Stanley Tucci is a man who values a good costume. This isn’t surprising given his oeuvre: He’s donned couture in The Devil Wears Prada and the Capitol’s outlandish garb in The Hunger Games. Look closely enough and you’ll also see his passion for sartorial detail on display in Feud.
In the Ryan Murphy anthology series, Tucci plays the studio head Jack Warner, and he tackles the loutish part with gusto. Warner is a vile and blatant misogynist, but Tucci makes him endlessly entertaining to watch. In the sixth episode, director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) finally one-ups the commandeering boss by taking his new film to Darryl F. Zanuck at 20th Century Fox. The A.V. Club had a chance to talk with Tucci by phone about cursing and dressing.
The A.V. Club: You’ve played historical figures like Stanley Kubrick, Walter Winchell, and Paul Child. How much research do you do? Does it vary from role to role?
Stanley Tucci: Yeah, it varies from role to role. What’s very important to me are images of the character and any footage that you can find on that character is really helpful. Then of course, obviously, reading. It’s all connected. You have to do all of it to figure it out. Sometimes there’s just one thing that will sort of click. And then you go, “That’s it.” It unlocks something.
AVC: What was it for Jack Warner?
ST: For Jack Warner it was this funny footage I found on the internet of him trying to talk to a camera doing a kind of—what would you call it? I guess it would have been like what they would show in movie theaters before the movie. It was him sort of saying what the slate for Warner Bros. was that year. It’s him just staring at a camera reading off a teleprompter, obviously, but not really well. It’s all the outtakes.
It’s fantastic because you get to see him making an attempt to do something that he’s really bad at doing, but also then you see him break and go, “This year we have a number of pictures that are really going to be, um—ah, shit, I fucked that one up.” It’s also really interesting to see someone in 1960-whatever-it-was cursing in ways—people always think people didn’t swear like that. Of course, everyone talked exactly like they do today in that way. That was the thing that made it for me. And I could see how he was dressed, and the way he cuts his hair, and the way he laughed, the way he moved. I had them add a fat suit for me, a stomach thing for me, and stuff like that. And the mustache.
AVC: You wore a little bit of a fat suit?
ST: I did. I did a thing to augment my stomach because Jack Warner didn’t exercise as much as I exercise. He smoked and drank and ate steaks at the Palm. I had to change the way the suit fit.
AVC: Was that a choice that the costume designers made independently or that you wanted to make based on your research?
ST: Oh no, I really wanted to do it. I showed them. And Ryan said, “If Stanley wants to wear the suit and it makes him feel more comfortable wearing the suit then put the fat suit on.” We went through a few different versions. Then the clothes fit different so obviously they have to be constructed to fit over that fat suit. It was great. For me it was incredibly helpful. Then the mustache and the wig and the teeth.
AVC: It is true we don’t really think of people in the ’50s and ’60s cursing as vigorously as he does. Is that just so much fun to do for you? How do you approach that?
ST: I think it’s always fun to curse. When you have free reign on a network like FX, it’s very satisfying.
AVC: After the first episode, there was follow-up regarding your character’s use of the word “cunt.” What did you think about it?
ST: I live in England so the word “cunt” is used all the time, and it’s used by women. It doesn’t have the same taboo that it has in America. He really was by all accounts a really awful person. To me, that made sense that that’s what he would call her. For an American to call a woman that, that would really mean something. I just did it. If they wanted to use it they could use it and they used it.
AVC: What did you find out about Jack Warner in terms of where he was at that point in his life? What did you want to convey about that?
ST: Well, it’s a really interesting time, because the business was changing pretty distinctly. Television was having a pretty big impact on moviemaking for the first time. He had to deal with that, and he knew he was sort of becoming a bit of a dinosaur in a way. He’d been doing it for a really long time at this point. I think he knew he had to get out pretty soon, but he wanted a couple more hits before he did. And that makes it interesting, when somebody’s right at the cusp of a new era.
AVC: You found that video. Was there anything else that was very influential to you in your research?
ST: There was this interview with James Garner and he talked about Jack Warner and he said he was an awful person. He was a boor. He was so crass. The way he spoke to people—the way he spoke to women—it was horrible. But he said he was such a good businessman. He said he was very efficient. James Garner said he was having trouble with a director and he went to Warner’s office and said, “Look, I’m having trouble with this guy. This guy’s out of his mind. He’s going to ruin the movie. Nobody can work with him. I can’t work with him.” He said two days later the guy was gone and the picture went on, and that was it. He dealt with things very efficiently. He listened to people. But other than that he said he was truly horrible.
AVC: Throughout your career there have been roles where you are in lavish costumes, from The Devil Wears Prada to The Hunger Games to Beauty And The Beast. What’s important to you about costuming?
ST: When you’re working with great people like we had on this show, it’s just such a joy. It’s absolutely crucial. For me the shoes have to be right, everything has to be really right. If I look in the mirror and go, “I don’t believe that,” then it just doesn’t work. You’re going to be self-conscious about it. It all has to be integrated. And the same with the hair and the teeth and the makeup.
AVC: Diverging from Feud, has there ever been a time in your career where something’s not working for you and has shifted or hampered your performance?
ST: Yeah. There has been. And it’s been hard. It’s hard to do. You just want to do the job and you want to be comfortable doing what you’re doing. So you’re going to be as free as possible. The freer you are, the better you’re going to be.
AVC: Even if it’s intentionally uncomfortable is it still sort of freeing if it’s right?
ST: Well, if it’s uncomfortable in the right way—if it’s uncomfortable for the character. If it’s uncomfortable for the actor then it’s useless.
AVC: There’s such a Ryan Murphy world. Do you want to keep a foot in it now that Feud: Bette And Joan is finishing up its run?
ST: Of course. But that’s up to Ryan, whether he wants me to be there or not.
AVC: What sort of insight did you gain about the movie industry in general? Do you feel like it brought you any new understanding?
AVC: Well, I guess it’s just made you more aware that too many maybe not nice men are controlling things. [Laughs.] And that as women age they’re discarded much more quickly than men and that’s wrong.
AVC: Do you have a favorite moment from the series?
ST: No, I don’t really have a favorite. I just love it. I love the look of it. And I love that people watch it, that people are interested in this. I wasn’t sure if people would be interested in this era in Hollywood, but I’m so glad they are. So I don’t really have a favorite, I just get a big kick out of it.