“I just spilled a big cup of coffee on the floor, just as I was setting everything up,” says Stanley Tucci, who, like the rest of us, isn’t immune to the challenges of working from home.
The actor, 60, wearing his signature dark-framed glasses with a scarf wrapped nattily around his neck, isn’t flustered: “Everything’s good,” he says. He’s chatting by video from his home in London, where he lives with his wife, literary agent Felicity Blunt (yes, actress Emily Blunt’s sister), and their two children, Matteo, who turns 6 on Jan. 25, and Emilia, 2. (He also has three grown children from his first marriage, to Kate Tucci, who passed away from breast cancer in 2009.)
It’s been a busy year for Tucci—he’d just returned from a six-week television shoot in Spain when we were catching up, and later this month he’s in Montreal shooting director Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi flick Moonfall. (Strict COVID-19 protocols on film and TV productions have enabled Tucci to keep working safely; earlier in 2020, while at home, he’d had and recovered from COVID.) Even better, he’s kicking off the new year with the release of two big, close-to-his-heart projects: co-starring with Colin Firth in the film Supernova, premiering in theaters Jan. 29 (and video on demand Feb. 16), followed by the delicious six-part CNN docuseries Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, premiering Feb. 14, which explores the country’s regional cuisine.
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A Man of Many Roles
For almost 40 years, Tucci’s appeal has crossed genres and generations, thanks to a range of standout performances, from lighthearted (Nigel in The Devil Wears Prada) to iconic (Secondo in Big Night) to flamboyant (Caesar Flickerman in the Hunger Games franchise). He’s been nominated for just about every award imaginable (including a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing child killer George Harvey in The Lovely Bones) and taken home three Emmys, a couple of Golden Globes and a raft of other prizes. He has fun too, recently lending his voice to the old-biddy villain Bitsy Brandenham in the animated Apple TV+ series Central Park.
In Supernova, Tucci tackles one of his toughest roles yet, and there’s lots of buzz that it’ll snag his second Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. He plays Tusker, a successful American novelist living in England with Sam (Firth), his partner of 20 years. At first, we see them in a camper driving across the country to visit family, gently bickering over directions like any longtime couple. But we quickly realize Tusker is grappling with early-onset dementia, which has robbed him of the ability to write and made Sam pause his own career as a pianist to care for him.
Director Harry Macqueen initially approached Tucci for the role of Sam, and Tucci was drawn both to the tender relationship between the two characters and to the difficult subject. “It’s very hard to lose somebody, especially when you’re losing them and watching them,” he says. The pairing with Firth was Tucci’s idea—the two first appeared together in the 2001 TV drama Conspiracy and have been good friends since—so he slipped Firth the script. It was a sneaky move, he admits, “but I had a feeling Colin would like it.”
Firth did like it, and he had a casting idea too. “Colin said, ‘I wonder if we shouldn’t switch roles,’” Tucci recalls. He agreed, and it didn’t take much for them to convince Macqueen. “Harry chose a few scenes and we read them as originally cast, and then we flipped it. As soon as we did that, it a was obvious we were supposed to play the roles we ended up playing.”
Tusker was both a perfect fit and big stretch for Tucci. On the one hand, Tucci shares his character’s cultured charm and sharp wit. But the actor—luckily—hasn’t had any personal experience with someone in his life dealing with dementia, so he was starting from scratch to research the role. “I watched a lot of documentaries about it,” he says, and his performance is infused with the subtleties of dementia. A person’s condition “can change very quickly, and it can change very slowly,” he says. Someone might not recognize a person they know, “and then two seconds later that person can be completely fine.” We see flashes of Tusker’s wry humor as his condition rapidly deteriorates, alongside Sam’s challenges caring for him.
The Oscar buzz is “very exciting,” says Tucci. But it’s also a little bittersweet, he says, because “I think it’s going to be harder and harder to make movies like this.” Smaller films were feeling the pinch before the pandemic, and now the enormous cost of ensuring sets are COVID-safe makes projects like Supernova even less likely to find a way onto the screen, he says.
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His other big project this winter, Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, feeds his lifelong love affair with Italian food. He grew up in Katonah, New York, the oldest of three kids in a food-obsessed Italian-American family in which his mom, Joan, and dad, Stan, an art teacher, relished nothing more than planning, cooking and sharing great meals. That love first went public with Big Night 25 years ago, which he co-wrote with his cousin, screenwriter Joseph Tropiano—and co-directed with Campbell Scott, his friend since high school—to showcase a side of Italian culture other than gangsters.
In the new series, Tucci is our guide to Italy’s rich regional cuisine. While American diners in 2021 certainly know Italian cuisine better than, say, the 1950s-era patrons in Big Night, he thinks we still have a lot to learn.
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“The more I went to Italy, the more I saw how completely diverse the food is in each region,” says Tucci, who has been visiting the country since his family spent a year in Florence when he was a teenager during his father’s sabbatical. “So many people around the world have the idea that Italian food is spaghetti and meatballs, which you never see in Italy. Or chicken Parmigiana—which isn’t even a real Italian dish, though I make it!” The show explores regional nuances, from the rich Alpine fare in the north (where “you’ll barely ever see a tomato or eggplant”) to the vegetable- and seafood-centric dishes in the south. The country wasn’t unified until 1861, he points out, and still is largely defined by its regions, where people are loyal to their local fare.
He’s also authored two cookbooks—The Tucci Cookbook (a collaboration with his parents and with chef Gianni Scappin, who helped with his research for Big Night) and The Tucci Table, which reflects the fare he cooks with Blunt. Those will be joined this fall by his memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food.
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Blunt shares his passion for food and cooking. The pair met at her sister Emily’s (Tucci’s co-star in The Devil Wears Prada) 2010 wedding to John Krasinski (in Italy at George Clooney’s Lake Como villa, no less) and later bonded over making a suckling pig. So it’s no surprise that during last year’s lockdown, with the family laying low in their London home, Blunt turned a smartphone camera on Tucci and asked him to make her a drink. It was just a casual little thing, he says, meant to entertain her co-workers also stuck working at home.
But it was cute, so his assistant also posted it on his Instagram account, and more than a million people have happily watched Tucci calmly demonstrate how to make a negroni while Blunt occasionally comments off camera.
No one is more surprised by the reaction than Tucci. “I don’t even know how to use my phone,” he jokes. “It’s ridiculous. And then we just said, ‘Well, let’s keep making them.’” Now, he turns up every so often, shaking or stirring a libation at their tidy, well-stocked home bar or occasionally demonstrating a recipe in their kitchen.
Despite his Instagram success, and his lifelong passion for food, he has no designs on doing a “real” cooking show. “I think it’s more fun to do a little one here and little one there,” he says. Anything more formal “might just take the joy out of it for me.”
He’s making one concession to his newfound social media success: “We’re going to get some lights to make things look a little better. I’m getting older by the minute,” he says, chuckling, “so I’ve got to do something.”
He doesn’t really need to, though. The internet—and the world—likes him just the way he is.
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Eating Across Italy
Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy (Feb. 14 on CNN) traces Italian fare all the way from Milan in the north to Sicily in the south.
Milan: Tucci sits down with the Missoni family (of the famous fashion house) for brasato (Italian-style pot roast), creamy polenta and foraged mushrooms.
Bologna: Pasta Bolognese is one of this city’s defining dishes. Signature ingredients in the region include prosciutto and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Tuscany: In Florence, Tucci savors bistecca alla Fiorentina (T-bone steak) and pappa al pomodoro (a hearty bread-and-tomato soup).
Rome: Tucci explores the Eternal City’s famous pasta dishes, including rigatoni all’amatriciana, carbonara and cacio e pepe.
Naples/Amalfi Coast/Campania: This region is home to classic Neapolitan pizza, San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella.
Sicily: Eggplant and tomatoes are two ingredients that factor into many traditional Sicilian dishes, like pasta alla Norma, which Tucci samples at a local trattoria.
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Stanley Tucci Facts
Always in his kitchen: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, pancetta or guanciale (pork cheek), eggs, cannellini beans, canned tuna packed in olive oil, lots of fresh vegetables, canned San Marzano tomatoes (he recommends Pastene; available at most stores) and high-quality pasta (Rummo is his current fave; available at Whole Foods and Amazon). “You can just live off all of that—it’s the southern Italian diet.”
Go-to comfort food: “Really something simple, like pasta with sauteed onion, garlic, fresh tomatoes and basil, and maybe a little Parmigiano or ricotta or goat cheese.” He also enjoys an all-American tuna melt sandwich.
Bar gear: He recommends a sturdy and stylish silver or glass shaker (like the Crate & Barrel’s Hatch Cocktail Shaker, $20, crateandbarrel.com), a mixing glass (like the Hiware 24-Ounce Crystal Cocktail Mixing Glass, $17, amazon.com) and a long-handled mixing spoon (like Hiware’s 12-Inch Stainless-Steel Cocktail Shaker Spoon, $13, amazon.com). He’s also a fan of vintage glassware.
Splurge on spirits: “Buy the good stuff, and try to make it last if you can,” he advises. “Life’s too short for cheap booze.” A couple of his favorites: fellow actor Paul Feig’s Artingstall’s Brilliant London dry gin and Dolin vermouth.
How acting is like cooking: “As an actor, the more prepared you are beforehand, the more spontaneous you can be. I think that’s true of cooking too.”
Favorite cooking show: Pasta Grannies on YouTube, which features actual grandmas demonstrating how to make traditional Italian recipes. “It’s the best cooking show on the Internet,” says Tucci. “You learn so much!”
Next culinary challenge: Learning more about Japanese food. “We took a sushi class, and it was really fun,” says Tucci. “I [also] love all those Japanese broths and noodles.”
Latest TV binge-watch: Blunt curates their TV viewing, he says. Recent favorites: Unorthodox (the series about a young woman who flees an unhappy arranged marriage in a Hasidic community) and the Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls docuseries The Last Dance, both on Netflix.
Family gatherings: Tucci’s sister- and brother-in-law, Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, currently are living in England, so their families get to see each other more often. But they try not to talk Hollywood shop too much. “We have to shut ourselves up sometimes,” he admits. “Other people get bored very quickly, believe me.”
E-book or physical book? Depends—when he’s on the road, he loads up his iPad with e-books. He recently reread the 1980s nonfiction bestseller Selling Hitler: The Extraordinary Story of the Con Job of the Century by British journalist and novelist Robert Harris. Tucci’s also a big fan of Harris’ spy thrillers.
Roles closest to him: He shares a caustic sense of humor and love of fashion with Nigel from The Devil Wears Prada, he says, and can be like the cool, unflappable dad in Easy A (“It’s one aspect of my parenting”).
Biggest stretch: Child killer George Harvey in The Lovely Bones. “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was really painful.”
Sliding doors: He was offered an audition for the role of Roger “Verbal” Kint/Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects. “I didn’t go because I thought that we’d just about got the money for Big Night, which of course we didn’t until later. How stupid was that?” The role later went to Kevin Spacey. He also met with director Sam Mendes about the role that later went to Spacey in American Beauty.
Role he’d like to play: “Something along the lines of a spy thriller. Especially now that I’m older. I always think those roles are good when the guy is older and he gets into a fight and he’s as badly hurt as the guy he hurt badly. I think it’s funny.”
Perfect day: Vacationing with his family at the beach in Cornwall, sketching and digging in the sand with his younger children while his older kids go surfing. “Then cooking a huge meal, preferably out-of-doors.”
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