by James Mottram

It’s been 10 years since Stanley Tucci has directed a film (Blind Date), but in the meantime the prolific actor has appeared as more than 30 different characters in movies and TV shows that range from blockbuster franchises such as Transformers, The Hunger Games and Captain America to voice work on BoJack Horseman and memorable supporting roles in Academy Award winners such as Spotlight.

Tucci’s return to the director’s chair sees him tackle a long cherished project about 20th century artist Albert Giacometti, starring Geoffrey Rush and Armie Hammer.

Was Albert Giacometti someone you knew a lot about before you started this?

Oh my God yeah, I mean I knew his work. In my early 20s I was in college, and I started reading about him, I carried this book [A Giacometti Portrait by James Lord] with me for 25 or more years. And it took me couple of years to write and a decade or so to get the money

What is it that fascinates you about him?

I think he’s sort of a perfect artist, and this was a perfect book about his creative process. So, to have those two things available to you is very inspiring. The structure was perfect to me. You started at day 1 and ended at day 80; now, what happened in between is very complicated.

The process of painting the portrait itself was tedious. How was it to balance the tedium and the engagement of the audience in a cinema?

You have to really focus on the tedium, the redundancy, the repetitiveness without basically boring the shit out of the audience. So, you still have to feel it, I have to get you to the point when you’re about to “Oh my God I can’t…”, then there’s a shift, something happens that keeps us engaged: he gets very angry and he burns his stuff, or he suddenly has a big fight with his wife, or he goes out on the town. It was nice to hear the responses, people go “ugh…” that really makes me laugh. Because you can hear them thinking “how long is this fucking movie gonna last?” And then it’s funny, because you think “oh my God it may never end”, or “it could go on forever”.

Have you ever sat for a portrait? How was it?

Yeah, it was tedious but it was very interesting. It’s important to do I think, because you’re looking at somebody look. I find it fascinating, because everything starts to change: time, space and even the person in front of you. My dad was an artist and sometimes I posed for him. You look at this person who is your father and you know him very well, and he’s looking at you, kind of like he has never seen you before. That’s very unusual for an extended period of time, then you’re looking at him like you have never seen him before. You start to see things in each other that you’re never seen.

In the film Giacometti described the act of painting a portrait as meaningless and impossible as photography. As a filmmaker how would you describe the act of making films to the big screen when people are getting more used to streaming?

It’s starting to feel a bit antiquated. There’s no question. However, it’s very exciting to see something out of the big screen. It’s a communal experience. And it’s important. It will always exist but in different forms, maybe films like this may eventually be made for TV. But it doesn’t make any sense, as a business model, if you think about it, how much money are you going make on this movie? Movies like this are harder and harder to make because the distribution cost is substantial, advertising is substantial. It only makes sense that they will go in a different direction, and it’s already happening. I think movies will eventually become big communal events in very large theaters.

Does directing and acting affect one another?

It does. Directing means you’re always learning something. You’re always learning how to and how not to do something. It’s exciting because you don’t have to wait around. You’re the one controlling the time and I like that. Because a lot of movie making is about waiting. And it’s really boring. I can’t bear that.  But being able to create a world in its entirely; the colours, the shapes and the tones of that world is very exciting to me.

Can we ask about your Italian roots?

I am nothing but Italian. I am born in America but both sides of my family are Italian. I grew up in this wonderful Italian family. Food was a very crucial part. Food and art. My mum was an amazing cook, and my dad was an art teacher. I remember one time my mother said ‘why don’t any of my children become lawyers and doctors’, and you thought ‘how’s that gonna happen? You spend all the time at the museum and all you talk about was food.’

When did you discover your passion for acting?

When I was a kid, during a play and it was like 6th grade, when I was ten or something. I remember we were going on stage and I was like ‘oh, this is so comfortable’, and I felt more comfortable on stage than off stage. Then it kind of disappeared but I had always loved movies. Then at high-school I did it again, and I loved it, it felt just so right, like I knew how to do it, I don’t know why.

Do you miss the stage as it is a purer form of acting in some ways?

In some ways it is but some ways it isn’t because, I suppose when you initially begin anything it is supposed to be pure. But then you have to repeat over and over again, so in way it accidentally becomes in a way less pure. And you have to be on a long run, and that’s why I haven’t done a play for a long time, because the run can be too long. You never see your family, you miss cocktail hours, it’s terrible. People think you’re working a couple hours a night but that’s completely untrue. You start you brain, start to go there in the afternoon, and you get to the theaters at a certain time, and then you finish at 11, that’s when you have dinner, your kids are in bed, your wife is in bed and you sleep until 10, and you do it and do it again. So I know what you mean, but in some ways films can be much purer – every take can be completely different if the director wants it to be. There’s a very specific kind of technique that you need to have. It’s very obvious when you have a film actor and a theater actor, there’s a distinct difference. The theater actors are long distant runners.

Do you like sketching or painting?

I do. I do it to clear my head. Figures, abstractions, faces. It’s a nice way to get away from my real things, time passes by very quickly, like fishing.

Do you like fishing too?

I do. But I am a very terrible fisherman. I never catch anything. I used to go near a reservoir near where I grew up in Leicester. I was just going out there but I never caught anything.

Final Portrait is in cinemas October 5, 2017


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