we love stanley tucci
KARA SCHLEGL REFLECTS ON ONE OF HOLLYWOOD’S MOST NOTORIOUS SIDEKICKS.
CONSPIRACY (2001) It’s unlikely your history teacher taught you the Holocaust was plotted over a hot lunch buffet, but that is the horrifying reality captured in HBO’S Conspiracy. Set in one room over the course of a day, this deeply unsettling film gives us a seat at the table in one of the most secretive meetings in modern history. It’s a rare opportunity to see Stanley Tucci take on a leading role, but comes with the caveat that watching his performance might compel you to throw your Tucci memorabilia into the sea. He plays infamous SS unit leader Adolf Eichmann like he’s a brow-blotting maître d’ fetching tea for his genocidal guests. In a cast of heavyweights, including Kenneth Branagh and Colin Firth, Tucci stands out as a servile sleuth who would come to describe his orchestration of the Final Solution as simply ‘following orders’.
THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA (2006) I’m an atheist, but I still believe a higher power blessed us with The Devil Wears Prada to make up for the invention of Minions, or something equally heinous. Aspiring journalist Andy (Anne Hathaway) lands an assistant role at a big New York fashion magazine, but it turns out she might not be cut out for the job. It's the premise of every terrible chick flick ever made, until editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly appears on screen (played expertly by the aforementioned higher power, Meryl Streep) like a viper ready to strike at Andy’s throat. This was the breakout hit for screenwriter Aline Brosh Mckenna, whose expertise helped to adapt Prada’s characters from book to screen in a way that elevates them into gif-worthy cult heroes. This is especially true for art director Nigel (Stanley Tucci), who might have easily slipped into a camp yesman for Andy. Instead, Tucci plays him candid, grounded and entirely ready to slap Andy’s privileged pout off her lily-white face.
BIG NIGHT (1996) Big Night has almost universal critical acclaim, and for good reason: Stanley Tucci is the writer, director and star. The film begins with two immigrant brothers, Primo (Tony Shalhoub) and Secondo (Tucci), fighting to keep their authentic Italian restaurant open in New Jersey – a business suffering in the culture shock of an America with fast-food sensibilities. This conflict of cultures is a delight to see, like watching an old Italian nonna scolding a 7-Eleven manager. Tucci has a tendency toward servile characters – those who might be overlooked or cast aside, but are always greater than their title lets on. They’re often morally tense and quiet, but calculated, keenly intelligent and withering with wit. Writing himself as the pandering restaurateur Secondo, who inhabits all these qualities, works as a mission statement for his career. This might be the quintessential Tucci movie – an absolute must-watch for any fan.
THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) The Hunger Games is set in a postapocalyptic America – so, probably not long after Trump wins the next election – where citizens are sectioned into 12 distinct class districts. Every year, children from each district are forced to fight to the death in a brutal game show aired live on TV. Suffice to say, this film is rated PG. Stanley Tucci plays sycophantic Hunger Games host Caesar Flickerman, with purple eyebrows, sharp teeth and Big Dick Energy. Tucci describes Caesar as “creepy, with a sort of false generosity and duplicity” – in other words, a game-show host. What makes this one of his best performances is that the two sides of him are always convincing in the moment. He becomes the embodiment of state propaganda, which forces us to question everything he says and turns watching him into a game in and of itself.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (1999) If you’re into woodland romps, hardcore innuendo, unrelenting queer bait and Calista Flockhart scream-crying, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the movie for you! Four young lovers are lost in the forest, when fairies decide to meddle with their love lives using what I can only describe as a magical date-rape drug. This enchanting Shakespearean adaptation has helped high-school students pass English exams for decades, and inspired me to pursue the dramatic arts – which was, by all accounts, a resounding mistake. Yet it still holds a special place in my heart, not least for featuring Stanley Tucci in a very welcome shirtless performance. He's Puck, a wily and salacious sprite who tries to play cupid and truly fucks it up, sending the lovers into a vortex of debauchery that ends with a mud wrestle. Puck rises from a servant into a bona fide manipulator – in the end, he calmly asserts himself as the story’s unreliable narrator, leaving us with a wink and a classic Tucci smirk.
SPOTLIGHT (2015) Based on a true story, Spotlight follows a team of investigative journalists at The Boston Globe in 2002, as they uncover the Catholic Church’s practice of shielding paedophile priests from prosecution and relocating them to new districts. It isn’t a good idea to watch this stomach-churner after chugging an entire tub of popcorn, FYI. It’s a bare-bones production, with no Hollywood razzledazzle to disguise the alarming and heart-wrenching facts. Stanley Tucci plays a lawyer who has taken on the near insurmountable task of fighting the church on behalf of hundreds of abuse victims. In other less steadied hands, this role might have been a bit part overwhelmed by an ensemble cast of Hollywood titans, including Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Rachel Mcadams and Mark Ruffalo trying his darnedest not to Hulk out on a bunch of priests. Tucci is gentle but sharp, like a cat’s paw clawing at us with painful facts. His character acts as a moral compass, providing much-needed solidity for a film that might have collapsed under the weight of its own story.
EASY A (2010) In this deeply charming adaptation of The Scarlet Letter, Olive (Emma Stone) is a teenager who turns being slutshamed by her classmates into a business enterprise – because she’s a freakin’ genius. Easy A is a love letter to John Hughes movies, featuring all the hallmarks of ’80s teen comedy classics, including a musical number, a boom box serenade and an extremely good dad. Stanley Tucci, of course, plays this dad, who is warm, witty and confusingly sexy. There’s an interesting question to ask here about why Tucci, who has leading man charisma and can disarm any acting partner with a withering stare, is more often found in supporting roles and bit parts. This film might come closest to an answer, as his gentle presence is a comfort that eases the tension built up by the scenes before. It might be that he’s most effective as a helper or healer, rather than a bold hero.
THE LOVELY BONES (2009) The Lovely Bones is a supernatural mystery told from the afterlife, and if you enjoy walking into a mystery blind, I suggest you skip ahead a bit. The story centres on the murder of a 14-year-old girl, Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), who haunts her family and her killer, as a ghost. This is less a thriller, and more a family drama about grief with some spooky bits thrown in. The captivating cinematography is stifled by the presence of the murderer, Harvey, played by Stanley Tucci with greasy blonde hair and serialkiller glasses – the first and only time he has ever looked unattractive. Director Peter Jackson famously begged Tucci to take this role; he was reluctant to play someone so menacing. But there’s something deeply sinister in Harvey – a perverse lust for the gruesome that Tucci portrays a little too convincingly. What I’m saying is, you might not watch this movie as part of an Easy A double-feature.