This weekend in Hunger Games: Catching Fire, he plays Caesar Flickerman, the elaborately coiffured host of The Hunger Games television broadcasts. Despite being disguised with wild wigs, fake teeth and plenty of bronzer, it is unmistakably Tucci, one of the most interesting actors working today.
He made his big screen debut in the 1985 gangster comedy Prizzi’s Honor followed by several years of dues-paying stage work and movie roles like Second Dock Worker in Who’s That Girl before landing recurring spots on Miami Vice and Wiseguy.
A succession of supporting roles lead to the one-two punch that made him a name actor. Producer Steven Bochco’s television drama Murder One cast Tucci as Richard Cross, a Machiavellian multi-millionaire accused of the strangulation of a 15-year-old girl.
The following year a much different part earned him an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best actor. In The Big Night he plays Secondo, owner of an Italian restaurant called Paradise. The place is slowly going broke but may get a boost from a visit by singer Louis Prima. If Prima shows up the restaurant will have a big night and be saved from bankruptcy.
It’s not only one of the greatest food movies ever made — you’ll want to go for risotto afterward — but it also features what Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers called “an unforgettable acting duet” between Tucci and Tony Shalhoub, who plays his temperamental chef brother, “that is as richly authentic as the food.”
Since then Tucci has played everything from villains — strangling a Supreme Court justice in The Pelican Brief — to a flamboyant nightclub manager in Burlesque, to the God of wine Dyonisius in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters to Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Opposite just Meryl Streep alone he’s played everything from a gay art director in The Devil Wears Prada to Julia Child’s loving diplomat husband Paul in Julie & Julia.
In 2010 he received his first (but probably not last) Oscar nomination for his work in The Lovely Bones. He played the murderous Mr. Harvey, all twitchy movements and squeaky voice; he was Norman Bates without the overbearing mom.
“I don’t like to watch things about serial killers or kids getting hurt,” he said, “but this was something beyond that. It was an exploration of loss and hope.”