Stanley Tucci

Settling into an armchair for his chat with Waitrose Weekend, Stanley Tucci stifles a yawn. He’s not being rude – Tucci is as genial and engaging company as you could hope for – he’s just very, very tired. It’s less than a month since his wife, English literary agent Felicity Blunt, gave birth to their son Matteo and, at 54, Tucci admits he’s feeling the strain.

‘I’m no spring chicken,’ he smiles. ‘But it’s okay. He’s great. He’s so adorable. We have a person at night now, which is great. When we went to the NTC classes – is that what they’re called? – it was the one thing I kept saying over and over again to the parents-to-be, because I was the experienced one. I said, you have no idea how the sleep deprivation will affect you. Any time you can sleep, sleep.’

Matteo is Tucci’s fourth child. The others, Isabel, Nicolo and Camilla, are from his 14-year marriage to his first wife Kate, who died from breast cancer in 2009. He also raised two stepchildren from Kate’s first marriage. Clearly, family is important to Tucci, and family mealtimes are something of a ritual. In The Tucci Table, the Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor’s second cookery book, he calls them ‘an act of communion and celebration’.

Co-written with Felicity – the sister of Hollywood darling Emily – The Tucci Table reflects the couple’s very different upbringings with an imaginative mix of traditional Italian-American and British cuisine, from spaghetti vongole and uova da ravioli to beef wellington and shepherd’s pie.

The project has its roots in Big Night, the 1996 comedy drama about two struggling Italian restaurateurs for which Tucci – the film’s star, co-writer and co-director – helped create a spin-off cookbook.

‘It did really well and then it went out of print,’ he explains. ‘And then a few years ago we realised people were selling it on the internet for quite a bit of money. Like, three thousand dollars – crazy amounts of money! So I said to my wife, do you think it would be possible to reissue this, because people seem really interested?’

Republished as The Tucci Cookbook, it was a runaway hit, and the publishers were keen for a follow-up. ‘But I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted this book to be,’ says Tucci. ‘We didn’t need another Italian cookbook. I mean, if Giorgio Locatelli does another Italian cookbook, great. But you don’t need me to write one. So I thought, why don’t we just do an amalgam of what Fe and I like to cook? The kind of stuff we grew up with, the stuff we love to cook together and the stuff that we discovered together.’

So is Tucci, who’s now permanently based in London, a fan of British grub? It’s not had the greatest reputation over the years.

‘It’s had a terrible reputation,’ he says. ‘But now, let’s face it, London is a food mecca. It’s one of the reasons I was so excited to move here.’

Has he learned to cook a mean Yorkshire pudding?

‘No, I leave that to Felicity,’ he grins. ‘I’m not gonna pretend.’

The pair first met while Tucci was working with Felicity’s sister on The Devil Wears Prada. But it was at Emily’s wedding four years later that the pair really bonded – in part, at least, over a shared love of food. ‘Whenever we chatted during that weekend, the conversation inevitably turned to food,’ Tucci writes in the book. ‘What dishes we loved, where we had eaten and, ultimately, by the end of the wedding, where we would eat together.’ The couple married in London in 2012.

A touching feature of The Tucci Table is the inclusion of several recipes by his late wife, which the actor has recreated with help from their children. ‘It was Fe’s idea to incorporate Kate’s recipes into the book, which I thought was great,’ he says.

Were they able to make it a joyful experience? ‘Yes, ultimately it is happy. It’s a way of staying connected to her. If I say to the kids, “I’ll make the chicken wings tonight”, they’ll still say, “Oh, the way Mom made them?” Unfortunately, they’re never quite as good as hers, but I make an attempt.’

Italian food was a big part of Tucci’s childhood in Katonah, New York. His parents’ roots are in the Calabria region of southern Italy, and the family spent a period living in Florence in the early 1970s. Returning to New York, Tucci majored in drama at university, making his Broadway debut in 1982 and earning his film spurs in Prizzi’s Honor three years later. Since then, he’s appeared in more than 80 films – from mega-franchises such as Transformers, Captain America and The Hunger Games to pet indie projects, several of which he’s also directed – and had regular roles in TV shows including Murder One, ER and, most recently, Fortitude.

In 2009, Tucci played the child killer George Harvey in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones – a role he was extremely reluctant to take on, and one he still has conflicting feelings about. ‘I wouldn’t want to do that again,’ he admits. ‘I didn’t really want to do it, and yet I wanted to do it because I felt the story was a really important story. I’m glad I did it, and Peter was very sensitive to the fact that I was uncomfortable with it. It ended up being a really painful experience but a really great experience.’

After a period of relative downtime – by his standards, anyway  – Tucci is gearing up for a busy 2015. After wrapping on zombie thriller Patient Zero, he has a few ‘back to back’ projects, including ‘something for ITV’ which he can’t talk about, and directing Geoffrey Rush in a film about the Swiss painter Alberto Giacometti, a labour of love he’s spent 10 years trying to get off the ground.

Despite his workload, Tucci  – who counts Aidan Quinn, Steve Buscemi, Colin Firth and Julianne Moore among his closest friends (‘Most of my friends are actors; I don’t want them to be, but they are,’ he laughs) – insists he’s slowing down.

‘I love to work, but the older I get, the more I want to stay home,’ he says. ‘And also I think, after the loss of my wife, who was a stay-at-home mom, I have to be very careful about when I go away. Because… look, my kids are, like, 15 years old. There’s only a few more years before they go where they go. So I want to be there. I’m not interested in not being there.’

Published in Waitrose Weekend, April 2, 2015

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