Stanley Tucci: Not all New York Italians are Mafiosi

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The Independent Culture

The 42-year-old Italian-American actor Stanley Tucci has appeared in everything from 'Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle' to TV series 'Murder One'. To date, he's been in 48 films and has also turned his hand to screenwriting, directing and producing. His writing/directing debut, 'Big Night', was a hit in 1996 and he's currently appearing in Ed Burns's romantic comedy 'Sidewalks of New York'.

You describe your character in 'Sidewalks of New York' as "the darkest, most selfish player in the movie" and it's not the first time you've played a baddie. Is it simply more fun to play darker characters or is there another reason why you're drawn to these roles?

It depends. They usually end up being the most complex characters and therefore the most interesting ones to play. With my character in 'Sidewalks...', I found it interesting that this person could only get away with what he was doing for so long, but was honestly in the dark about the whole thing.

'Sidewalks...' was filmed exceptionally quickly. Did it prove the point you once made that filming on a tight schedule helps actors focus emotionally?

I think it did. It helps actors to not think, which can be important when it comes to expressing yourself. Actors' instincts are very right and it's important that they don't intellectualise things too much. It's often either very young actors or very experienced actors who do this – they feel they need to do a lot of preparation, when in actual fact what they need to do is just get on with it and see what happens.

Ed Burns said he "wanted to capture the way it feels to be alive in New York City right now". How did the film go down in post-11 September New York?

It was fine – I think that people really enjoyed it. It wasn't around for very long but people seemed to respond very well. But I don't think the film is really about New York as a city, it's just about these people who happen to live there.

You've had a go at acting, scriptwriting, producing and directing. Which do you feel most at ease with?

I always consider myself first and foremost an actor. I feel like I was born to do it and I feel more facile, more comfortable with it. But I also love to direct – I've directed three films so far and they've each been incredible experiences.

Your first writing and directing project, 'Big Night', was an off-beat, Italian-American family drama. How much of your own background went intothe script?

Really not a lot, in the sense that my family isn't in the restaurant business and I don't have a brother. But I co-wrote it with my cousin and I think the simple, behavioural things from my background are what influenced the characters in the film, rather than the events themselves. It was also a chance to portray Italians in a different light to the way they're usually portrayed in films.

You've expressed annoyance at the constant screen portrayals of Italian-Americans as gangsters and mafioso. Does this mean you don't like 'The Sopranos'?

I actually think 'The Sopranos' is a great show. It's not so much about what we do see about Italians, it's about what we don't see. You can never stop making films about the mafia, you can't stop portraying Italian-Americans as mafiosi because it does exist. I don't think we should stop making movies about it, but we have to put Italians in different capacities: they can be schoolteachers – like my father who is an art teacher – or anything else.

You're starring in Sam Mendes's next film, 'Road to Perdition'. Did the British theatre director's techniques ever take you by surprise?

It's interesting, because I play a mafioso for the first time in a decade. I did it because it was a really interesting film with very complicated characters. Sam Mendes's techniques didn't surprise me, but what I so admired about him was the way in which he took his time and knew exactly what he wanted. He would push everybody but in a gentle rather than dictatorial way – you were willing to stay there and work. It was a great experience and I am very fond of him.

Have you got your designer togs sorted for the Oscars?

The Oscars? No, I'm not going to the Oscars, I'm not invited. I'll go one day, when they nominate me. I already live in New York – why go to LA to see all the people that you see anyway?

'Sidewalks of New York' (15) opens nationwide on 5 April

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