How playing a person with early-onset dementia intensified Stanley Tucci's fears of aging and death

Stanley Tucci talks to CBC Radio Q’s Tom Power about his challenging role in the film Supernova, embodying the experience of a person with early-onset dementia, and what it was like working so intimately with his close friend Colin Firth.

'I'm very lucky to have him,' said Tucci about his friend and co-star Colin Firth

Award-winning actors, Stanley Tucci, left, and Colin Firth star in the new Harry Macqueen film, Supernova. (Photo by Bleecker Street)

Stanley Tucci is a bit of a chameleon with a storied career. He's transformed into some of the most incredible comedic and dramatic characters in movies such as The Hunger Games, The Lovely Bones and Stephen Spielberg's, The Terminal

And now, the award-winning actor steps into a role that's certainly more dramatic, yet still not without its funny moments — starring opposite longtime friend Colin Firth in Harry Macqueen's heart-breaking new film, Supernova.

This touching drama follows a couple, Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci), who because of Tusker's recent diagnosis with early-onset dementia, embark on one last vacation together — re-tracing an old trip they'd once taken in the early days of their relationship.

Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth. (Bleecker Street)

And although the story is simple, it's the film's portrayal of how two people face illness together that sets it apart.

Stanley Tucci joined CBC Radio Q's Tom Power to talk about the challenging role of embodying the experience of someone going through early-onset dementia and what it was like working so intimately with Firth (The King's Speech).

Role reversal

Tucci said that he was initially cast as Sam in Supernova, and suggested Firth for the role of Tusker. But when Firth signed on, and as the two acting giants started rehearsing, they noticed that Tusker's dialogue somehow fit Tucci better rhythmically. It was also more in line with his accent and "teasing, cheap sense of humour." 

"And then [Colin] said, 'Stan, I think we should switch roles.' And I said, 'Yeah, I think so too.'"

They went to Macqueen who, Tucci remembered, "blanched and said, 'Okay, well, let's read it.'" And after reading a few scenes, "it was evident … it made sense."

A long-lasting friendship

Firth and Tucci have been great friends since they first met in 2011 while filming Conspiracy, said Tucci, explaining that they've seen each other "through hard times and good times," raised their kids and seen them through the same, and that their kids are now also friends.

So once you have that sense of history with somebody, and you have that deep friendship, to be able to work with them, again, on something so intimate and deep is, it's a pleasure.- Stanley Tucci
Colin Firth as Sam and Stanley Tucci as Tusker in their new film Supernova. (Bleecker Street)

"Colin, who is so wonderfully articulate," once said that "the hardest thing sometimes to achieve on film is just being casual with each other, when actors just have to be friends," Tucci reflected. But for the two acting icons, that clearly didn't seem to be an issue when filming Supernova because that closeness and depth of experience with each other was present.

"I'm very lucky to have him," said Tucci, adding that they also live close to one another.

Embodying and shedding a character

Embodying someone with early-onset dementia can be challenging.

Tucci explained that while Macqueen gave him a lot of research to go through, and he met with a doctor, it was watching documentaries and observing the behaviour that helped him "physicalize it."

"It was very painful to watch, heartbreaking and, of course, anxiety inducing." 

The 60-year-old actor explained that he was drawn to the script because it was extremely understated, poetic and restrained, but that playing this role did exacerbate his fears of aging and death.

"I think a lot about death. And I think a lot about loss. I lost my wife, my first wife. I've lost a number of friends, over the last decade. It's scary and this only, sort of, heightened those fears."

(Bleecker Street)

Many actors find it difficult to shed the characters they play, long after filming has wrapped, but Tucci said he is a big believer in proper preparation and doing your work on camera. 

"And then go home, you know, have some dinner, have a glass of wine, wake up the next day, do a good workout, go to work, do your job. That's that." 

"If you didn't shed it, then you would lose your mind," he added. "There's no question that it stays with you, it starts to become part of your DNA, but you can't let it cripple you."

Tucci hopes that the movie can help people with early-onset dementia "feel that they're not alone." 

Written by Vanja Mutabdzija Jaksic. Interview produced by Kaitlyn Swan.


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