The label of a character actor tends to be interpreted as general audiences calling someone “that guy” in a movie. Stanley Tucci seems slightly above that description, bringing memorable and popular performances to the mainstream. From the purple-haired host Caesar Flickerman to Nigel, the lovable confidant of Miranda Priestly that gets stabbed in the back, there’s really nothing he can’t do. As Tusker, a man living with Alzheimer’s in Harry Macqueen’s “Supernova,” the actor’s actor may have found his strongest awards vehicle yet.
With Bleecker Street submitting Tucci for best supporting actor for the Academy Awards, he will compete in a category that has been very friendly to the character actors and overdue veterans. Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”), J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash”), Christopher Plummer (“Beginners”) and Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) are the most prominent examples from the last 20 years. Despite just one Oscar nomination to his credit for 2009’s “The Lovely Bones” from Peter Jackson, there’s a sense that he’s due for recognition.
Over his career, the New York-born Tucci has garnered several accolades. He’s won three Emmy Awards: best actor in a limited series for 1998’s “Winchell,” best guest actor in a comedy series in 2007 for “Monk” and in outstanding short-form variety series as a producer for “Park Bench With Steve Buscemi.” He’s also won two Golden Globes, including one for 2001’s “Conspiracy,” in which he also starred alongside Colin Firth, with both receiving Emmy nominations. He’s also been nominated for a Grammy for best spoken word album for children (2007’s “The One and Only Shrek”) and a Tony (2003’s “Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune”).
Starring alongside Academy Award winner Firth (“The King’s Speech”), who also delivers an awards-caliber turn, the chemistry and deep connection between them can not be overstated. “Supernova” tells the love story of Sam (Firth) and Tusker (Tucci), who travel across England in their old RV to visit friends, family and places from their past, following two years after Tusker’s dementia diagnosis. The two explore a story with delicate themes, absorbing various perspectives. It’s an uncomfortable topic, but they tackle it like acting masters.
For Firth, he’ll maneuver through a competitive category where Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) and Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”) are sitting comfortably at the top of the pyramid. As a former Oscar winner, Firth could make a no-brainer for groups like the Golden Globes and BAFTA, two European voting groups.
Tucci, 60, has run the gamut through film and television, delivering many memorable characters, some of which were overlooked by the Academy. Although AMPAS ultimately nominated Mark Ruffalo from Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” the film struggled in garnering acting nominations at the Globes and SAG because Tucci’s portrayal of lawyer Mitchell Garabedian was well-regarded, splitting votes with his co-stars. It always helps to have some recent perceived “snubs” under your belt.
When Tucci was nominated as the child murderer George Harvey from “The Lovely Bones,” there was a vocal group that felt he was equally, if not more worthy, of recognition for his portrayal of Julia Child’s supportive husband Paul in “Julie and Julia.” Many members of the film community will be eager to see him nominated (or win) for a better showcase of his acting abilities.
Who can forget Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes speech when she jokingly thanked him as “dreadful Stanley Tucci”? When she won best actress in a comedy or musical for “The Devil Wears Prada,” in classic Streep comedic timing, she was able to convey the industry’s affection for a beloved performer in one single line because, at that point in 2006, the actor had yet to find Oscar recognition.
Outside of the acting categories, the film is much more subtle in its technical aspects. Keaton Henson’s music is an element worth considering. Dick Pope, previously nominated for “Mr. Turner” and “The Illusionist” in best cinematography, never makes the RV feel as small, allowing the viewer to explore the space and stay close to the character’s impassioned beats.
Macqueen’s run for directing and original screenplay may prove to be a larger hurdle to overcome. For his sophomore efforts in both creative spaces, his handling is impressive, and I would be curious and excited to see what he brings in the future. If I were a betting man, “Supernova” may go the way of “Still Alice” with the Academy, which was able to muster one nomination, winning best actress for another overdue veteran, Julianne Moore.
It is worth noting that Firth and Tucci share equal amounts of screen time, and their roles can be easily interpreted as co-leading. There will undoubtedly be members of the press and the film-watching community that will call out Tucci’s submission as “category fraud.” I believe it is a leading role, but when it comes to the Academy, they hardly reverse these types of submissions, and when it comes to actors as well-liked as Tucci, people tend to bend the rules to get them their due (for example, Brad Pitt in “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood”). Their most recent overturns were for Kate Winslet (“The Reader”) and Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”). They also didn’t bat an eye to nominate Rooney Mara (“Carol”) in supporting actress, who had just as much screentime and narrative importance as her lead nominated co-star Cate Blanchett.
The film is produced by Tristan Goligher (“45 Years” and “Weekend”) and Emily Morgan (“I Am Not a Witch” and “Make Up”).
“Supernova” is scheduled to open in theaters on Jan. 29, 2021.