Stanley Tucci is such an eclectic actor that he can effortlessly play Adolf Eichmann in Conspiracy, Walter Winchell in Winchell, Stanley Kubrick in The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, and Paul Child, Julia Child’s husband in Julie & Julia. But he admits his role as George Harvey in The Lovely Bones is one of the hardest parts he’s ever undertaken.
Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Alice Sebold’s best-selling novel, tells the story of Susie Salmon (Saoirse Ronan), a 14-year-old girl who is murdered by her neighbor, George Harvey. Although the actual murder is never seen, Stanley Tucci’s performance is so chilling, you feel you’ve witnessed the crime.
Why did you want to play this role and did you have any reservations?
It was hard in every respect. I was very reticent to take the part at first. I have kids and I can’t really read anything or watch anything about kids getting harmed. I don’t like things about serial killers. There’s so much serial killer information out there. It’s documented constantly but a lot of it is just gratuitous or it’s almost pornographic really, the way that it’s being shown. But this was not that.
This was a beautiful story, an exploration of loss. Pete and Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens], in our long conversations that we had before we started working together, I felt very safe with them. I felt that there would be nothing here that would be gratuitous and that we were going to create a person together in Mr Harvey that was a real person. The more real he is, the more subtle he is the more terrifying he is, the more banal he is the more terrifying he is.
At the beginning it was very hard to leave it at the end of the day, particularly when you’re fresh off of the research. The research was repulsive. But eventually, once we understand who he was and we found him for me, then I could drop him at the end of the day. But I will say without question that it was the most difficult thing that I’ve ever done as an actor
Why was the choice made to give Mr Harvey those bizarre contact lenses? Was it done to give him a slightly inhuman feel?
What contact lenses? [he laughs] No. It was not to make him look slightly inhuman. I guess you thought that it did though. I didn’t think that my eyes were the eyes that should be the eyes of this guy. And also he needed to be more, I suppose, quintessentially American looking so that the skin tone was changed and the hair was added. And the eyes seem to be appropriate for him.
I think that if you look at the scenes, let’s say the scene with Mike Imperioli [as Detective Len Fenerman], where he comes in and asks me questions, I think that the eyes there look sort of normal. I think in certain close-ups like the reflections in the mirror when he’s sitting in his car then the eyes take on a different quality because of the way that it’s lit and because of my horrible thoughts behind them.
Obviously Peter, in adapting the book, left out the rape from the novel and didn’t really show the murder. How did that affect the overall tone of the film?
We talked about that before we shot, we talked about that and how far we could go. There were places in the script that were a little more graphic, but I think this was an exploration of where this movie could go, what you really needed. In our conversations we all agreed. I said, ‘I don’t feel like we need to see this,’ and Peter said, ‘No. We don’t need to see it.’ It’s so much more interesting to leave it to the audience’s imaginations. Our imaginations of rape and murder are much greater than what anyone could ever film. That’s the beauty of it.
The murder scene was horrific. What kind of conversation did you and Saoirse Ronan have before going into that scene?
I’ll be honest with you, I couldn’t wait to finish the scene. You’re concerned certainly as a parent or just as a person when you’re working with a younger person with this subject matter. You know that they have to behave a certain way to get what you need to get across to fill the needs of the screenplay.
After every take I’d say to Saoirse, ‘Are you okay, are you comfortable?’ But Saoirse would also ask me if I was okay. It turns out that she’s the one who really, I think, in some ways made us all feel comfortable because she was so mature. I did ask Pete, ‘Can we just get this done in one day?’ He said, ‘I’ll try, I’ll try, I’ll try.’ We weren’t able to. We shot another half day the next day and then that was over and I kind of breathed a sigh of relief, to say the least. It’s one of the last things that I did on the movie and I was very happy when it was over. But also between takes you joke around. You have to. I looked forward to going into the makeup trailer, taking everything off and having a martini at the end of everyday and at the beginning everyday, too!