You loved Stanley Tucci opposite Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Julie & Julia.” You loved him in his Emmy-winning guest appearance on “Monk.” If you’re a real film fan, you loved him in the great eating film “Big Night.”
But there won’t be a lot of love for his role in the film “The Lovely Bones.”
The Lovely Bones
In the dark and disturbing new movie, the 49-year-old Tucci plays a serial killer who preys on young girls. The film, based on the best-selling novel by Alice Sebold, is narrated by a 14-year-old girl who is raped and murdered by a neighbor, and then continues to watch over her family from a fantastical afterlife.
The veteran character actor, who already has received a Golden Globe nomination for his chilling portrayal, is considered a lock for an Oscar nod. In this interview, he recounts how he resisted the role initially, why the research gave him nightmares and, on a lighter note, what he considers the best eating movies of all time.
Q: A guy in my office named Andre wondered if you got the role of a serial killer in “The Lovely Bones” because of your earlier role as a killer in “The Pelican Brief”?
A: (chuckles): I don’t know. Pete (director Peter Jackson) probably saw that movie. But I’m not sure if that role led him to believe I could play this role.
Q: That’s OK. Andre’s not even in our department, so his opinion means nothing. Personally, I thought the role of Adolph Eichmann in the HBO movie “Conspiracy” might have had more influence than “The Pelican Brief.”
A. Well, yes, exactly. Pete and I talked about Eichmann a lot when he asked me to do this movie.
Q. How is playing Eichmann like playing this killer?
A. People say they’re monsters, but they’re not monsters. They’re people who do monstrous things. And that’s what makes it so awful. These characters have a profound disturbance in them that is psychotic. I was very reticent to play this role.
Q. How reticent were you? Was it a sincere reluctance, or part of the process you go through when choosing a role?
A. No, no. no. I was truly reticent to take this part. It took me a long time to decide. I knew it was a great opportunity, but I don’t like movies and TV shows about serial killers and kids getting hurt. I can’t stand it; it’s too disturbing to me. I never wanted to play a serial killer. I had no interest in it.
Q. What changed your mind?
A. I wanted to be a part of the profound emotional aspects of this film. I knew I would be in good hands, and I was assured that there would be nothing gratuitous. It’s not a slasher film. It’s a beautiful exploration of love and loss, and the connections between people. It even explores the possibility of an afterlife, all perpetuated by this horrible event.
Q. Once you made the decision to play the role, I would imagine that researching the role might have given you pause?
A. Absolutely. I was constantly thinking that I had made the wrong decision. That is, until we started working and I found the guy. Then I started feeling better. But the research was very bad. I could only do it an hour a day.
Q. What did it consist of?
A. Watching documentaries, reading transcripts of interviews with serial killers, reading books on FBI profilers. It was really hard. It makes you sick to your stomach, and you wake up in the middle of the night with these horrible images in your head.
Q. You could have been less of a professional and not done the research?
A. I could never have done that. They would have fired me, and rightly so.
Q. After all the research, what did you discover about the character?
A. The externals of this guy were the way in. He was very banal; he had to be an innocuous, American-looking male in 1973. I wanted him to have lighter skin and lighter eyes than mine. We had special teeth made, a mustache was added. A very clear portrait came together as I studied these guys.
Q. How is this guy different than the serial killers we’ve seen before in movies like “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Manhunter,” and in TV shows such as “Criminal Minds”?
A. I don’t know that he is so different because I don’t watch those shows. But the key to this particular killer is his normalcy. He’s a supposed normal person.
Q. Was it difficult to put him to bed each night?
A. At the beginning, yes. But then it got easier.
Q. Why was it so difficult in the beginning?
A. The research is so fresh that you can’t get it out of your mind. Once you find him, and act him out, he can go away more easily.
Q. From an actor’s standpoint, is a role like this different than, let’s say, your role in “The Devil Wears Prada”?
A. A good part is a good part. But a role like this takes its toll on you. You can’t wait for the end of the day. I had a great time, but it was difficult. At the same time, it was exciting.
Q. You have children of your own. Did that make the scenes with the young actress Saoirse Ronan that much more difficult?
A. Of course, but they would have been difficult anyway.
Q. I’m not sure if you have heard but there have been some reviewers who have criticized that the rape and murder of the young girl was not shown in the movie?
A. There are plenty of other movies out there where that is shown. It’s much more interesting when it’s left up to your imagination. I think it’s sick that people would want to see that in this movie. I can’t even fathom that someone would say that.
Q. Even though you worked on this film, is it possible for you to get creeped out when you see the finished film?
A. Oh yeah, even I got creeped out. I know it’s all pretend, but Pete executed it so beautifully that it got to me.
Q. Is there a particular scene?
A. The one when the sister is in the house and my character comes home early. It was so brilliantly done. I don’t know how you put together a scene like that.
Q. In the end, were you happy that you did the part?
A. So happy. It was a great experience.
Q. Does a role like this give balance to the lighter stuff?
A. A steady diet of anything isn’t healthy.
Q. As a respected character actor, what is your job in a movie? Is it to steal scenes?
A. No, it’s to tell the truth of that character in the proper tone of the film. That’s your job.
Q. When did you figure that out?
A. It’s common sense.
Q. When you started out in the business, what was your ambition?
A. To work as much as possible, and to find diversity in what I did. I don’t want to play the same character all the time.
Q. Why not?
A. Because then I wouldn’t be an actor.
Q. Actors on TV series play the same character all the time.
A. That’s true. And they’re rich.
Q. When you were starting out, did you want to be rich and famous? Is that a foolish thought?
A. It’s not foolish. I think every actor would like to be rich and famous. Anyone who tells you they don’t is lying. But it can’t be all that you want. It’s about levels of fame, and what you want to do with it. Notoriety for what you’ve done well is a great thing. Notoriety for the sake of notoriety is a bad thing.
Q. Was there a tipping point in your career when you went from anonymous character actor to a recognizable face?
A. Fame is an incremental thing. It happens slowly, although the year that “Big Night” came out and “Murder One” was on TV, people did start to put the face with the name.
Q. “The Devil Wears Prada” must have launched you into a new level of fame?
A. I couldn’t get a job after “Prada.”
A. People don’t understand that this business is bizarre and fickle. I even called my agent in frustration, and he said things were slow. I was furious. I couldn’t believe it. But that’s the nature of the business.
Q. Taking “Big Night” out of the picture, what do you believe are the best eating films of all time?
A. I don’t know that you can name a best, but “Babette’s Feast” and “Eat Drink Man Woman” are two extraordinary films.