Like many another contemporary movie and TV favorite, Stanley Tucci is a graduate of the drama department at SUNY-Purchase. Tucci made his film bow in 1985's Prizzi's Honor, after which he specialized in playing lowlifes and scuzzbags, despite his offscreen credentials as a loyal friend and loving family man. Some of his more memorable appearances were as Rick Pinzolo in TV's Wiseguy (1987-1989), a minor-league thug named Vernon in Beethoven (1992), and a Middle-Eastern assassin in The Pelican Brief (1993). Tucci acquired a fan following of sorts for his slimy year-long role of Richard Cross on the weekly TV series Murder One (1995).
In 1996, Tucci broke loose from his established screen persona by playing an ambitious Italian-American restaurateur in Big Night, the most delightfully "gastronomic" film since Like Water for Chocolate. The art-house favorite was a sheer labor of love for Tucci, who served as its producer, co-wrote its script with his cousin Joe Tropiano, and shared directorial duties with his friend Campbell Scott. Tucci again directed two years later with The Impostors, a farcical comedy that cast him and longtime friend Oliver Platt as two stowaways on an ocean liner. Unlike Big Night, however, the film did not do well with audiences or critics. After starring in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1998) as Puck and In Too Deep (1999) as a police supervisor, Tucci again stepped behind the camera, this time to direct Joe Gould's Secret (2000). A historical drama about an eccentric man (Ian Holm) living on the streets of Greenwich Village, it received a very enthusiastic reception at the 2000 Sundance Festival, where it premiered. The early 2000s seemed to be a winning period for the versatile actor, with Tucci also taking home the Best Supporting Actor in a television movie award for his role in Conspiracy (2001). That same year he appeared in America's Sweethearts as an intense movie mogul. He continued doing solid work even when the finished films were sometimes lacking. He played in the Jennifer Lopez hit Maid in Manhattan, Sam Mendes' Road to Perdition, the American remake of Shall We Dance?, and landed his largest role in a major Hollywood production when Steven Spielberg cast him as the ambitious, officious manager of The Terminal. Tucci lent his voice to the animated film Robots in 2005, and the next year earned solid notices for his work as a fashion magazine editor loyal to the diva editor in chief Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada.