Stanley Tucci, best known as the colorfully vain host Caesar Flickerman in The Hunger Games and Meryl Streep’s fashion-mag art director in The Devil Wears Prada, talks with AARP about Supernova, his brilliant film centered on love and early-stage dementia.
How come you and Colin Firth are so convincing as a couple who’ve been together 20 years?
We’ve been very close friends for 20 years. We’re the same age. We’ve been through a lot [Firth’s separation, the death of Tucci’s first wife]. You become a confidant, a shoulder to lean on.
Firth plays a professional British pianist; you play an American novelist whose memory is starting to get messed up by dementia. Do we see any new aspects of his acting or yours?
Colin often does something that we didn’t see before — just look at him as the evil bank manager in Mary Poppins, so wonderfully funny and dark. In Supernova he’s so beautifully calibrated and open. In some strange way, my character is reluctant to give away all his feelings and wants to control things as much as possible — his behavior is more quintessentially British than Colin’s.
Does it make a difference that the couple — taking what may be their last vacation trip, through England’s lovely, historic Lake District — are gay?
No, I don’t. I think love is love.
There has never been such a profusion of Oscar-quality films and shows about dementia: Anthony Hopkins’ The Father, Viggo Mortensen’s Falling, Glenda Jackson’s Elizabeth Is Missing. Why, do you suppose?
People are living longer, and so unfortunately, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, all those things become more prevalent. There seems to be no history of it in my family, but I know people who have a history of it. And that’s a very scary thing and a very hard thing to deal with.
Tucci Fast Facts
Birthplace: Peekskill, N.Y.
Greatest hits: The Hunger Games, The Lovely Bones, Easy A, Julie & Julia, Feud: Bette and Joan
Award winner: Emmys (Winchell, Monk, Park Bench With Steve Buscemi), Oscar nomination (The Lovely Bones), New York Film Critics Circle (Big Night), Screen Actors Guild Award (Spotlight), Tony Award nomination (Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune), Grammy (The One and Only Shrek!)
Author, author: In October he will publish Taste: My Life Through Food.
New hit for foodies: The six-part culinary travel show Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy (CNN) premieres Feb. 14 at 9 p.m. ET.
Did you do any research for the film?
I read books, watched a lot of documentaries and met with a doctor who helps people with this condition. Louis Theroux’s [2012 documentary] Extreme Love: Dementia, about people with early onset, was so good, and painful to watch — heartbreaking. But it was obviously invaluable to me as an actor; all you want to do is make it as truthful as possible.
There’s pain in the film but also a surprising amount of lighthearted moments between the guys, some of which you improvised. Is that realistic?
The thing that struck me the most about the documentaries was that when these people were asked to do something — draw or write the number four, something really simple — they went, “Oh, yeah, sure,” and then they can’t write the number four. And the first thing they do, almost every single person, they all started to laugh. You see that in the documentary Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me. He can’t remember a word — “That word, that thing with stars” — then he laughs about it.
There’s also a lot of laughter in the hit Alzheimer’s documentary Dick Johnson Is Dead. But the key seems to be not just gallows humor but the way humor bonds dementia people with loved ones.
Exactly! The director set a really beautiful tone with this. They’re lighthearted moments, but it’s not that sort of, “Oh, now we’re going to be really silly and make you laugh.” The playfulness is about loving relationships.
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So the movie isn’t a downer — it’s about living it up as best you can as long as you can.
Without question. Dementia — it’s heartbreaking. But if you look at any condition or ailment, it’s part of the aging process, and if you only look at it negatively, that’s just not good for anybody, is it? I hope the film helps everybody understand that, yes, dementia is a possibility, but if you’re lucky enough to be in a loving relationship, that can make a big difference.