tanley Tucci is a dedicated actor and filmmaker who can't believe he deserves a career achievement award yet.
Tucci is also a shrewd guy, so he won't decline the Sarasota Film Festival's offer, either. He'll pick up his honor Saturday night at the festival's 10th anniversary gala, after finding a small loophole.
"They didn't say lifetime achievement, which is nice. Then they're just opening the door for you to quit," Tucci, 47, said in a telephone interview from New York. "It's a nice way to be embarrassed.
"Whether you deserve it or not, part of the embarrassment comes from feeling like you don't deserve it. I always feel there's so much more for me to do. What I've done is certainly not enough for me. I've only just gotten started."
That's bad news for any aspiring character actors out there. Tucci is the go-to guy when Oscar-winning filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and Sam Mendes require someone with ordinary looks and extraordinary range.
Tucci almost stole The Devil Wears Prada from under Meryl Streep's upturned nose, playing an acerbic, gay fashion designer coming apart at the seams to her incorrigible fashion editor.
He lent admiring regret to the role of a tough airport security chief in The Terminal as Tom Hanks' stranded traveler ran circles around protocol. Tucci's shy ballroom student in Shall We Dance? was the best excuse for that remake, while mobster Frank Nitti in Road to Perdition displayed his capacity for ruthlessness.
However, it is in the world of independent cinema that Tucci has made the impressions as a writer, director and actor that inspired his Sarasota prize. He'll be introduced by his friend and fellow indie icon Steve Buscemi, who co-starred in the hilarious 1998 comedy The Impostors, one of four films Tucci shaped with art, not commerce, in mind.
"Not all movies are made to be big sellers at the box office," he said. "If they are, they are. Some movies are made because you want to tell that story.
"It's great to go back and forth, to be able to do both of those things. I wouldn't want to make the same kind of movie all the time. That would be boring and I might go broke."
His newest work, the Sarasota centerpiece Blind Date, shows Tucci's devotion to the written word, the nuanced glance and challenging cinematic structure.
Blind Date re-envisions a film by the late Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who was murdered in 2004 by a Muslim extremist. The movie is set on a sparse stage where a magician (Tucci) and his estranged wife (Patricia Clarkson) pose as a series of strangers meeting through personal ads, revealing their marital conflict.
"There's a purity to Theo's work, and sort of a deceiving simplicity to it, that's very attractive," Tucci said. "Theo loved actors, and actors love actors. He had a tradition of filmmaking that is very sparse and hard and coarse in a way, but very emotionally complex and truthful."
Tucci intuited a link between the rawness of Blind Date, the gentle culinary charm of Big Night (1996), the Laurel and Hardy madness of The Impostors and the true-life falsehoods of Joe Gould's Secret (2000).
"They're all about identity and the role of the artist in society, whether it's chefs, actors or journalists," he said. "That sounds pretentious, and maybe is. That's what all those films have in common. They're all sort of the same film over and over again in a different genre."
Each film is marked by Tucci's practical nature. He doesn't enjoy not working, and he doesn't like waste when he works.
"If you have any amount of extra drive (as an actor) you'll want to start generating your own work," he said. "If you wait for people to give you a job, you could be waiting for a very long time, and it has nothing to do with whether you're talented or not.
"I like to prepare. I don't like to waste money and I don't like to waste time. A lot of people seem to want to believe that creativity and practicality can't go hand-in-hand. I actually think they can. Once you have a strong structure, you can be as spontaneous as you want. It's actually much more freeing and you come up with much more interesting stuff."
Steve Persall can be reached at Persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.