Aspen Filmfest to honor Stanley Tucci | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Filmfest to honor Stanley Tucci

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Stanley Tucci as "Paul Child" in Columbia Pictures' JULIE & JULIA.

ASPEN – After breaking out of an early case of being stereotyped as “the Italian gangster,” Stanley Tucci seemed to go on a mission to demonstrate his versatility. The 48-year-old has compiled a big-screen rsum that includes roles as a Depression Era magician, a contemporary detective, a Southern journalist and a publishing executive. He is currently featured in the hit “Julie & Julia” as the kind, infinitely accommodating husband of Julia Child; in December, audiences will see him as a disturbed murderer in an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones.” He has appeared in several kids films, and loaned his voice to several animated movies. Tucci counts among his own favorite roles the deranged Hispanic thug he portrayed in “Undercover Blues,” a 1993 crime comedy he believes was terribly under-appreciated. Tucci has also forged a career as a writer-director. In that role, he has created characters for himself that include a slapstick comedian and, perhaps most memorably, an Italian immigrant restaurateur in the wonderful, award-winning 1996 film “Big Night,” which revealed his ability to be the central character in a film.For all those facets, Tucci still considers himself to be on the movie-business roller coaster. His career, he says, has “gone in waves. You have these performances where people think you can do anything, and then there’s a lull, and you have to climb back up again.” Those downturns are not simply distant memories that continue to sting. In 2006, Tucci played the gay art director of a fashion magazine in “The Devil Wears Prada.” It was yet another breed of character for the actor, the film was a hit, and Tucci’s work earned major applause.”The film was a big success. People loved the role,” Tucci said. “And then I couldn’t get a job. Literally couldn’t get a job.”That’s the way it works. It goes up and down and there’s no rhyme or reason.”Tucci seems well equipped to handle the vagaries of the film business, and of life. Over green tea at Aspen’s Hotel Jerome Library on Friday morning, he is friendly with the waitress, eager to speak to a reporter, interested in topics ranging from the Hotel Jerome to Aspenite Clifford Irving, the subject of the 2006 film “The Hoax,” which featured Tucci as a book publisher who has the wool pulled over his eyes. There is apparent satisfaction in his home life: The father of three young kids, Tucci lives in South Salem, in New York’s Westchester County, just a few miles from where he was born and raised.This would have to be considered one of Tucci’s better career moments. “Julie & Julia” is nearing the $100 million mark. “The Lovely Bones” is a prestige project that marks a new sort of role for him. “Blind Date,” a film directed by and starring Tucci that opened a year ago in Europe, has finally hit American theaters. Olive Productions, which he co-owns with fellow actor-director Steve Buscemi, has three projects in the pipeline. And Saturday, Tucci will be honored by Aspen Filmfest with the Independent by Nature Award, in a clips-and-conversation event at 6 p.m. at the Wheeler Opera House.But reminders of tougher times lurk. Tucci has a film in the works, “The Hunter,” with a cast that includes Julianne Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Patricia Clarkson. The budget is modest in the extreme.”But trying to get the money is like pulling teeth – and 13 years after ‘Big Night!'” he said.”Big Night,” which was screened on Wednesday at Aspen Filmfest – stands as a turning point, a high point, and clearly a warm memory for Tucci. It starred Tucci as Secondo, an energetic 1950s restaurateur battling with his uncompromising chef, Primo (played by Tucci’s frequent collaborator, Tony Shalhoub), who happens to be his brother. Secondo has staked the restaurant’s future on one special dinner, with singer Louis Prima as the planned guest of honor. The story ends on a sad note – a bunch of sad notes, in fact – but glowed with warmth.The film earned several awards, including Best New Director from the New York Film Critics Circle, an honor Tucci split with his co-director and childhood friend, Campbell Scott. Tucci said that he and Scott shared not only a filmmaking aesthetic, but an approach to how movies shouldn’t be made.”We both couldn’t bear the waste in movies. Hated the waste in time, in energy, in money. How the focus went on the wrong things,” Tucci said. Apparently Tucci and Scott put their attention in the right places as the film, made for a reported $4 million, earned over $12 million. “Suddenly we were writer-directors. We brought something to life that most people didn’t think would be made at all.”And I think people saw me maybe more as a leading man. That coupled with the TV series ‘Murder One,’ which came out around the same time. They saw diversity and someone who could carry something.”Almost as though to prove his point about the fickleness of the movie business, the next two films Tucci directed – the period screwball comedy “The Imposters,” and “Joe Gould’s Secret,” starring Ian Holm as a New York street bum – did poorly at the box office. With children in the picture – his twins were born as “Joe Gould’s Secret” was having its premiere – Tucci took off from writing and directing.Tucci consoles himself with reminders that everybody is in the same boat as him – a darling until they make a misstep. Even Meryl Streep, whom Tucci has shared the screen with in “The Devil Wears Prada” and “Julie & Julia.” The two were in France recently promoting “Julie & Julia,” and Tucci was amazed to see the criticism endured by the two-time Oscar winner (who also has 15 Best Actress nominations). “She gets criticized for doing accents too well. The criticism is constantly there,” Tucci said.Tucci mentions several times that he considers himself lucky. He recognizes that he has avoided being stereotyped, which has been good for his career, and plenty of opportunity to stretch himself as an artist.Tucci hesitated before signing on to play George Harvey, the child-killer in “The Lovely Bones.” “I couldn’t wait for it to be over,” he said of the filming, adding that he has a tough time even watching movies where children get hurt. In the end, he was glad he did it – and thankful for the fact that the role included transforming his appearance, thus lessening his identification with the character.”You go from playing Muerte” – the thug from “Undercover Blues” – “and then play a doctor – that’s the joy of it,” Tucci said. “It would be tedious to play the same guy all the time.”I think we’re all multiple personalities. Actors just allow themselves more access.”stewart@aspentimes.com