His hands trace wide graceful spirals in the air, indicating extravagant neckwear. I try to picture Tucci with my hair (less leading-man coif, more feral Brooklyn dad quarantine mess). I will admit to briefly imagining the two of us, Tucci and me, sporting a pair of untamed manes and rakish foulards.
“But I can’t do it,” he says, breaking the spell. “Because it would make my head look even smaller.”
We’ve been talking about personal style, about learning to know what makes you comfortable. And how the 60-year-old—he celebrated the milestone birthday alone in November, Zooming with family and friends while away on a film shoot in Spain—insists on dressing his age.
“One thing I hate to see in style is men or women trying to be youthful in a way that’s just...wrong.” he says. “It’s like, What are you doing? You’re 60 years old. I can tell you’re 60 years old. The thing is: Don’t try too hard. Just don’t try too hard.”
And would this be a cautionary life lesson in addition to a sartorial one?
“Yeah, I think it is,” Tucci says. “I wish I wouldn’t have tried so hard when I was young. I would have been a better actor. I would have been a better person.”
It’s not that he didn’t have a sense of humor, he says, “but there were times when I just took myself too seriously. You don’t learn anything that way. You can’t grow. If you take yourself too seriously, you’re just a jackass. You know? I look at somebody like Meryl [Streep]. Meryl’s incredibly serious about what she does, and she’s incredible. But she doesn’t take herself too seriously.”
One of the themes of Tucci’s latest film, Supernova, is the struggle to live and age and eventually stop living, and to do it on our own terms. Tucci plays Tusker, a novelist facing his own early-onset dementia. Sam, Tusker’s longtime partner, is played by Tucci’s good friend Colin Firth. Sam is committed to putting aside his own needs to take care of the love of his life, even as Tusker recognizes that life is over. On a final camper-van trip through northern England, they grapple with death, affirm their love, and bicker over the GPS.
“As an actor you just want to be able to explore as much as possible,” Tucci says. “This was a very painful subject to explore. But it’s a necessary one for people to see. And it was frightening as someone who just turned 60. You know, I got some mail from the NHS: Here’s your bowel-cancer screening kit or whatever, and I’m like, How dare you? What a nice happy birthday that is!”
I ask Tucci about the challenges of such a quiet movie, where much of the story is told in the space between lines of dialogue.
“That’s what I loved about it,” Tucci says of writer-director Harry Macqueen’s script. “So much dialogue in movies is completely unnatural. The fewer lines, as far as I’m concerned, the better. Because it’s more interesting to watch. A lot of writers write because they want to explain. They don’t trust the actor.
“The key,” he suggests, “is knowing how to modulate your performance depending on the genre of the movie and tone of the character.
“Playing a super villain is different than being the bad banker in a more realistic drama. It’s all the same—it’s just how much do you twirl the mustache?”
I should mention that Stanley Tucci’s head doesn’t look small at all. It’s rather regal as heads go, actually: a bald eagle with a wry grin, expressive eyebrows working overtime above signature thick-rimmed spectacles. “It seems to work,” Tucci says, of his trademark strong-eyewear game. “It breaks up the monotony of my face.”
It’s a face that’s been familiar to TV and film audiences for 30-plus years now—even if they haven’t always been able to place it. A few years ago, Saturday Night Live recast the rapper Lil Pump’s consumerist anthem, “Gucci Gang,” in a skit called “Tucci Gang.”
Some of you don’t know the name
But that’s the guy from The Hunger Games,
Transformers: The Last Knight,
Beauty and the Beast, and Spotlight,
Writer and director of Big Night...
32 years in the biz
I’m a big fan of his!...
The Devil Wears Prada was sick!
If you don’t like Stan you’re a dick!
Like the rest of the world, lockdown has meant long stretches at home for the usually steadily engaged actor, director, and writer. Unlike most of humanity, though, Tucci has thrived in this environment of sustained paranoid domesticity. A student of restaurants and an accomplished cook, his food-nerd credentials are impeccable: In addition to his work on the iconic food film Big Night, he’s played Julia Child’s husband (Julie & Julia) and written two cookbooks, including The Tucci Table: Cooking with Family and Friends, written with his wife, Felicity Blunt, barrister turned literary agent and sister of actor Emily.
This fall, he is releasing a culinary memoir titled Taste: My Life Through Food. His new documentary series, Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, on CNN, is an exploration of the country’s history and culture through the lens of its regional cuisines. He loves to cook for Felicity and their extended brood. Under one roof are the couple’s two young children (ages six and three), as well as Stanley’s three kids (19 and a pair of 21-year-old twins) from his marriage to his late wife, Kate, who passed away in 2009, plus a college-aged friend of the older kids for good measure. He’s the rare cook who’s also a zealous cleaner. In a sweet quarantine journal for The Atlantic, he chronicled his daily routine of nappy changing, floor sweeping, counter scouring, and wondering whether he might “strap a vacuum to my back like a leaf blower so that it could be with me at all times.”
On top of or in spite of all this—as you are likely aware, and quite possibly already in a froth about— Tucci made proper cocktails for his wife. A strict adherent to the five o’clock cocktail hour, he posted a video on Instagram of himself looking sharp in a fitted black polo shirt, making a Negroni for Felicity. The Internet promptly lost its cabin-feverish mind. “I Was Not Ready for Stanley Tucci to Destroy Me with a Mere Cocktail Tutorial” went a representative headline in Harper’s Bazaar. New York magazine labeled the three-minute video, which garnered more than a million views, “powerfully erotic.” Late-night host James Corden called him “the best-dressed man in isolation” and Town & Country said he “gave us hope in troubled times.”
We are all Tucci Gang now.
Tucci, for his part, is pleased to add accidental pandemic mixology thirst trap to his already impressive list of credits. “It’s not like I went searching for that role,” he says. “But I’m absolutely thrilled.”
“Edward G. Robinson said he did three movies a year,” Tucci says, admiringly. “One was for the art, one was for the money, and one was for the location. I always thought that was a great approach. When somebody comes with an offer, the first thing I ask is, Where does it shoot? One, because I don’t want to be far from my family. Two—or almost one and a half—I’m thinking, What’s the food there like?
“If you’re a secondary or tertiary character, which I usually am, you have more time off. What are you going to do with that downtime? You’re going to go to restaurants and go shopping in markets and find great produce and cook it.”
Tucci’s first culinary love was Italy. His grandparents on both sides came over from Calabria. His mother, a great cook, sent him to school with veal-cutlet sandwiches or eggplant parmigiana.
“Every now and again you’d wish you had a Fluffernutter sandwich. Which a friend of mine had every day. He can’t still be alive. It’s impossible”
Joan Tucci’s eggplant parmigiana was not the gloppy, mozzarella-smothered stuff typical of Italian-American red-sauce joints. She salted and drained the eggplant, and layered the delicate slices with zucchini, potato, and a light marinara. The family recipe is still one of Stanley’s favorites.
“Every night you were eating the most delicious food,” he says, fondly. “She made everything.”
In 1972, his father took a sabbatical from his job teaching art and moved the family to Florence for a year. “It changed our lives,” Tucci says. “Within two months I spoke Italian fluently. I was 12. Your brain isn’t filled with martinis and worry at that age.”
The CNN show is a chance to indulge and share this passion for Italy. Watching it is sort of like tagging along on an Italian vacation, as Tucci charms his way into kitchens, asks smart questions, and eats well. For me, a food and travel writer who’s had his wings clipped by quarantine, the show offers the added somewhat-surreal layer of watching Stanley Tucci do what I typically do for a living, only more dapper and in fluent Italian.
In an episode on Rome, Tucci travels to a local trattoria to unpack the history of spaghetti carbonara. He takes a bite of the pasta and turns to hug the elderly owner in gratitude. I nearly wept. Because the pasta looked so good, and because I miss Italy and traveling and talking to chefs in packed restaurants and hugging anybody.
“It was incredible, too!” Tucci says, a little cruelly, of the pasta carbonara. “I wasn’t pretending.”
Why, I ask him, do we do this? Why make such a fuss over what we eat?
“In the food of every country is the story of that country,” Tucci says, now not just doing my job better than I do, but also explaining it more eloquently. “It sounds like a cliché but every dish tells a story. That’s probably why you and I love it. You’re not just talking about it or reading about it—you get to eat it too. You get to eat the history. You’re eating somebody’s life! It becomes a part of you. Then you can pass it on. To me, this is the greatest part about cooking.”
“I think it does add up,” Tucci is saying. We’re talking about the enthusiasms and interests we accumulate in the course of a lifetime. We’re talking, I guess, about getting older. “It’s an education,” he says. “I didn’t really have a college education. I went to a conservatory for acting. I had like the opposite of a college education. So you become an autodidact, which is kind of cool. Because it’s, like, What attracts you? I like art, I like clothes, I like food. And I want to know about them. You learn to ask: What makes me comfortable? What makes me comfortable is a really nice suit. Does it look nice? Yeah, sometimes it looks okay. Would I dress in a suit every day? Yes. Even when I was a kid I always wanted to be very sort of stylish and dress well—but you have to make sure it’s the right style for you. What suit is really right for you? What glasses are really right?”
With everything going on right now—the meal making and cleanup, the full-time parenting, the plotting where to travel to eat next—is that a level of image management he’s willing to allocate time for?
“Oh, absolutely. I’ll spend hours in an eyeglass store. I mean literally hours, trying on every pair. I’m fascinated by it.”
I’d had it in my notes to ask him if it felt strange to find himself an unlikely Internet sex symbol just as he’d grown into a role like Tusker. Now the question seemed irrelevant: Tucci is clearly enjoying this moment. Being a beloved familiar face, admired at 60 for his fitness and style, indulging his passions and driving the Internet mad with displays of domestic suavity—this is the role, or roles, Stanley Tucci has been training for his whole life. It adds up.
“I don’t want to be the same person all the time,” he says. “That’s the beauty of acting—and it’s also the beauty of what we were talking about. Which is that as you get older you’re educating yourself, you’re learning more and more. And that forces you to use different parts of yourself and to become different people in a way.”