The 'A' List

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Photo Source: Robin Holland
Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci share more in common than critical accolades and impressive resumes. Both actors enjoyed professional breakthroughs somewhat later in life, after struggling through their 20s and early 30s.

Each credits the Steven Bochco series "Murder One" as a major turning point in their careers. And both share similar perspectives on their craft and the business -- not to mention a wicked sense of humor.

Clarkson and Tucci have teamed up before in projects Tucci has co-written and directed, beginning with the 2000 film "Joe Gould's Secret." In 2007, the pair played a married couple estranged by tragedy who repeatedly pretend to meet for the first time in "Blind Date," inspired by a film from the late Dutch director Theo van Gogh.

This month, the duo will reteam as a far more lighthearted couple in "Easy A," a smart new comedy from director Will Gluck and writer Bert V. Royal. The film stars Emma Stone as Olive, a high school student who fakes promiscuity in order to help teen boys who need a boost to their reputations.

Inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," Olive flaunts her new status by adorning her clothing with a red "A." Clarkson and Tucci steal scenes as Olive's laidback but loving parents, who somehow manage to parody the movie trope of the "cool parents" while being effortlessly awesome.

Back Stage recently sat down with the pair to talk about, among other things, the pain of auditions, the joys of just being asked, and the actor-director relationship.

Back Stage
: Was "Easy A" as much fun to make as it is to watch? It seems like you two are having a great time.

Stanley Tucci: We had so much fun making this movie. And we were in and out in three days.

Patricia Clarkson: I was there a week.

Tucci: You had a little more to do than I did.

Clarkson: No, I just got there a little early, Stanley, to prepare.

Tucci: Oh, to prepare, right. I didn't prepare, but I had fun. And you know, it was one of those pretty rare experiences where you go in and everyone gets along well and the script is funny and the director, Will Gluck, is fantastic. He works very quickly, and he's spontaneous, loves to laugh, and knows nothing is sacred.

Clarkson: We're all in love with Will Gluck.

Back Stage: What did you think when you got the script? It's very funny, but how do you know that it's going to work?

Tucci: You never know if a movie's going to work. You only hope it will work. I read it; I laughed out loud. I thought it was so smart and irreverent. But you never know. You go in and you do the best you can.

Clarkson: But then you put someone like Emma Stone in it, and it's even more exciting. It's the combination of finding the perfect young actress for the part.

Back Stage: Did you know that each other had been approached to play the parts, and was that an incentive in taking it?

Clarkson: Yes. We knew -- they courted both of us.

Tucci: We have one of the same agents, and he said, "They want Patty to do this and you to do it," and I loved that idea. We're very good friends. We've been good friends for a long time. Not so much anymore. [Laughs.]

Back Stage: When did you two first meet?

Clarkson: At inception. [Laughs.] No, we really met when you directed me. Stanley did this beautiful film, "Joe Gould's Secret," and he hired me to play that little part -- that was one of my favorite things I've ever done in my life. And I knew Stanley; we had mutual friends.

Tucci: We were on the same television show, "Murder One," but we never worked together.

Clarkson: And now we've worked together quite a bit.

Tucci: Yes, a little too much.

Back Stage: Do you recall your initial impressions of each other?

Tucci: I thought she was really pretty and really funny.

Clarkson: I remember that you were really talented. I remember people talking about how talented you were.

Tucci: Really? Well, that's all changed now.

Clarkson: I do. I remember people talking about, when you did "Scapin" [on Broadway], that was the talk of the town.

Back Stage: For that first film, did you make Patricia audition? Or did you just give her the part?

Tucci: No, no, God no. If anything, I had to audition for her as a director.

: He had to refer to me as "Miss Clarkson" the entire time. Or maybe as sir -- "Sir Clarkson."

Back Stage
: You also worked together in "Blind Date," which Stanley co-wrote and directed. That film has some harrowing material. Were you able to enjoy the experience?

We did. It was very dark material, but there's a lot of lightness in the air. It was such an actor's piece, you know?

Tucci: And we shot it very quickly. We shot the whole movie in seven days. And the days were not long, because I don't like long days.

Clarkson: Well, they were for me because Stanley had co-written the script, so he knew it all. But I would shoot all day and then go home and read and learn -- I'm not kidding you -- 13 pages a night. So Stanley would be like, "Ta-ta!" and I'd be running lines all night. Then on set, Stanley was like, "Oh, just say anything you want." I was like, "No!"

Tucci: I didn't really mean it. I just wanted her to be relaxed. But I also knew, you must admit, that the lines were not that hard to memorize. They weren't. Were they?

Clarkson: Stanley, it was copious amounts of lines. And they were hard -- every scene was very different and a whole different moment.

Tucci: You did well, really, you did great.

Clarkson: Thank you, thank you. I have to say, and I know this sounds cliche, but working on that film made me a better actor, it really did. It required so much of me, and Stanley is such an actor's director, and it really, it just lifted us.

Tucci: It was a rare experience, and I could just have Patty act in anything, but also to act with her is really, really exciting, and every movie that I have that I've liked, I've had Patty in mind for something, or I will write for her because I don't know if you can find anybody better.

Clarkson: Oh, Stanley.

Tucci: No, I mean it. I'm not just saying that because you're sitting here.

Clarkson: Well, that's why I'm sitting here naked. [Laughs.] Oh, we've known each other too long.

Back Stage:
Patricia, what is Stanley like as a director?

Clarkson: You know, I think great actors often make great directors. And I know that Stanley is an actor's dream because you show up on the set [and] he knows very quickly when something isn't working. He's so intuitive, and sometimes even great directors have trouble with their intuition. But Stanley's is just dead-on, and he just knows immediately when something is not fitting right. He doesn't linger; he doesn't labor to try to make that particular moment work, or that scene. He's very malleable.

Tucci: You have to be completely spontaneous. You can have your ideas about how you want to direct a picture or how you want a scene to go. And because I write the films or co-write the films or rewrite the films that I make, I know them inside and out. But when you get on the set, you have to get off that track, and you have to imagine, on every set, there's a window, and all your ideas can be thrown out of that window at any time. And you're the one that has to throw them out. You have to make that choice. And once you give yourself that freedom, you're going to raise the level of the film, because you're not stuck in an idea. Will was like that on "Easy A."

Clarkson: He was great. He would always give us a great path. We'd do a scene, and then he'd say, "Take that out, try that out," which Woody Allen does also. I think really truly great directors are incredibly flexible.

Tucci: There's a great thing that people should watch called "Ingmar Bergman Makes A Movie." It was a documentary that was made in the '60s of him directing "Winter Light," which is a really beautiful movie. It's fascinating to watch because they're sitting around laughing and talking on the set, and he has very specific ideas of how he's going to shoot stuff, but then all of a sudden something changes, and it's not precious. He'll be very specific about where somebody's hand goes, and then they'll say this line, and he'll go, "Yeah, change the line, say something else." To me, any young director should watch that documentary because it shows you how to work a movie set. Where there's nothing precious but everything must be cared for.

Back Stage: It seems like you both really broke through and had these great roles a little later in life. Are you grateful for that?

Tucci: When you're young, you're very anxious, and you feel like it will never happen. But in the long run, it's probably better because you get a longer career. Then again, I've been 40 years old since I was 22, know what I mean? People always thought I was in my 40s.

Clarkson: I think we've kind of grown into ourselves, and now we work so much; we're so lucky. It's a brutal life, but I couldn't imagine any other. The only thing I can do is act; I don't have any other talent.

Tucci: No, you can overact. You have done that.

Clarkson: No, I haven't.

Tucci: I'm kidding.

Back Stage: When was the last time either of you had to audition?

Clarkson: That's a great question, because we don't. I haven't auditioned in -- eight years? It's been a long time.

Tucci: It's been longer for me.

Clarkson: All right, stop bragging!

Tucci: I think it's been more than 10 years. Probably since "Big Night" came out.

Clarkson: If a director really wanted me to audition for a part I truly loved and wanted desperately, I would audition again.

Tucci: I know that when I'm casting, there are certain people that there's no way I'm going to audition them; it would be an insult. I don't even really want to meet them necessarily. I just feel like, if I look at somebody's work and I know their reputation, the only thing I ever ask is, "Are they a nice person?" If they have that reputation that's like, "Oh, they're painfully difficult on a set blah blah blah blah blah blah," then it's not going to happen. Life's too short. Find somebody else who can act. There are lots of really talented actors.

Back Stage: Can you remember your worst audition story?

Both: We have so many.

Clarkson: But the great thing is, we've got to remember the great auditions. When you get that job or it goes so well -- your audition is everything. It's your calling card when you first appear and even later when you're well-established and you're still auditioning.

Tucci: I had a couple where -- and people shall remain nameless -- I was auditioning for something, and the producer, who's now dead, thank God, was reading the newspaper while I was auditioning.

Clarkson: Wow.

Tucci: And he was reading the Post.

Back Stage: That's even more insulting.

Tucci: Right? And the other guy I auditioned for was a very well-known director. Of course I was auditioning for a Mafioso, and after I finished the scene, he looked to me and he said, "Ooh, scary," in a very condescending way. I didn't know how to respond. I walked out and I didn't get the job. But, I guess, thank God.

Clarkson: It's one of the highlights of your career to be offered a part. For someone to be so gracious and to say, "You want to be in my movie?" Just offer, just ask you to be in a movie, it's exciting. It's incredibly flattering. It's a nice high.

Back Stage: It can be a rough business, and I'm wondering if there were any times that you thought maybe it wasn't going to happen for you and what sort of pushed you through that time.

Clarkson: When I was in my early 30s, I was really struggling. I had a couple of bad years, and you just hang on for dear life, and then suddenly things shift. Then Steven Bochco saved me, gave me "Murder One," and I got some film work, and I started this whole independent film career. It all leads into something.

Tucci: Me too, "Murder One" was the thing that really saved me; I was completely broke.

Clarkson: I didn't know that.

Tucci: Patty had spent all my money.


Stanley Tucci

- Won two Emmy Awards, for "Winchell" and a guest spot on "Monk"; received his first Oscar nomination this year for "The Lovely Bones"
- Wrote and directed the films "Big Night" and The Impostors"
- Made his Broadway directorial debut this year with "Lend Me A Tenor," starring Justin Bartha and Tony Shalhoub
- Upcoming films include "Margin Call," "Burlesque," and "Captain America"
- Won two Emmy Awards for guest appearances on "Six Feet Under," as the free-spirited sister of Frances Conroy's character; nominated for an Oscar in 2003 for "Pieces of April"
- Broadway credits include "House of Blue Leaves" and "Eastern Standard"
- Upcoming films include "Friends With Benefits" from "Easy A" director Will Gluck and "One Day"

Patricia Clarkson
- Won two Emmy Awards for guest appearances on "Six Feet Under," as the free-spirited sister of Frances Conroy's character; nominated for an Oscar in 2003 for "Pieces of April"
- Broadway credits include "House of Blue Leaves" and "Eastern Standard"
- Upcoming films include "Friends With Benefits" from "Easy A" director Will Gluck and "One Day"

Photo by Robin Holland