In less than a month, Stanley Tucci has appeared in two very different films, portraying characters who couldn’t have less in common. First there was his deliciously campy performance as Caesar Flickerman in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which was like kabuki theater meets Ryan Seacrest. And then there’s Some Velvet Morning, a new film by writer/director Neil LaBute — which you can watch on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc. starting today, and in actual movie theaters on December 13. Tucci stars as a guy named Fred, middle-aged and freshly divorced, who shows up on his mistress’s front door unannounced. He exhibits raw emotional intensity, and not one flicker of fluorescent teeth. Watch both movies back-to-back, as I did, and you may come away a little disoriented. It’s like watching a Tom Hanks double feature of Bachelor Party and Captain Phillips.
I called Tucci to talk about Some Velvet Morning, and somehow we avoided discussing the film’s surprise twist ending. Not that the surprise is earth-shattering or anything. It’s no “Darth Vader tells Luke he’s his dad” cultural benchmark. But it’s at least on par with The Crying Game‘s “Oh wow, that dude has a penis” switcheroo. Never mind, I’ve said too much. Enjoy the interview, which spoils nothing.
It seems like you’re constantly working.
I know, I know.
You’re in five films that came out this year, and five films coming out next year. Did you shoot another film this morning?
No, I had a sore throat. I couldn’t.
How do you stay so productive? Do you just get so many great scripts that you can’t say no?
I’ve been lucky. And I guess I want to keep busy. I don’t like not being busy.
Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, or whatever.
Sure, yeah. [Laughs] But a lot of times if I sign onto a movie, I can go in and just work a week or two and do three nice scenes and then I’m done.
Oh, I get you. Since you’re not always the lead.
Right. Then you can fit in a lot of movies in a year. Something like Transformers 4, obviously you’re there for an extended period of time and you’re not doing anything but that. But for some of the smaller movies, they barely need you for a couple of weeks or something like that. So you can squeeze other stuff in.
It’s about time management.
It’s about time management, exactly. And just making decisions about what you want to do. You realize after a while that you don’t have to say yes to everything.
So I’m watching Some Velvet Morning—
And my first reaction to your character is, “Oh, this is nice. This is something new for a Neil LaBute male protagonist. He’s not a guy I want to immediately punch in the face.”
Which is clearly wrong. He’s not a nice guy at all. But he comes across as likable, at least to me. Is that weird?
Not really. I have to be likable. You have to want to watch him. You don’t want to watch people who are really awful. That’s the goal whenever you’re playing someone who’s a little twisted. One of the important aspects of this is we just don’t know who he is. Or who she is. And we find out along the way.
Is it fun to play bad guys, or cathartic? Or just kind of disturbing?
I don’t think he’s a bad guy. Not at all, in fact.
This presents a bit of a conundrum. I can’t really debate that without giving away the surprise twist ending.
Yeah, no, I understand. Well let’s just say… He’s probably the most likable of Neil’s guys. I see him as a, you know… [Long pause] He and Velvet [his mistress], they have this very specific relationship.
That’s beautifully evasive.
It’s a choice that they make together.
Is it more difficult to play an asshole when you’re not personally an asshole? How do you find that dark place?
Oh, it’s there. Don’t worry.
I don’t believe you.
You don’t believe I have a dark place?
Nope. I just don’t see it. I refuse to believe you’re capable of evil.
Well, you’d be wrong. I think everybody has a little bit of an asshole inside of them. You just tap into it.
Well, what about the word “cunt”?
What about it?
Your character, Fred, enjoys saying “cunt” at every opportunity. He relishes it.
And you don’t seem like the sort of guy who says “cunt” all that often. I just can’t imagine it rolling effortlessly off your tongue. Did you have to practice saying “cunt” before filming?
No, actually, the word comes very easily to me, and I don’t know if that is a thing to brag about. I live in London and I spend a lot of time in England and have a lot of British friends. And that is a word that means a very different thing in England than it does in America. It is used very frequently by a lot of people here, men and women alike.
The edges are softer in the U.K.?
They are. I think the way people use profanity over here is not dissimilar to the way the Italians or the French might use profanity. It’s less jarring than it is in America.
What’s the meanest thing you’ve ever done?
What’s the last thing you did where afterwards you were like, “Oh Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with me?”
I would never tell you that. [Laughs] I wouldn’t. Sorry.
But it exists? You’ve done something horrible to another human being?
Of course. I don’t consider myself a mean person. I hope I’m not. But I’ve done things I’m not proud of, and I won’t share any of them with you.
Do you get recognized by fans on the street?
For certain roles, yeah. It’s happened much more in the last couple of years than ever before. And sometimes it’s hard. You don’t have the anonymity that you once had, but I guess that’s just par for the course. It is a little easier over in London than it is in America.
Are Londoners more respectful of your privacy?
They’re more respectful but also they don’t expect to see you on the Tube.
Do the small films have the same kind of fans as the big ones? People can probably quote your best lines from Hunger Games back at you, but do you ever get die-hard The Terminal fans who repeat quotes you barely remember?
Oh, sure, of course. The smaller films just take a longer period of time to build their fan base because people don’t see them as soon as they come out in the theater. They see them, after a period of years, on Netflix or whatever.
Which of your movie quotables do you hear the most?
People love Big Night. They’ll say things to me like “sometimes spaghetti likes to be alone,” which is a line toward the beginning of the film. And they loved The Devil Wears Prada. So I hear a lot of “All right everybody, gird your loins.” Actually, it’s really nice. It’s flattering that people like what you do.
Is there anything quotable in Some Velvet Morning?
I don’t know. Honestly, if there is, I’m not sure it should be quoted.
There are a few choice lines in there. Like, “The empty closet should be a pretty good indication that it wasn’t the Rapture or anything.”
Yeah, that’s good.
“Ultimately, I want you to suck my cock.”
[Laughs] Oh, yeah. I forgot about that one. That’s definitely quotable.
But maybe not something you want to hear from a stranger when you’re trying to enjoy dinner.
Yeah. It should probably be said in the privacy of one’s home.
Are you familiar with Waiting for Guffman?
Oh, yeah, sure. Christopher Guest. I love it.
At the end, Corky shows off his My Dinner with Andre action figures. Which of your movies — the smaller ones, not Hunger Games — deserves its own action figures?
Julie and Julia.
Oh my God.
No, no, it’s brilliant.
I think that would be really funny.
I’m not sure if the kid who gets a Paul Child doll for Christmas is going to see it that way.
He’ll appreciate it when he gets older.
Do you have enough Hollywood clout to make this happen?
Probably not, but it would make me very, very happy.
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on Esquire.com.)