New Again: Tim Curry
“This year, we said goodbye to some beloved movie franchises,” Neil Patrick Harris began while hosting The 87th Academy Awards. He then asked English actor David Oyelowo (Selma, The Butler, The Help) to stand up and finish the joke, explaining that the punch line would be funnier in a British accent.
Oyelowo continued, “We saw the last ever Hobbit movie, the last ever Night at the Museum movie, and the last ever attempt to remake Annie.” Baited into making a stab at the 2014 remake of Annie, directed by Will Gluck and starring Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx, he looked suspiciously at Harris and the audience before sitting down.
When speaking of remakes of Annie, we thought back to Tim Curry’s performance as Daniel “Rooster” Hannigan in the original 1982 version of the film. So this week, we bring back a 1976 interview with Curry as he discusses his Methodist father, the roles he played on Broadway productions, and the potential appeal of a transvestite. —Johanna Li
By Susan Pile
Tim Curry has taken the Rocky Horror Show role of Frank’N Furter, infamous multi-sexual transvestite bully, from London to Los Angeles to New York to the screen, garnering rave reviews in each reincarnation. Now, all that glitter behind him, he is staring in Broadway’s most intellectual entertainment, Travesties, the story of what happens when Lenin, Joyce and Dada meet in Zurich between the Wars. Tim plays Tristan Tzara, poet-publicist of the Dada movement that mothered much of modern art.
SUSAN PILE: What is Travesties about?
TIM CURRY: Travesties is a comedy of ideas. I suppose the closest parallel would be somebody like Shaw. It’s about art and revolution. It’s set in Zurich in 1917 during the first World War when it happened that Lenin and James Joyce and the Dada movement were all happening at the same time. The play is seen through the eyes of a man named Henry Carr, who was in the British consular service in Zurich at the time and was approached by James Joyce to play Algernon in a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, which he did. They had a terrible row at the end, because Henry Carr had spent his own money on buying some trousers for the production and wanted to be reimbursed. Joyce sued him and, in fact, put him in Ulysses as a character of a private. Carr, some sort of very insolent private.
PILE: I didn’t know that Joyce had produced…
CURRY: He wrote Ulysses in Zurich.
PILE: He incorporated him into the novel and at the same time produced a version of The Importance of Being Earnest?
CURRY: Right. So the play is Henry Carr’s memoirs, and in his deeply unreliable memory, he has Lenin and Joyce and Tzara meeting each other, quite often in his own drawing room. He also gets very mixed up, in that a lot of them speak lines from The Importance of Being Earnest as well, so it’s never quite clear what’s going on. It’s a very clever play.
PILE: What part do you play?
CURRY: I play Tristan Tzara, who was the main sort of publicist of the Dada movement. He discovered the word “dada,” and though he was a pretty resistible poet and an even more resistible sculptor, he was a very strong energy behind the Dada movement and kind of organized them all. He got this nightclub, the Cabaret Voltaire, in Zurich and just sort of got everybody to come and hang their pictures and show their sculpture and read their poems and since their songs and then went on to Paris and helped introduce the surrealists as well, but never really produced anything of great note.
PILE: Did you test the play in London?
CURRY: Not tested it. It was done first in London in ’74 at the Aldwych as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company season.
PILE: Was Rocky Horror Show the first time you had been on Broadway?
PILE: People must identify you with the character of Frank’N Furter though.
CURRY: Some want to. Of course, they’re deeply disappointed. It’s not been a problem.
PILE: Do you like the film as well as the play?
CURRY: I think it’s quite different, really. I don’t know. I can’t really relate to the film very well. I still feel sick when I see it.
PILE: The look of the character changed from at least the L.A. production to screen.
CURRY: Yes, he got a little more high fashion. I don’t know whether I like that or not.
PILE: To what do you attribute that look?
CURRY: Well, Pierre Laroche came in and did makeup for us. He kind of adapted the makeup that was already in my case and did a very kind of high fashion version of it.
PILE: Did he do just Frank’N Furter’s makeup?
CURRY: He designed everybody’s.
PILE: The character I am fascinated by from Rocky is Little Nell.
CURRY: I just saw her before I left. She’s been busking in the St. Tropez all summer.
PILE: I loved that she was discovered busking in front of the theatre where Superstar was playing. Does she actually prefer that to earning a regular salary?
CURRY: No. She just goes wherever she wants to go, and if there isn’t a job to do, she busks. She came to see Travesties just before I left. She has pink hair now, sort of champagne pink, and her little pink rubber skirt. She looked wonderful. She’s in Liztomania—she plays a groupie nun who kills horses.
PILE: Who do you think Frank’N Fruter appeals to more, men or women?
CURRY: The feedback that I get is more from women.
PILE: Why do you think this transvestite would have such a tremendous appeal to women?
CURRY: I really don’t know. I can only assume it’s because he’s so uncompromising. I think women like, respond to daring…
PILE: What have you been doing lately?
CURRY: I’ve been making this record, which I’ve been enjoying a lot. I never made a record before, so I got quite involved in it.
PILE: Is Lou Adler producing?
CURRY: Yes, yes, which is really lucky because he’s a fine producer.
PILE: Is Lou sort of taking the role of mentor toward you and your career now, or just strictly in the recording end?
CURRY: I don’t think he would like to be seen as a mentor. He makes very good records and he wanted to produce me, which was very lucky for me.
PILE: What’s the nice son of a Methodist minister doing in a part like Frank’N Furter?
CURRY: Living out his contradictions, I suppose…a lot of actors are Army or Navy children. They grow up in a “service industry.” My father was a priest as well. I didn’t ever really especially notice. I sort of did notice, because he was a very nice man, and we used to go to his services every Sunday and I used to sing in church a lot. I was a boy soprano. [laughs] But he died when I was 12, so I don’t remember him very well.
PILE: It seemed to me that you based the Frank’N Furter character on Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, but there have been hundreds of comparisons. Are these two actresses that you particularly admire?
CURRY: I didn’t actually base the character on them at all. I didn’t base it on anybody, really, except possibly my mother. [laughs] No, I just used that attitude of those kind of ballsy ladies. The Americans have thought Bette Davis much more than the English, because it’s partly, I think, using a very cold English accept which makes people think Bette Davis. In fact the voice came from a woman on a bus one day, which happened years before Rocky. There is a particular kind of social group, sort of Knightsbridge, who wear headscarves knotted under the chin, Louis Jourdan shoes…I didn’t actually base it on Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, but I do like them very much of course.
PILE: Are you involved with any other film projects?
CURRY: I just finished one in England for the BBC, which is a Victorian comic novel called Three Men In A Boat to say nothing of the dog, which was adapted by Tom Stoppard, which is how I got involved with Travesties.
PILE: Do you have any specific look that you affect in your clothing or your appearance?
CURRY: I don’t think so. I used to really like clothes a lot. I’ve sort of had to change the way I look so many times this year that I’ve given up, really. I just sort of shlump around … I started wearing suits again.
PILE: Do you have any models as actors? Anybody you really admire and pattern yourself after?
CURRY: I’ve never modeled myself on anybody, but there are a lot of people whose work I really admire and attitudes I certainly subscribe to.
PILE: What sort of attitudes?
CURRY: I really like the way that Jack Nicholson [acts] in particular works. I like the fact that he takes enormous risks. He’s an enormously disciplined actor who seems to be totally capable of dealing with the business as a business and yet drop it totally when he’s working. All the great male movie stars have the one killer smile—Newman has it, Steve McQueen has it, Redford has it…
THIS INTERVIEW ORIGINALLY RAN IN THE MARCH 1976 ISSUE OF INTERVIEW.
New Again runs every Wednesday. For more, click here.