Stanley Tucci talks candidly about food, failure and getting through grief

Actor Stanley Tucci joins Elizabeth Day on this week’s episode of the How To Fail podcast, and his ruminations on love and grief are well worth a listen.

Stanley Tucci may have risen to viral internet fame after that negroni video of lockdown last year but the acclaimed actor is more than just Hollywood glamour, cocktails and great Italian recipes, as demonstrated by his recent appearance on Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail podcast.

With his memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food, publishing tomorrow, he obviously treated us to some great food-focused chat on the podcast. We now know his daughter Emilia, although only three, enjoys nothing more than jam sandwiches with crusts cut off, and when at home, “usually has avocado, some salami and breadsticks with quinoa crackers and cherry tomatoes”. Adorable nuggets of Tucci’s life are dotted through the episode but most notably, he opens up about how his relationship with food was altered by his cancer diagnosis.

Adored by many, he remains candid about the fact that speaking on How To Fail is actually the first time he’s spoken about having cancer to the press or on a podcast. Undergoing treatments of high-dose radiation and low-dose chemotherapy, Tucci explains how he was very afraid: “My first wife died of cancer and struggled for four years.”

“I’d never really been sick in any real way so this was scary.”

He revisits the “cruel attack” of having mouth cancer in his memoir but shares with Elizabeth that the most difficult thing about it all was not being able to share food with his wife Felicity Blunt, their five children and friends. Having to be on a soft-food diet for two years, he desperately missed “the conviviality of it … come five o’clock, that’s all I really want to do.”

“I want to sit down and have a good cocktail and dinner with my friends and family.”

Having been initially diagnosed three years ago from a tumour at the base of his tongue, Tucci touches on the fears that permeated his thoughts and how they were largely born out of the sadness of losing his first wife to breast cancer in 2009.

He explains how throughout treatment over those three years, he lost 30 pounds and his muscles atrophied. Losing his taste and smell was harsh but he describes how it was like his sense of taste flipped: “Everything that once tasted good now tasted bad.”

Even losing his saliva and not being able to break down food because of it – particularly meat, but at times, even a piece of bread was difficult.

Reflecting on it now, he remains honest: “It’s been over three years now and I’m back to almost normal but I don’t think I’ll ever really be back to normal.” 

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“What do you think you learnt in the midst of that darkness?” Day asks Tucci.

He discusses the differences between viewing cancer as a metabolic disease versus a genetic one and realising that “it is linked to our metabolism, rather than purely genetics.” 

The need to remain healthy and check on ourselves is so important, he stresses. “People have to get checked and people have to stay healthy.”

Speaking about his failures, as per the podcast format, Tucci laughs about not being able to swim and some past directing roles of his. However, one of the most poignant moments of the episode comes when Tucci says his third and final failure would be not helping his first wife Kate in her final days. 

He says, “I was able to steel myself and get on … but it was so awful that I just couldn’t be there for it.”

Elizabeth applauds him for his dedication to keeping the memory of his late wife alive, even in his current marriage. Hanging pictures of Kate around the home is important and he admits that he stills dreams about her.

It’s an emotional listen (so be sure to have the tissues at the ready) but ultimately, it provides a thoughtful reflection on how grief has to be managed when thinking about caring for loved ones in the wake of tragedy.

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Image credit: Getty

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