Actor Profile: Tim Curry

The son of a Methodist Royal Navy Chaplain, Tim Curry was born as Timothy James Curry in the sleepy town of Grappenhall, Cheshire, England on April 19, 1946. Often noted for his big smile, full lips, and rich voice, Curry is a master of acting whether in front of the camera for a feature or behind the microphone for a cartoon. Tony-nominated for the stage productions of Amadeus, My Favorite Year, and Monty Python’s Spamalot, Curry often injects a thrilling theatricality to his performances in film, television, and animation. Tim Curry’s oddball career is an absolute pleasure for those in the know spanning over 200 credits and five decades. Let’s get started, shall we?

Mad Scientists & Monsters: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), Legend (1985), It (1990)

Tim Curry’s first big splash on the silver screen was in 1975’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, directed by Jim Sharman. A cinematic adaptation of the UK musical The Rocky Horror Show from two years prior, Curry reprised his immoral and immortal role from the stage show as Dr. Frank-N-Furter. Both a mad scientist and a sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania (remember, this was written in the 1970s), Curry played the baddie with humor, romance, and tragedy. Curry attacked the role of Dr. Furter with great relish in a performance that definitely cuts the mustard.

In an iconic scene, the Transylvanians are wiped out from dancing the Time Warp. Wayward couple Brad Majors (a game Barry Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (a flat Susan Sarandon) try to back their way out of the madness when an elevator lowers down behind them. White bedazzled heels clip-clop on the platform. A swishy cape covers the unmentionables. Dr. Frank N. Furter turns around revealing a white visage with lipstick, eyeliner, and a popped collar that is not your father’s take on Dracula. Breaking into his trademark grin, Curry launches into his first number “Sweet Transvestite”. Janet Weiss faints. So does this audience. Things will never be the same again.

A decade later, Tim Curry played another lead villain role in Ridley Scott’s high fantasy feature Legend. Tom Cruise stars as the bland hero in this rote but beautiful fairy tale memorable for its costumes, unicorns, and bad guy. Curry as the devilish Darkness is casting so perfect, you couldn’t think of anything better if you tried. Heavy prosthesis leave only Tim Curry’s eyes and jawline visible. His gargantuan chompers and deep voice, and fun playing the character is obvious. Even over three decades later, many consider Darkness to be the iconic image of the Devil on film. Curry would essentially reprise this role voicing the perverse villain Doviculus in the 2009 video game Brütal Legend.

The deluge of TV miniseries based on the white hot books of Stephen King were barely getting started when Tim Curry signed on the play Pennywise the Dancing Clown in 1990’s TV miniseries It. His take is a fascinating contrast to the more recent one from Bill Skarsgård. Curry plays the clown as genuinely friendly, a joke-cracking cretin trying to lure in children before chomping on them with great vigor. Skarsgård sounds monstrous and weepy all the way through coming across as gross and monstrous in every damn scene. Beep Beep, Richie indeed.

Butler or Villain?: Clue (1985), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Congo (1995)

Actor profile: Tim Curry
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) – Source: 20th Century Fox

Tim Curry and Eric Idle had a running joke between them: Butler or Villain? The meaning behind it? British actors only get offered those kind of roles in Hollywood movies. Fortunately, Curry excelled playing either.

Released the same year as Legend, Clue adapted the Hasbro board game into a witty murder mystery with a screenplay by John Landis and Jonathan Lynn. Saddled with most of the movie’s exposition, Tim Curry plays Wadsworth with a dizzying glee ripping through dialogue at a breakneck pace. Here he’s playing the butler of Mr. Boddy, the man whose murder sets the picture in motion. Wadsworth is either hero or villain depending on which of the movie’s three endings you end up seeing. Theatrically, different endings were tacked on in different theaters. For the home video releases, all three endings were played back to back. Some of the more recent releases on disc-based formats restored the random ending feature.

Perhaps Curry’s most recognizable role to today’s meme-hungry youth is as the Concierge in Chris Columbus’ Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Everyone’s favorite Briton livens what could have been the rote part of a jerky hotel staff member and gives odd line readings that would make Nicolas Cage blush. In a moment other thespians should take notice of, Curry shows how out of touch the concierge is by managing to mispronounce “pizza” with avuncular aplomb.

The 1990s were the heyday of Michael Crichton cinematic adaptations, but by the time Congo sloughed its way into theaters the bloom was off the rose. Going off a wacky scenario combining sassy talking gorillas with valuable diamonds and dangerous lasers, Tim Curry has little to work with here as Herkermer Homolka. To pull this picture out of its ropey doldrums, Curry uses his gigantic grin to make the audience laugh before he even utters a line of dialogue. It’s clear he’s up to no good, and we love him for it.

Family Follies: FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas (1997)

Actor Profile: Tim Curry
Muppet Treasure Island (1996) – Source: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

After Disney’s animated features exploded in popularity again with the one-two punch of The Little Mermaid and Beauty & The Beast, 20th Century Fox wanted in on the action with 1992’s FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Tim Curry, once again, was cast as the main villain. FernGully’s story had an environmental theme heavier than the most preachy Hayao Miyazaki picture, so it came to no surprise that its villain Hexxus is a toxic shape-shifter made of sludge and smoke. Curry gets his teeth into the role with his signature combination of horror and humor. Backed by a sensuous jazz band, he belts out the number “Toxic Love” as if he’s gunning for another Tony.

While Fox was playing in the rainforest, Walt Disney Pictures continued their winning streak with another Muppet movie based on a classic piece of children’s literature: Treasure Island. Tim Curry landed the plumb role of Long John Silver. Giving a performance the polar opposite of Michael Caine’s restrained pathos-filled take on Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol, Tim Curry goes gung-ho with Long John Silver in Muppets Treasure Island. He flicks between good and evil being both parental to Jim Hawkins and verbally abusive to Polly Lobster. Muppet Treasure Island has a lot of problems, but Curry isn’t one of them.

Curry continued his association with Disney in 1997’s direct-to-video interquel Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas. Set in the middle of first Beauty and the Beast feature where Belle is experiencing Stockholm syndrome from being locked up in the Beast’s castle for the winter, this flick slots in Tim Curry as the voice of Forte the Organ. Forte is a plot device used to explain the Beast’s violent mood swings. Just as in FernGully, Curry steals the show with a love-themed musical number. In “Don’t Fall in Love”, he raises the hackles of the Beast cooing problematic pearls of edgelord wisdom like “emotions are a great thing men all overcame” and “all passion is a waste of time”. Could Curry’s organ have used more screen time? Sure, but he makes the most of the part regardless of the size.

A Little Prick: The Hunt for Red October (1990), Charlie’s Angels (2000), Kinsey (2004)

Throughout his long career, Tim Curry often pops up in small memorable roles in the most surprising of places. The Hunt for the Red October has him playing the obnoxious Dr. Petrov. In what is still the best Tom Clancy adaptation to date, John McTiernan shoots the scenes set inside the titular submarine in a cramped style. The crew is under pressure in close quarters, and we can feel every gut-wrenching moment. Dr. Petrov’s signature scene is during an Officer’s dinner early on where he prattles on and on about how awful the food is and how he’d rather be at the ballet. Officers around him roll their eyes hard. Petrov is oblivious to how bad everyone else wants him wants him to leave. It’s a character some might overlook, but his levity adds a twinge of light before the darkness that is to follow.

TV shows often become movies, and Charlie’s Angels is no exception. The first theatrical crack at it was 2000’s Charlie’s Angels, directed by the modern-day Sam Peckinpah, McG. The Angels are sent to rescue Eric Knox, played by a young Sam Rockwell. An early suspect in the proceedings is Roger Corwin, played by Tim Curry. Although he’s offed in quick fashion, he shows some fun chemistry with Bill Murray’s Bosley competing in a series of games at a party, including a sumo match complete with puffy foam suits.

Acclaimed director Bill Condon followed up his James Whale biopic Gods and Monsters with 2004’s Kinsey. A look at the life of sexual research pioneer Alfred Kinsey, played here by Liam Neeson, it’s a moving tale of the perils and prizes intimacy can wreak on our lives. Condon slyly sprinkles a little Curry into the mix as Thurman Rice, a conservative professor at Indiana University. Taking the complete opposite stance of the sexuality of Rocky Horror’s Dr. Frank. N. Furter, Dr. Rice admonishes college-aged lads with sexual feelings as “lower class males” who should control their temptations by “closing their eyes and think of all the Johns they know… Well, not only Johns. Sometimes Peters!” Rice’s one or two scenes as the heel in the movie are uproarious in no small part due to Curry’s slathering of wit on every lone syllable. One only wishes there were more of him to savor.

Dynamic Tension Must Be Hard Work

With hundreds of credits to his name, Tim Curry has a breadth of career any other actor would envy. In recent years, his life has taken a tragic turn. In July 2012, he suffered a stroke at his home in Los Angeles. Through physical and speech therapy, he has done some voice-over work here and there, most notably as Chancellor Palpatine / Darth Sidious in a handful of episodes of the popular CG series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Curry made a rare on-camera appearance as The Criminologist in Fox’s 2016 TV movie remake of Rocky Horror somewhat confusingly titled The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp. We hope he still has a stirring role or two coming in the years ahead.

Got a favorite Tim Curry flick I missed? Fire away in the comments below!

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