"The best of times. . . . the worst of times."
Charles Dickens wrote those words. Actor Stanley Tucci is living them.
A photo shoot for L'uomo Vogue, the Italian men's fashion magazine ("My life is like this every day"), capped off an amazing year. Tucci had starring roles in two major movies, including one opposite Meryl Streep, and a Golden Globe nomination for his role in "The Lovely Bones."
But this was also a year of terrible loss, which we'll explain later.
First, "The Lovely Bones," and the part that Tucci almost turned down.
"It was the hardest role I've ever done," he said.
Tucci plays George Harvey, a non-descript middle-aged man who is, in fact, a cunning serial killer. His victims are women, including the precocious daughter of one of his neighbors.
"I didn't want to do it," Tucci said of the role. "I don't like to watch movies about serial killers. So I was really reticent. I talked to my wife about it. Her first reaction was, 'No, you can't do that.'"
"And why didn't she want you to do it?" asked Moriarty.
"Same reason. But then, I realized that there was a really beautiful story there in the script, and in the book of course, and I wanted to be a part of it."
What made the role so challenging, says Tucci, was that he had to create an unremarkable character . . . someone whose ability to blend in helps him get away with murder.
Tucci had to physically transform himself, adding a paunch and even bleaching his body hair.
"I changed the color of my eyes," he said. "I felt he should have blue eyes, or greenish blue eyes. He had to look like this sort of an Everyman in America in 1973. And that person didn't look like me!"
"Are you comforted by the fact that a lot of people don't even realize it's you as that character?"
"Yes, that's welcome, yeah," he said. "People have said, 'I had no idea it was you until the end of the movie.'"
"And you were relieved."
"I'm relieved and I'm flattered."
Once the movie wrapped, Tucci found the perfect antidote to the menacing Mr. Harvey: The role of Paul Child, the husband of famed chef Julia Child, in the film "Julie & Julia."
"He was a renaissance man," Tucci said. "I mean, he was madly in love with his wife. He spoke three different languages or something. He was extraordinary."
"And it's not difficult for you to go from a serial killer to this renaissance man?" Moriarty asked.
"That was easy. I would say that he's actually closer to me than the other guy."
The part gave him the chance to work once again with Meryl Streep, the actor he met when he played the creative director to Streep's exacting fashion editor in the hit 2006 film "The Devil Wears Prada."
"Do you sometimes pick a role simply because of the other actors in the film?" Moriarty asked.
"Without question. At a party, Meryl said to me a few years ago, 'Do you want to play my husband in this movie that Nora's gonna do?' And I said, you know, 'Of course, yes, I'd love, I would love to.' But Meryl was the one who really said, 'Stanley has to do this because he's the right guy for the role.'"
Tucci's ability to be "the right guy for the role" has led to parts as varied as the Nazi officer Adolf Eichmann in 2001's "Conspiracy," gossip columnist Walter Winchell in the 1998 "Winchell," and even Puck in " A Midsummer Night's Dream"
But it wasn't always that way. When Tucci - who grew up in a suburb north of New York City - began his career in the early 1980s, he was offered the same part over and over again.
"Yeah. Yeah. Italian mobsters. If you had dark skin, dark eyes, dark hair (when I had hair), that's what you were cast as."
He was a Mafia turncoat in "Crime Story" (1987), a Mafia don in "Miami Vice" (1987), Lucky Luciano in "Billy Bathgate," and mobster Frank Nitti in "Road to Perdition."
"It was always assumed, there was never any explanation, for why an Italian did a bad thing in a movie: They were innately evil."
Which explains why in 1996 Tucci co-wrote and co-directed "Big Night," a film that combined his love of art, food and his Italian heritage.
The story revolves around two brothers who run an Italian restaurant in New Jersey. One brother, played by actor Tony Shalhoub, considers himself an artist in the kitchen. Tucci's character, the younger brother, is concerned with keeping their restaurant afloat.
(Samuel Goldwyn Films)
"He wanted to play an Italian American that's not often seen by American audiences," said Shalhoub.
Best known for his portrayal of the obsessive compulsive detective Adrian Monk, Shalhoub has known and worked with Tucci for more than 20 years.
"He's, you know, a writer, and a director. He's sort of a triple-threat," said Shalhoub. "And a hell of a cook. I just want to throw that in there."
In 2006 it was Shalhoub's turn to offer Tucci a role, as a guest star in an episode of his show, "Monk." Tucci plays an actor who's becomes so obsessed with Monk, he becomes him.
Tucci walked away with an Emmy for the role.
It's been a mix of comedy and tragedy for Tucci, and not always on the screen.
And that brings us back to those "worst of times."
For much of his 25-year career, Tucci's real leading lady has been his wife, Kate (left, pictured at the New York premiere of "The Devil Wears Prada" in 2006).
(AP Photo/Stuart Ramson)
Four years ago they found out she was sick. Although Kate Tucci was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, they never gave up hope.
"We really believed that Kate wasn't going to die, that she was one of those people that wasn't going to die," he said.
But last April, Kate passed away. Tucci is now in the role of single dad to their three young children.
"Is it still pretty tough even to talk about?" Moriarty asked.
"You have to talk about it; you'd go crazy if you didn't," Tucci said. "But, hard wouldn't be the word. I mean, it's still inconceivable, and probably always will be inconceivable to me, that she's not here, or that I won't see her again."
Now he's taking jobs that will allow him to stay close to home and family, which is why he agreed to try something new and a little risky. This spring, Stanley Tucci will be, for the first time, directing a play on Broadway, "Lend Me a Tenor."
"I don't do this just to make money," he said. "I don't do this just to have a certain level of fame. I do it because I want a challenge. I want to keep growing. I want to keep learning. I want to tell new stories. I want to find out something new about people and about myself."
For more info:
Stanley Tucci Filmography at imdb.com
"Julie & Julia" (Official Site)
"The Lovely Bones" (Official Site)
"Blind Date" (Official Site)
"Monk" Series 5: Episode, "Mr. Monk and the Actor" (USA Network)