Playing Devil's Advocate
By Jason Lamphier
We caught up with openly straight actor-director Stanley Tucci to discuss his role as Nigel, the gay right-hand man to infamous fashionista boss Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, in theaters June 30.
I was nervous that your character, Nigel, would be a caricature, but I found him dimensional and genuine. How did you develop him? I read that Nigel is based on Vogue's editor-at-large, Andre Leon Talley.
I don't know how true that is. I've never met Andre Leon Talley'I didn't even know who he was. When I was cast they were already shooting. It really was a matter of culling from my memory and experience different people whom I've met over the years and turning them into one person. It's not based on one particular person. My goal was not to make this a caricature. We don't need it. It's insulting, enough is enough. This had to be a real person to work. I love fashion, and I like to dress people, so that part of it was easy.
You have some crazy getups in the film. How do you think the costumes helped you get into character?
It made the character. The one thing I wanted was those glasses Nigel wears. When I got the part, I went to my office, put on a video camera, and just did the lines a bunch of different ways to modulate the performance. But all I could think about were those glasses. So I asked for them, and they got them. And the costume fittings were incredible'because Patricia Field [the costume designer] is a fucking genius. She just sort of sits there with her cigarette and her hair, and she would pull stuff'these very disparate elements'and put them together into this ensemble, and you'd go, 'Come on, Pat, you can't wear that with that.' She'd say, 'Eh, just try it on.' So you'd put it on, and not only did it work, but it works on so many different levels'and it allows you to figure out who the guy is. Those outfits achieve exactly what I was trying to achieve. There's flamboyance, there's real risk-taking, but when I walk into the room, it's not flashy. It's actually very subtle. You look at it and you go, 'That shirt, that tie, that jacket, that vest? What?' But it works.
Yes, it struck me as businesslike, but there was something that brought it to the next level. We see fashion as a business, but it's also art.
Right, it's fashion, so it has to be about art. It's the art that you wear.
Nigel's demeanor implies he's gay, but he never really discusses it. He glances at an attractive man in the film, and he discusses how in his youth he would hide under the covers reading the latest issue of Runway instead of going to soccer practice. Was it your choice to not focus on Nigel's sexuality?
That's the way it was written. To me there was no other way to play it. He's gay. No need to spell it out.
How would you describe Nigel's relationship with Miranda Priestly, Meryl Streep's character?
It's very complicated. He loves her, he hates her, he respects her'and doesn't respect her at all because she hurts a lot of people. I have a feeling he compensates for her a lot. He picks up the emotional slack.
Have you ever had a tyrannical boss?
No, I never was an assistant, and I never want to be an assistant'particularly after doing this movie. I've had bad directors, who were rude and offensive, but I don't sit there and take it'and usually those people are not talented. The thing about Miranda is she is talented'she's the best. It's harder to argue with somebody who's vicious when they're so good at what they do. Picasso was a genius, but according to a lot of people, he was also a prick. But I don't think you have to be a prick to be true to your talent.
Who are your favorite designers?
I wear a lot of Hugo Boss. I think Dries Van Noten is really interesting. One of the pieces I took from the movie is a Dries Van Noten tie that is so cool. And my wife bought this pair of Dries Van Noten shoes that are just the greatest pair of shoes. She's not a shopper, but she loves these shoes.
Barney's creative director, Simon Doonan, and E!'s Robert Verdi also auditioned for the part of Nigel. In his column Doonan claimed the casting was 'nothing more than a carefully orchestrated piece of unpaid research. We gays had been dragged in to swish it up'on film, no less'for the delectation of some pre-cast, overpaid straight actor.' Why do you think you'the straight actor'got the part?
I don't know why someone would write such a piece. They really did not know what they wanted to do with this part. I think he's imagining a much more Machiavellian scenario than actually exists. All I know is somebody called me, and I realized this was a great part.
I read the film has been blackballed from coverage from Cond' Nast publications. Does this surprise you?
If it's the Anna Wintour thing, she saw the movie and attended our charity event. She loved it. People really shouldn't make such a big deal out of it.
So you just see the film as a piece of fiction?
A script is a very different thing than a book. A book is a very different thing than somebody's real life. Meryl created this incredibly complex person'but, again, not unlike what I did or what a lot of us do. It's an amalgam of a whole bunch of different people. I think people should just get over it.