My acting career peaked at the age of
four, when my grandparents took me
to see
Aladdin at the Palace Theatre in
Paignton, in the English county of
Devonshire. Halfway through the
performance, the Fairy Godmother
announced that she was seeking a
young child to come up on stage to
help rub the genie’s lantern.
Mishearing what she had said, I stuck
my hand up with enthusiasm, and was
chosen. I climbed the stairs, doing my
best to ignore the undeniable (almost
visibly electric) chemistry with Princess
Jasmine, and headed to the
microphone-holding godmother. She
eyed me up and down, and asked
where I was from. “England”, I said,
and left the stage.

The reviews the next day of my all-too-
brief appearance were mixed.
The
Devonshire Gazette
called it “a curious
and quietly calamitous debut.”
The
Paignton Post
, meanwhile, said “Pucci
has a laconic, burly nature to rival that
of Oliver Reed.”

Either way, I had got a taste for acting,
and found myself in productions
throughout academic life. One highlight
came when I was cast as the funereal
Mr. Sowerberry in
Oliver! during my final
year of secondary school. I managed
to get on stage in almost every single
scene, but saved my best work for
Sowerberry. Moments before going on,
I warmed up my richly textured, bass-
baritone voice, and chewed vast
amounts of black liquorice to give the
effect of ill-kept Victorian teeth. The
audience was clearly taken in by my
performance – the winces were visible,
the groans audible. I had talent – that
much was certain.

By the time it came to making
decisions about my ‘proper’ future, I
had given it very little thought. And so,
the career advisor and I ruminated
over cognac and canapés in the
canteen, eventually boiling it down to
two options: become a fire-fighter, or
study Mandarin Chinese at university. I
had studied French, German, Italian
and Spanish at school, so my passion
for language was evident. I was also a
big fan of old kung fu films, and so
leapt (unassisted by wires) into
university life in Leeds, in the north of
England. There, I trod the boards in
between lectures. I even found myself
on stage when studying in China, where
I spent a year as part of my degree.
The local police, casting for an annual
Police Academy-style show, came into
class one day in search of a white guy
who could speak Chinese. I thought:
“Hey, I’m white. I’m a guy. I speak
Chinese.” We ‘rehearsed’ a short play,
and performed it in a theatre filled by a
sea of bemused police officers. It
was... special.

A few years later, I decided that I
wanted to become an actor. My parents
were surprised, but supportive. My
grandparents less so. My grandfather
found it quizzical that I should want to
head off to drama school when I had a
degree in arguably the most important
language of the forthcoming century.
But just two years after graduating from
The Central School of Speech and
Drama in London, I got a lead role in
the world premiere of
Chinglish by Tony
Award-winning playwright David Henry
Hwang. The setting: China. The part: a
Mandarin Chinese-speaking ex-pat.
Bingo. The production opened at the
Goodman Theatre in Chicago before
transferring to Broadway, New York.

The Palace Theatre in Paignton now call
me on an almost-daily basis -
promising more lines and better press
- and I keep telling them the same
thing: "I will definitely return to where it
all started one day. But for now, where
I am is just perfect."