Entertainment

Sunday 19 November 2017

Stanley's happy doing it for the kids

Oscar-nominated actor Stanley Tucci tells our reporter about playing a highly-strung harpsichord in Disney's Beauty and the Beast

Stanley Tucci and his wife Felicity Blunt
Stanley Tucci and his wife Felicity Blunt

Julia Molony

He's been a bitchy fashion stylist in The Devil Wears Prada, a sinisterly-cheesy game-show host in The Hunger Games series and was nominated for an Oscar for his unnerving portrayal of a serial killer in The Lovely Bones.

Certainly, Stanley Tucci has proved himself to be an actor of masterful range. And now, for his next trick, he has transformed himself into an all-singing, all-dancing harpsichord in the live-action remake of the Disney classic Beauty and the Beast.

Physically, there is not much about him that suggests he might convincingly play a large musical instrument. Tucci is a slight man, his bald pate, black-rimmed spectacles and precise, almost fastidious gestures would work well on a gallery curator, were he not an immensely successful actor. But it was his voice that won him the part of Cadenza, a new character in the tale, written especially for the 2017 version. He speaks in a rich, resonant baritone.

Cadenza joins an already established and much loved ensemble of enchanted household objects, including a kind-hearted teapot (played by Emma Thompson) and a rebellious candelabra, played by Ewan McGregor, which first appeared in the original 1991 film.

Tucci admits he doesn't really know why the writers decided to create this new addition, "The movie didn't work originally," he deadpans. "It needed me."

Perhaps the producers were also convinced of his ability to perform in an Italian accent because of his heritage. Though he grew up in New York, his Italian-American family originate from Calabria. And, in the 1970s when he was a child his writer mother and artist father took the family to live in Florence for a year. So he knows a thing or two about how to roll his "rs".

"I did an Italian accent, and then you just sort of modulate that accent," he explains. "I mean, there were certain sounds that were clearly not really an Italian accent, but if it were a true Italian accent you wouldn't be able to understand it."

Along with the other household objects, Cadenza is created entirely from CGI wizardry. "It's always good not to see yourself, on screen," Tucci says. "That's a great thing. I love not seeing myself." He especially enjoys doing voice work for movies because "in some ways it's easier, because it's more playful. You don't have to worry about any of that (face) stuff and it's fun. It's a little more like being a kid".

Tucci grew up in a small town in New York state and became interested in acting while at high school. He studied his craft at State University New York, and started his career on Broadway, before moving into television and then later, movies. Since then he has nimbly jumped between artistically credible independent movies and big budget franchises.

Having been a New Yorker all his life, Tucci recently moved to Barnes in South London, where he lives with his wife, the literary agent Felicity Blunt, who is 20 years his junior.

They met at George Clooney's Lake Como home during the wedding of Felicity's sister, Emily Blunt. She co-starred with Tucci on The Devil Wears Prada where they became firm friends, and later, family - Felicity and Stanley were married in London in 2012.

It is Tucci's second marriage. He lost his first wife Kathryn, with whom he had three children, to breast cancer in 2009.

He has spoken openly and frankly in the past about what a terrible blow it was to lose his wife, and the complex feelings of guilt and gratitude he felt when he became involved with Felicity just two years later.

His transition into London life, however, seems to have been relatively seamless. He arrives late to our interview, looking harassed and complaining of London traffic - just like a true Londoner. And clearly, he is a natural at dry British humour. When he and Blunt welcomed their baby son Matteo in January 2015 he released a statement to People magazine with tongue firmly in cheek. "I believe he is mine," he wrote. "We are all thrilled to welcome him to this cold, cruel world. We are all thrilled that he is here and healthy."

No doubt the UK is delighted to claim him. He's exactly the sort of low-key, discreet Hollywood representative that is best-loved in Blighty - all dry wit and self-deprecation.

Later-life parenting seems to suit him. And he has the benefit of plenty of previous experience. Before he became a father himself, he had been deeply involved with raising Kathryn's two children from a previous relationship, so was, presumably, very well-versed in the Disney universe even before he was offered the part of Cadenza. "I remember seeing the movie with my step-children when they were young," he says.

But despite his attachment to it, he "didn't feel any pressure" to honour the original. It was Bill (Condon) the film's director who bore the burden of responsibility. He says. "We just got to jump in and have fun." Emma Watson, he reckons, was a perfect choice to play Belle. "She's so charming, she's beautiful, she can sing, apparently," he says. "I think she really got it too, she got the strength of the character, the humour of the character, the sweetness of the character. I think she did a great job."

For his part, being involved in Beauty and the Beast brings a special meaning because, "it's nice to be in movies that your kids grow up with," he says. "I've done a number of them over the years."

His children still get a kick out of seeing their father in movies, even today. "It gets a little harder when they get older but still, my kids watched The Devil Wears Prada recently and they just love it. I mean they just make fun of me."

He's a fan of fairy tales too, and especially likes "all those Grimm fairy tales, They are very, very disturbing. I think that's the point though". Fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast, he says, will always be relevant, because they tell us "that we haven't changed at all. I think our fantasies and fears are still the same. They'll always be the same. They are universal themes. They're very human themes. They express the human condition very well and in a very simple way. And they are without question pertinent to today. And on top of that it's a visual spectacle. And it's entertainment at the same time, so it ticks all the boxes."

Beauty and the Beast is now showing nationwide

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