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Stanley Tucci is among the greatest character actors working today; he might even be the best there is, period. He can turn even the smallest role into a fully fleshed-out character, and make even the most outrageous-seeming character, like Caesar Flickerman in THE HUNGER GAMES movies, seem like they belong in the world. We're even captivated watching him make cocktails at home.
After making his debut in John Huston's mafia black comedy PRIZZI'S HONOR, playing a bit part alongside Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner, Tucci nearly ended up with a career playing mobsters and doctors but he was so memorable doing so — as in his small role in the underrated Bill Murray comedy QUICK CHANGE — that he quickly got more meaty roles.
Before we see Tucci in THE KING'S MAN and THE WITCHES, we wanted to look back at his greatest roles so far. These aren't ranked; instead, they're presented in order of release. If we had to choose his best… well, just read on.
[Image Credit: Orion Pictures]
George Romero's strange horror movie about Allan (Jason Beghe), a paralyzed man whose helper monkey, Ella, becomes an instrument for revenge is often overlooked in favor of the filmmaker's more famous zombie movies. MONKEY SHINES is also one of Tucci's earliest movies, and one of the film's pleasures is his small, sort-of villainous role. He's the incompetent doctor whose work ultimately leads the main character to be paralyzed following an accident — and (spoiler alert) who becomes one of the first victims when Ella starts to run wild.
[Image Credit: The Samuel Goldwyn Company]
This is the movie that made Tucci famous, and deservedly so. With Campbell Scott, Tucci co-wrote and co-directed the story of two Italian immigrant brothers who run a fiercely authentic Italian restaurant in 1950s New Jersey. Tucci also stars, as Secondo, who manages the restaurant while his brother Primo (Tony Shaloub) cooks up cuisine that baffles many guests. Secondo seizes the chance to promote and potentially save the business, and Tucci's big and genuinely exuberant performance is an absolute delight.
[Image Credit: Cinepix Film Properties]
He's in the very first scene, but Stanley Tucci does more to drive the plot of Greg Mottola's wonderful indie road-trip comedy than he participates. He plays Louis D'Amico, whose wife Eliza (Hope Davis) finds what appears to be a love letter that suggests Louis is having an affair. So Eliza and her family, particularly her sister Jo (Parker Posey) and Jo's boyfriend (Liev Schreiber) drive from Long Island to Manhattan to confront him. It takes an actor as strong as Tucci to pay off being the object of a story like this — and he does not disappoint when his time comes back around.
[Image Credit: Searchlight Pictures]
William Shakespeare's play "A Midsummer Night's Dream" can be mounted as a gentle, off-beat farce or a pretty strange and even savage dark comedy. This movie version, by director Michael Hofmann, hews much closer to the "nice" side of the spectrum. That means that Tucci's turn as Puck, the impish faun who instigates some of the story's romantic shenanigans purely for the fun of it, is on the gentle side. Frankly, seeing Tucci deliver Shakespeare's dialogue while wearing wonderful costumes and tiny little horns makes for the perfect Puck.
[Image Credit: Miramax]
Character actors disappear into their roles, which means that some talents don't get regular use. SHALL WE DANCE — a remake of a very good 1996 Japanese movie by the same name — is a star vehicle for Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere, with the latter as a pretty normal guy who is drawn to a dance studio run by the former. Tucci plays Link, a colleague of Gere's character who takes lessons at the same studio. He's passionate about dance but feels like he can't publicly express himself, so he wears an absurd wig as a "disguise." Tucci gets to play his dances big and boisterous, and his climactic moment is absolutely wonderful.
[Image Credit: 20th Century Studios]
All of Tucci's charm and none of his potential for cynicism are brought to bear playing Nigel Kipling, the quick-witted and hyper-detail-oriented art director for "Runway" magazine, which is overseen by the famously ferocious Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep). He helps Miranda's floundering new personal assistant, played by Anne Hathaway, as she navigates the magazine's power structure — and he does so with a nuanced blend of experience, humor, and devotion to Miranda. Three years later, Streep and Tucci would reunite for a movie that developed a more loving and romantic dependent relationship, in JULIE & JULIA.
[Image Credit: Screen Gems]
One of the major marks of a great character actor is seen when they can stand out in a role that would typically be overlooked or even forgettable. Case in point: Dill Penderghast, the father of Emma Stone's character Olive in the excellent and very funny comedy EASY A, which is loosely based on Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel "The Scarlet Letter." Tucci is paired with Patricia Clarkson — a fabulous character actor in her own right — to play parents who steal every scene they're in.
[Image Credit: Marvel Studios]
An actor could have so easily given the bare minimum to Abraham Erskine, the scientist who transforms Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) into America's first super-soldier. The character (spoiler) doesn't make it past the first act and carries the burden of explaining some of the movie's backstory and tech concepts. But he also gets to deliver the primary moral, and does so in a way that helps sell the entire movie. "Whatever happens tomorrow," he tells Rogers before the frail man undergoes a dangerous experiment, "you must promise me one thing: That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man."
[Image Credit: Open Road Films]
In this Best Picture Oscar winner, Tucci co-stars as Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston lawyer who, thanks to relentless requests from journalist Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), shares information he has about the abuse of children by Catholic priests in Massachusetts — and the cover-up which has kept the issue out of the public eye. Tucci plays Garabedian as zealous and morally upright in a performance that is a fundamental part of this impressive movie.
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