Stanley Tucci may be most famous for interviewing Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games franchise, but the tables were turned on Caesar Flickerman this week when we sat down with the Oscar-nominated actor to discuss his latest directorial project, Final Portrait.
Ten years in the making, Final Portrait has finally premiered at #Berlinale 2017 to almost as much acclaim as the work of the Swiss sculptor & painter the film centers on. However, don't expect to see every high and low from Alberto Giacometti's life.
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'Final Portrait' Isn't Your Standard Biopic
Taking place in the year 1964, Final Portrait focuses on a two-week window where a young American critic called James Lord posed for one of Alberto's portraits. During our interview, #StanleyTucci revealed to us exactly why he chose to hone in on just a short aspect of Giacometti's life, explaining that;
"I don't like biopics. I think they're impossible to make unless its a six part television event. Why would you cram somebody's life into 2 hours? To me, this is life in microcosm. Biopics are event orientated, just exposition, everyone's explaining everything all the time... there's no detail. This [Final Portrait] is about the detail. when you focus on that, the more specific you are about something... the more universal it becomes."
Speaking of detail, Tucci strove to recreate every possible minutiae of Giacometti's studio, explaining that;
"It's a perfect replica. It's as close as you could get, although we had to take some license and make it slightly larger, so we could fit the actors, cameras, everything in. An artist named Rowan Harris came in and painted all the portraits in the proper phases. That was quite difficult, but he also did all of the paintings on the walls too, replicating what was there to begin with."
However, 'Final Portrait' Isn't Your Standard Film About Art Either
Tucci is clearly passionate about Giacometti's art, explaining:
"The work is incredibly pure. He somehow captures the essence of human beings and our fragility in the context of the world. Space is very important to Giacometti's work... he's constantly creating spaces within spaces. The details aren't really of consequence. They're incredibly pure. You see the process, you don't see the thought. Filmmaking, music, all the same."
Art obviously plays a pivotal role in the proceedings, but while most films based around this subject can become too stuffy or pretentious, Tucci admirably hones in on the humanity of Lord's real-life memoirs, explaining to us that:
"I didn't want it to be precious and I think a lot of movies about painters and artists are precious... At the end I had a scene where they're walking along in this park... and then I watched this scene and I thought it was 'fucking terrible'... we already had this scene a thousand times. It also made it too heavy."
On first glance, Final Portrait might seem like a 'heavy' film anyway. After all, the story of a man forced to sit and pose for a temperamental, moderately suicidal artist hardly sounds like the comedy of the century, yet it turns out that Tucci's fifth directorial effort actually shares a great deal with one of the genre's most influential acts.
Geoffrey Rush Channels Comedy's Greatest Actors
Sure, [Geoffrey Rush] "looked fucking horrible, the most unhealthy looking person" throughout the movie, but his character's dry wit and sardonic look on life had more in common with the likes of Groucho Marx than the usual pompous performances that such a role might attract.
"He [Giacometti] had an incredible sense of humor, really funny. So working with Geoffrey, we had to get that sense of irony, that sense of despair, but also the comic aspect of it. Sometimes I'd say to him, just say it like Groucho. I love Geoffrey, but if I'd had my way, I would have cast Groucho Marx. That makes sense to me. They [The brothers] look like them... and also that incredible intelligence..."
Rush also shares a number of unforgettable lines with Armie Hammer, who plays his poor, suffering subject across those two weeks. The friendly animosity of their relationship is established early on in Final Portrait, when Giacometti tells Lord what he first thinks of him:
"You have the head of a brute. You look like a real thug."
In the hands of someone else, such a line could come across as harsh or cruel, but Tucci draws the humor out of Rush's performance, encouraging us to empathise with Lord's predicament without ever judging Giacometti too unkindly.
Armie Hammer Impresses In A Restrained, Yet Challenging Role
Rush plays a larger than life character whose extreme behavior drives the narrative, imploring Lord to stay just a few days more each time he decides to re-do the painting and start over. However, it's #ArmieHammer's performance that anchors the story, providing us with a grounded view into this world that we can relate to far more than Giacometti's love of brothels and unfinished art:
"It's very hard to make movies about a guy painting another guy. It could literally be like watching paint dry. It could be so boring, let's face it. What's interesting to me is those relationships and the search to try and make it right."
Throughout these eighteen sittings, Hammer continues to exude a natural charm that serves as a perfect counter-measure for Rush and his bleak outlook on life, reminding us how ridiculous the situation truly is. Only one moment threatens to tip Lord's character into caricature, but the scene ultimately turns out to be a knowing wink for fans who enjoyed Hammer's performance in The Man From U.N.C.L.E..
Diego: "You could be a spy."
James: "I am a spy."
'Final Portrait' Contains The Energy Of Tucci's Best Performances
How does one imbue a film about waiting with dynamism? This is the problem that Tucci faced when tackling Lord's memoirs, yet the sharp wit and energy of the director's finest acting performances shine through in every scene.
When asked what he had learned from other directors he had worked with, Tucci revealed that:
"I did a lot more coverage, as it's quite a static film. Because we have these two people sitting here, I had to keep the camera moving for the most part. It had to have energy to it... so it was two cameras, all the time."
Whether the audience was faced with close-ups of an increasingly frustrated Hammer or eye-catching transitions that focused on Giacometti's art, Tucci's use of music and intriguing camera angles retain interest throughout the film's sleek 90 minute running time.
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Final Portrait may be all about Lord's desire to leave Giacometti's studio once and for all, but you'll want to do anything but leave when Tucci's latest directorial effort hits a cinema near you. Forget #BeautyAndTheBeast or #Transformers — Final Portrait is already the best Stanley Tucci film of 2017.
Which Stanley Tucci project are you looking forward to most in 2017?
(Poll Image Credit: Paramount Pictures)