MCU profile: A look at Stanley Tucci's career

The scientist responsible for Steve Rogers' transformation into Captain America is Dr. Erskine, played by the indelible Stanley Tucci.

The Prince's Trust And TKMaxx & Homesense Awards 2023
The Prince's Trust And TKMaxx & Homesense Awards 2023 / Stuart C. Wilson/GettyImages

Stanley Tucci is a character actor who lives up to his reputation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He plays a German scientist in just one section of one movie in the franchise, Captain America: The First Avenger. He’s a supporting player, Abraham Erskine, who is important to the principal hero and his formula is residually replicated to various degrees of success long after he is gone.

Not only did Dr. Erskine’s research and development of the super soldier serum lead to the creation of Captain America, as well as spinoff superpowered individuals, but Erskine was responsible for selecting Steve Rogers to become Captain America. This choice is just as crucial as his experiments and scientific breakthroughs.

The conversations between Erskine and Rogers are some of the most inspiring discussions dealing with superhero philosophy. The dialogue simply, yet relevantly, reflects the rather straightforward way in which good versus evil is depicted in the narrative. First Erskine conspicuously “tests” Steve with the question “do you want to kill Nazis?”, receiving the morally unambiguous response “I don’t want to kill anyone – I don’t like bullies, I don’t care where they’re from.”

Later, when Erskine explains that his serum amplifies the virtues or malevolence of each applicant, he earnestly requests that Steve promises to stay a good man. It is a gentle performance elevated by Tucci’s self-assured approach. Consequently, his precise handling of Erskine ensures the character stands out in this distinctive war-time, adventure, superhero genre-bender. Both Tucci’s effort and the movie itself deserve to be remembered fondly.

Captain America: The First Avenger is Stanley Tucci’s only live-action attendance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however he is asked to return to an alternate reality. He voices Abraham Erskine in the pilot episode of the animated What If…?, entitled "What If... Captain Carter were the First Avenger?". A few of his scenes are essentially recreated with certain details altered – he speaks with Peggy Carter before he is killed and she must fill in for an injured Steve Rogers.

Stanley Tucci is an eclectic character actor who operates in so many corners of cinema, from romantic comedies, to espionage thrillers, to widespread franchises, such as Transformers, The Hunger Games, and the MCU. Sometimes the quality of his projects is reflected in such a kinetic work ethic. Even early on when Tucci was landing bit parts in the 1980s, he would move from one of legendary director John Huston’s final films, Prizzi’s Honor, to a hollow Madonna movie vehicle, Who’s That Girl.

Appearing in about 100 movies, one of his earliest stand outs was as Lucky Luciano in the climax of Robert Benton’s Billy Bathgate. His unerring, confident persona fits the gangster portrait – something he would revisit and refine in Sam Mendes’ Road to Perdition, opposite Tom Hanks. Villainous roles were always a suitable option for the actor over the years, whether he was a dog-napper in Beethoven, a hit man in The Pelican Brief, or a dirty cop in Lucky Number Slevin. Yet his most notorious turn is in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones.

Tucci is the best part of The Lovely Bones, one of Jackson’s rare misfires, a jumbled adaptation led by the constantly conspicuous Saoirse Ronan. But the harrowing subject matter only tantalizes when Susie’s troubled murderer, played by Tucci, enters into the picture, which could be problematic in of itself. Tucci once again proves he is a character contortionist in The Hunger Games series. Caesar Flickerman is a vibrant media personality who enthusiastically contributes to presenting the desperate deadly contest as mere entertainment for the well-off.

From bad guy to romantic partner, sometimes Tucci would play the “other guy” in romantic comedies, like It Could Happen to You, where he is actually the husband of Bridget Fonda, standing in the way of her tryst with Nicolas Cage. In many cases, Tucci is a side character in romantic comedies, as is his position in Somebody to Love, America’s Sweethearts, Maid in Manhattan, and Shall We Dance. He lands a juicier role in Edward Burns’ Sidewalks of New York, where he is in involved in complicated love affairs with Brittany Murphy and Heather Graham.

Another lighter effort for Tucci is in The Terminal, a re-team with Tom Hanks and a rare comedy from Steven Spielberg. Although most of the movie plays for laughs, Tucci’s stringent characteristics are highlighted as the country-less protagonist’s adversary. Tucci does tend to step up his game in more dramatic work, acting as an ally to Anne Hathaway’s Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, and he is even better when functioning more intimately with Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia. Tucci plays Julia Child’s husband, and the pair are an absolute joy to watch.  

Tucci has operated at various capacities in a wide range of dramas. Some of his smaller parts are in great films; he can be spotted amongst the countless cameos in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, then he contextualizes the character of Harry in Harry’s (Woody Allen) novel in Deconstructing Harry, and he gets acquainted with Rosamund Pike’s war journalist in A Private War.

Tucci has a pivotal role in Margin Call as a risk analyst whose model predicts financial devastation for his firm. He is also an admirable ally of the Spotlight ensemble as a lawyer helping to uncover pertinent evidence against the church in their sexual abuse case.

Fans of the far-reaching actor will likely recall his larger roles, like in The Daytippers, revealing a range beyond an ordinary business associate or criminal type. Tucci sinks his teeth into his role as an English professor in Submission – a salacious story where he falls for one of his students. However, his most vulnerable and tender turn comes alongside Colin Firth in Supernova. Tucci convincingly conveys a man struggling with dementia and, more touchingly, the impact that it has between him and his life partner.

Stanley Tucci’s Top 10 Movie Roles

1. Tusker in Supernova
2. Ceasar Flickerman in The Hunger Games series
3. George Harvey in The Lovely Bones
4. Ted Swenson in Submission
5. Mitchell Garabedian in Spotlight
7. Paul Child in Julie and Julia
8. Frank Nitti in Road to Perdition
9. Clive Davis in I Wanna Dance with Somebody
10. Eric Dale in Margin Call

Stanley Tucci’s recent screen performance was in I Wanna Dance with Somebody, channeling Whitney Houston’s record producer who successfully championed one of the greatest recording artists of our generation. Tucci was also one of the more memorable individuals in Citadel, a contemporary spy series that had massive potential, yet unfortunately failed to spark much interest. The Russo Brothers spearheaded the show after directing several prominent MCU triumphs, but by happenstance, the one Captain America feature they did not helm was the one that Stanley Tucci appeared in.

Tucci’s voice reprisal of Erskine in What If…? suggests that he is open to returning to the scientist role, rather it is the 1940s setting, as well as the fate of his character, that would suggest Tucci’s days in this superhero franchise have probably come to an end. But with a multiverse of possibilities, MCU fans would certainly appreciate seeing his sympathetic smile again.

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