Stanley Tucci is no stranger to playing intelligent characters and delivering masterful performances such as George Harvey, the creepy neighbor in The Lovely Bones, Nigel, the sarcastic fashion consultant to an infamous fashionista boss in The Devil Wears Prada, and Frank Nitti, Al Capone’s right-hand man in Road to Perdition. His latest performance in Easy A, an outrageously funny teen comedy directed by Will Gluck from a smart script by Bert Royal, is no exception.
We sat down recently with Stanley to talk about his new film. The actor-director told us what attracted him to the role, how he enjoyed working with Will Gluck, and why he’s fascinated with the way other directors shoot film. He also updated us on the upcoming Captain America: The First Avenger, what it was like starring opposite Cher in the musical Burlesque, and how he’s developing Mommy & Me, his first studio film, which he plans to direct next year with Meryl Streep and Tina Fey.
For more on Easy A, here’s a ton of clips and the synopsis.
Q: The parents in this film were not lunkheads who were totally unaware of what goes on in their child’s life or outside. As a parent yourself, how important was that to you?
ST: That’s what I really liked about it. I thought the script was very smart and the characters are unusual for movies like this because they’re smart as well. I mean, they are the ultimate parents, these two. We all wish we could be like them or have them as parents. But, for me as a parent, you have to talk to your kids like they’re adults. I mean, from the time they’re babies. Instead of doing all that babying when you hear people talk baby talk to their kids and then it lingers as the kids get older. It’s like why are you talking to the kid like that. It doesn’t make any sense. They’re constantly infantilizing them and nobody benefits from that. So I think that’s important and that’s what these people do. I think it’s important to have a good sense of humor and joke around with your kids. That’s what I do a lot.
Q: Those scenes really worked. You saw where her sense of humor came from.
Q: Can you talk about the directing process and what it was like working with Will?
ST: I loved working with Will and I’m not just saying that because he left the room. I loved it. He is very smart, very quick, quick witted and he shoots quickly and I love that. I hate movies that take a long time to shoot or directors that labor over every shot or do excessive amounts of coverage and excessive takes and don’t keep things moving or constantly cutting. Will would just keep the camera rolling and go “Say this, say this. Try this, try this. Make something up.” And that’s what we did. It’s the best way to work.
Q: He also told us that he’s right up there by the camera instead of back in video village.
ST: He’s not. He’s right there. He has a little monitor that he’ll walk around with and then he’ll look and then he’ll go back to the monitor and back. He’s a part of the scene. That’s fantastic.
Q: Does that make a difference to you as an actor?
ST: Yes. Oh yes. Sometimes you can’t even find the director on a movie set. Sometimes you don’t want to find the director on a movie set. (Laughs)
Q: How do you direct?
ST: Like Will does. I’ll go and sit at the monitor just so I can really see the composition. But I’m very actively involved.
Q: Will said there was a lot of improvisation but it doesn’t feel improvised at all. When you ask the kid where he’s from, to me, that was the funniest moment in the movie. Was that in the script?
ST: No, it wasn’t. I made it up. I did. I made it up. It’s a joke that I use all the time. I say it to my kids. I used to say it to my wife. She’d be talking to me about something very serious and then I would just look at her and go “Where are you from originally?” And she would go “Humphhh! C’mon. That’s terrible!” I say it to my kids.
Q: The timing is exquisite with that line and the earlier line when he says “I was adopted” and you say “Who told you!? How’d you find out?” When you’re doing something like that and you know it’s a funny line that’s got to hit a certain point, how do you control it?
ST: Well in those two instances, they play in two shots, so he didn’t cut and chop it up. The one where I go “What?! Who told you?” or whatever it is, I’m in the background. They’re in the foreground and then I come forward into the frame. From what I remember, because I only saw the movie once, he keeps it in one shot. So then, the timing is just what would be the natural comic timing. If he does coverage of it, then that’s up to him to decide what he wants, but that he chose to play. You just have to do it like you’re doing a play. It’s just whatever the normal comic timing would be.
Q: Did you see the film with an audience?
ST: No, I wish I had seen it with an audience. I saw it with my publicist and the woman who runs my production company.
Q: How easy is it for you to take off that director’s hat? I know you’re preparing to direct again. Is every set you’re on an opportunity to either express ideas or pick up ideas?
ST: Absolutely. I learn from everybody. I learned a lot from Will. I also will make suggestions at times or question why do we really need that shot or do we really? Usually that just has to do with me wanting to go home. But I’m interested in how people shoot because I have a very specific way of shooting and I’m fascinated by the way other people shoot films, particularly if they’re smart and talented like Will. I’m doing this movie now in England with Joe Johnston, Captain America, which is completely different. It’s a huge budget and it’s a lot of new technology and it is fascinating. To see the shots that he’s composing is pretty impressive.
Q: Do you ever think that that might be a movie you’d want to direct?
ST: No, I couldn’t do it.
Q: Are you attracted to things that are totally outside your wheelhouse just for the challenge or is it stay with what you know?
ST: I’m pretty much a character-driven film director and my movies are smaller. I don’t do a lot of coverage. I use lots of master shots. I like to have the actors create their own close-ups. It’s an older style of filmmaking. This movie I’m going to do next year if we get a script and get everything together with Tina Fey and Meryl Streep will be the first time I’ve ever directed a studio picture. So obviously there are going to have to be some adjustments on my part. But still, for the most part, it’s an intimate comedy.
Q: It’s a character-driven movie that the studios are going to make? It doesn’t seem like they’re making those movies anymore.
ST: They will now.
Q: Are you going to get that big black cloud that drops notes all over you and tells you how to make it?
ST: I hope not.
Q: So far the process has been good?
ST: Well we don’t have a script yet so, so far, it’s been great. I’m very excited about it and it’s a very funny premise. It’s called Mommy & Me.
Q: I don’t think you’ve done a genre film like Captain America before. Are you fascinated by the challenge of creating character when you’re in the midst of spectacle?
ST: Absolutely. It is kind of weird when you’re suddenly doing a green screen thing, and then acting really comes into play because you’re acting to nothing. But you still have to approach them all the same way and it has to be approached truthfully. And then, like anything, you have what you bring to it to make that character real and truthful. And then, of course, you have to make technical adjustments depending upon what kind of set it is.
Q: Is acting opposite nothing an interesting acting challenge or is it inhibiting and an obstacle?
ST: It’s fine. It’s a challenge. It’s not preferable. It’s not like you want to make every movie like that.
Q: Do you worry about the comic book fans who know every nuance of the character?
ST: (Laughs) That’s up to them. I don’t know. You just do it the way it is on the page and then you bring to it what you can bring to it. And if they don’t like it and they want it to be different, I suppose they could go make their own movie.
Q: But the script is in the universe, have you gone to every comic book store and picked up every Captain America comic book?
ST: No, and at least in the drawings that I saw of Erskine, this character that I play, I don’t look anything like that, like he was in the comic book. But the essence of the character is absolutely truthful to the story, to the original comics, which is, he’s this very smart, very sweet scientist who escapes the Nazis and helps create Captain America. And he’s older. He’s elderly which is why they cast me. (Laughs)
Q: Do you think people now see you in a different category where they might have seen you as the dashing romantic lead a few years ago?
ST: (Laughs) They never did. No, they didn’t. That’s a lovely thought but that never happened. I saw myself that way.
Q: But now you have to accept the fact that you’re the father of the teenager.
ST: Yeah, I know. I’ve been playing the father of teenagers for years. People always thought that I was 40 when I was 26. Once you lose your hair, they’re like “Oh! He’s really old now.” And you’re 26 or whatever. But yeah, I’m no longer the youngest person on the set. That’s for sure.
Q: It’s such a memorable role but you don’t have a lot of screen time. How many days did you have on this movie?
ST: Three days. I shot it in 2-1/2 days. That was it.
Q: Have you seen The Bucket List?
ST: Never saw it. (Laughs) Never saw it in real life or in the movie.
Q: You have Burlesque coming up too. We spoke to Kristen Bell. She comes into the room with such energy and I assume she brings that to the set.
ST: Oh, isn’t she great? I love her. She’s just fantastic.
Q: Is this modern day? It’s not going back to….?
ST: No, it’s modern day burlesque. It’s like the last burlesque house on the corner. They’re trying to make a go of it. That’s the story. Small town girl comes and helps them make their place still work. I play the guy who runs the place with Cher and they’re like best friends. They’re inseparable. It was fun.
Q: Kristen was telling us that it’s not naked women dancing.
ST: Oh no, not at all. It’s real old style burlesque which wasn’t that. It’s very tasteful and it’s sexy. I saw some of the dance numbers cut together. The singing and dancing is unbelievable.
Q: Are there comic acts between the dance numbers?
ST: Yeah. Little ones. So I’m very curious to see it. I haven’t seen it yet.
Q: Do you work a lot with Cher in the movie?
ST: I do. All my scenes are with her.
Q: What’s it like to work with Cher?
ST: More fun than you can imagine.
Q: Is there a big train of people that accompany her and all of that?
ST: Not so much. I mean, she has her hair people but she always has. No, not really. She’s funny. She’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Really funny.
Q: All of the films we’ve seen you in seem to have one thing in common: an intelligent script and/or an intelligent character. How easy is it to find that? Are there a lot of scripts that you just have to say no to or that don’t even get to you if they’re not good?
ST: No, they get to me. And then, they get to me. Yeah, there’s a lot of dumb stuff out there. It’s just that a lot of times the writers will write down to the audience or write down to the characters and you can’t do that.
Q: Do you think they’re writing down to the development people or the execs?
ST: Sometimes yes. But I think a lot of times writers are afraid and execs are afraid and producers are afraid that if they don’t see it on the page, if the character isn’t saying it and it isn’t described in the stage directions, then no one’s going to get it. And people forget that an actor is going to come in, and as soon as the actor steps into the role, you probably can cut 50% of the lines because there’s a person there now. And what a person does with their eyes, with their mouth, with their hands, the way they walk into a room, you can probably cut half the scene. You don’t have to explain everything.
Q: What was it that drew you to this script?
ST: The intelligence of it and its humor. It’s very funny. I laughed out loud.
Q: Mommy and Me will be the third time you and Meryl Streep have worked together. There’s a certain trust that develops when you’ve worked with someone before. Do you fall back on that experience and want to work with them again or do you try to make each one fresh?
ST: It’s fresh because it’s a new project. And what’s great is when you’re with somebody with whom you have a connection, it’s exciting because there’s a shorthand and you trust each other and you have a good time together on the set and so you can go a little farther than you might normally because you’re with somebody that you trust.
Q: How does working together affect the friendship? Is there a danger that things could go wrong on set that might hurt the friendship?
ST: No, I do know what you mean but I don’t think so. The only thing is if a director or someone is making things more complicated than they have to be, that’s the only reason that that could happen. But usually what would happen is you would bond more, in fact. But we approach our work in very similar ways. So, I don’t see any possibility of that happening.
Q: Your character’s name is Dill. Do you look at that and say “Why would you name the character that?”
ST: Yeah, weird. But I thought “Oh, that’s funny. Dill!”
Q: Clearly social networking and the computer is important in Olive’s life from what we see on screen. How does that reflect your own reality? Are you familiar with Facebook or the social networking that she’s tapping into?
ST: I hate it. I hate all that stuff.
Q: Are your kids into it?
ST: No. My stepdaughter is. She’s older. She’s going to Columbia Graduate School. She doesn’t Twitter. I don’t think she Twitters but she Facebooks. I don’t do that. I don’t want to Facebook.
Q: Did you ever try it?
Q: But you’re right. Some of the things that people post make you wonder why? Who cares?
ST: I don’t want all that information. I don’t care if you want to text me, or with my kids, if I’m away, we Skype which is great and really funny because they’re still young and they never look into the camera. You never look at the camera. This is the funny thing about Skype. No one is really looking into the camera. They’re always looking down because they’re looking at the image. You wish the camera was there in the center so if you’re doing this, then you can’t see what they’re doing. So everyone looks like they’re blind when you’re doing Skype. (Laughs) I think it’s kind of funny. And then, if the computer is here, they always do this thing where they’re never fully in frame because they’re little. They don’t know so they’re talking to you and you’re seeing this (half of their face). “Hey Dad!” They look like they’re blind and the whole thing is [crazy] and then one’s running back and forth, jumping on a chair. (Joking) They’re not very bright kids. It’s sad. It’s great. It really is a great thing.
Easy A opens in theaters on September 17th.