By Chris Azzopardi
Photos: Bleecker Street
Stanley Tucci has survived the icy death stare of Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly and told Cher to her face that she looks like a drag queen. Aside from starring as the queer second-in-command next to those gay icons in “The Devil Wear Prada” and “Burlesque,” the 60-year-old actor also donned a poofy wig in “Little Chaos” as the king’s gay brother.
The chameleonic actor is at it yet again with his latest gay role — Tusker in “Supernova,” a moving portrait of a couple in crisis written and directed by Harry Macqueen. Here, he portrays a man suffering from early-onset dementia alongside Colin Firth’s Sam, his partner of 20 years.
Aboard their old RV, the couple head out on a road trip across the mountainous region of England’s Lake District to visit people and places that are special to them, their love tested as Tusker’s memory continues to deteriorate.
During a recent call, Tucci talked about being a straight man who’s been playing gay since 1996, his wife finding out that the internet thinks he’s gay, and how he can’t believe so many people actually tell him they love “Burlesque.”
During the pandemic, I watched “The Daytrippers,” which came out in 1996, and realized that you’ve been playing gay even longer than I thought.
Ha! That was my first gay kiss. I loved that movie so much. (Writer-director) Greg Mottola made that for no money, like $65,000 dollars or something.
When it comes to the way the film treated homosexuality, how do you compare a role like that, as Louis, to your role as Tusker in “Supernova”?
What I love about “Supernova” is that sexuality isn’t even an issue. They’re just two people who’ve been together in a long relationship for a long time, and they love each other. You could’ve made it with a heterosexual couple, but I think this is more interesting. And the fact that it’s never dwelled on — it’s never even mentioned — is fantastic, and hopefully more movies like that will be made.
What I loved about “Daytrippers” was that there was no judgment on the part of anyone and the fact that this character was gay. What I liked was that it showed his complete confusion and how he felt he was supposed to live his life one way and then — we see it only in the end — when he says, “Help me. I don’t know what to do. I’m really confused.” I liked that because there are a lot of people like that.
I remember the days of a straight actor playing a gay man and how there was talk of how “brave” that was. What was the conversation around you playing gay in 1996 versus now?
You know what, there wasn’t even a conversation about it. I’ll be honest: It wasn’t a conversation. Also, I was barely in the movie. You see me at the beginning and then you see me at the end, so there really wasn’t enough there to talk about.
How have you gotten away with playing gay all these years when so many straight actors have not?
You have to tell me how I’ve gotten away with it. You’re the one who has to tell me. Ha! I don’t know! I don’t know! Somebody said recently — it was written in a magazine or something: Colin and I are the only two straight men who, as far as they’re concerned, are allowed to play gay men, nobody else.
I’ve been telling my friends that I think you’re able to get away with playing gay because people think that you are gay.
Ha! There was a time when there were a lot of people out there who thought I was gay. I don’t think that’s the case anymore, but I don’t know. Who knows. After this movie, you never know.
Listen, my feeling is: Whatever role you play, you just have to be truthful to the character and to the tone of the film. And if I’m presented with something, whether it’s a gay character or a straight character or whatever character, if it doesn’t ring true to me, then I really can’t do it. Or I will do my best to have it rewritten, rewrite it myself, change the lines, and do it the way it should be done.
I’m curious about this time in your life when people thought you were gay. When was that? What do you remember from that period?
I don’t remember anyone coming up to me and saying, “You’re gay, aren’t you?” It wasn’t quite that. Ha! But it was quite a while after “The Devil Wears Prada,” and I remember when I was dating Felicity (Blunt), my wife, she’d punch in my name on the internet and the first thing that would come up was “Stanley Tucci Gay.” She was like, “See, look!” I was like, “Wait a minute!”
I didn’t really care. And now if you punch my name in, I don’t think that’s the first thing that comes up. It probably just comes up “Stanley Tucci Old.”
There’s been increasing pushback on straight actors playing LGBTQ roles. For you, is there apprehension or a different kind of thought process when considering playing a gay role, and how has that changed for you over the years?
No, I’m not apprehensive. I do want to make sure there isn’t — and I always feel this way — someone out there who’s better for it than I am. And if there are people who are gay who are more right for it, then they should be doing it.
Now, I think that the problem here is that one of the reasons that gay actors have not played gay roles is that a lot of gay actors weren’t able to come out and be openly gay for so long, not just in society but in Hollywood. So you couldn’t be an openly gay actor because you would only be cast as a gay person, if you were lucky enough to be cast at all, and because you might be ostracized because you’re openly gay.
Now that that’s beginning to change, there can be more of a level playing field and gay characters and actresses can be openly gay and play straight roles, play gay roles, play whatever roles. And that’s where we need to get to. There was this, “You were either typecast or you weren’t cast.” That holds true for the African-American community. It held true for the Hispanic community. It held true for Italian-Americans, and I can certainly attest to that. And it’s very disconcerting. I think what’s happening now, finally: the playing field is at the very beginning of starting to be level.
What about your relationship with Colin allowed you to so naturally play two men who’ve loved each other for a lifetime?
Because we love each other. I love him. The only thing that would be different than what’s on screen would be the sex. But I just love him. I’d do anything for him. He’s like a brother I never had. When you come to know each other so well over 20 years at our age, and you’ve been through a lot — you’ve been through a lot of loss, you’ve been through a lot of difficult times, you’ve raised children, you’ve seen them go through hard times, you’ve helped each other out through all of those hard times — that’s what great friends do for each other, which is not dissimilar to what married couples do for each other. And so you have all of that. It’s all there.
And you traded roles in this film with Colin. Have you ever considered swapping roles before with another actor? Or … an actress?
Ha! With an actress!
Maybe Cher in Burlesque?
She was desperate for my role. The only problem was I couldn’t sing, so we had to keep it the way it was. Ha! But to answer your question, no, that’s never happened before. And it’s very unusual that that happens. Again, if you’re good friends, you can do that.
You’ve acted alongside Cher and Meryl. What other gay icons would you happily call your boss? Barbra, Gaga, Elton, Mariah, Madonna and Liza all come to mind as options.
All of them. I met Elton John a couple of times, and I met Liza Minnelli a couple of times, and I mean, as a straight man, I almost had a heart attack. They’re just… these people are just incredible people. That talent is just staggering to me.
And I think working with Cher — I know she’s a gay icon and I had the biggest crush on her as a kid, and to be able to meet her and work with her and become friendly with her is just … you know, sometimes I show my kids my phone and I go, “I’m just texting Cher.”
Did you dislike “Burlesque” as much as Cher? She famously admitted she found it “horrible.”
Yeah, ha! You know what? It had potential, but it didn’t quite live up to it. Let’s put it that way.
It’s lived on in the gay community, though. You must know that.
I know! I can’t tell you how many people come up to me, and not only people from the gay community. Everybody comes up and they go, “I love that movie. I love ‘Burlesque.’” And I’m like, “Oh my god –– really?”
As editor of Q Syndicate, the LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.