording of the pilates teacher—this incredible woman, Monique Eastwood—who’s been training us for a long time, and has trained a lot of people; she’s just extraordinary. If you do that, you have earned your martini, you’ve earned your pasta. You have to earn them. Just do it. Just work out for an hour and then—have at it!

You know, I’m not sure why, but you look like a guy who wears a suit and a tie every day. That’s the way you’re dressed in most of your photos.

Well, I would. I almost always wear a jacket. But I would like to wear a suit and a tie every day. It’s not necessarily conducive to my home life right now. With two little kids and all that—and lots of cooking (laughs). But yes, I’m more than happy to put a suit on to go out to dinner or to a meeting.

Most men hate ties, say they’re too uncomfortable.

No—I love it. My daughter’s boyfriend, this lovely guy, said to me—he’s 20 or 21—”When I am older, I’m going to wear a suit every day, no matter what I do.” I said, “Well, you’re all right.”

You’re what they used to refer to as “an aesthete”: you appreciate the finer things in life, like food and cocktails and clothes and art.

I do! And it’s not like, “Oh, I’m so rich”—I always loved those things. It’s not about money; it’s about aesthetic. Always. I was brought up with parents that dressed very well, a father who was an art teacher and my mother was an incredible cook. It’s not like there was a lot of money in the house. But aesthetics were really important. Culture was really important. And taste. Manners were very important. Really, really important. I spent many of my early years in New York—unemployed—and I got a memberships to the Met and the Museum of Modern Art, which were affordable. I didn’t have a college education—I went to a conservatory. So you become an autodidact. And I think that we can all do that—if we want to.


Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.