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Stanley Tucci: Take what’s in front of you and make it something else. That’s art

The Hunger Games actor, director and author of two cookbooks on why he feels settled in London, why preparing food is like art, and being a father, fourth time around, at 54

One of the pleasures of lunch with Stanley Tucci is that it gives me the excuse, beforehand, to rewatch his film Big Night, easily the best movie ever made about running a restaurant. It’s 20 years since Tucci co-wrote (with his cousin), co-directed and starred in his homage to the Italian immigrant experience in New York but the battle lines – between the two brothers Primo and Secondo, purist chef and drowning maître d at their restaurant Paradise – remain as fresh as ever. “People should come just for the food!” Primo (Tony Shalhoub) repeats, as a mantra, refusing to compromise his cooking for American tastes. “I know that, I know,” Secundo – Tucci – mutters, desperate, “but they don’t …”

“It always seemed to me,” Tucci says, when we talk about the genesis of that film “that running a restaurant is kind of accidentally poetic. I don’t have a brother or anyone in my family who worked in the restaurant business, but that idea of expressing love through food has been and is an important one in my life.” Also he says, Big Night was his personal antidote to the prevailing cinematic idea of Italian Americans. “I wanted to tell that story without the mafia being involved in it. I mean, I grew up in that community, I never met anyone in the mafia. None of my family ever met anyone in the mafia. That kind of violence was never a feature of our lives.”

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