(Welcome to Living Legends, a series were we honor the titans, the geniuses, and icons who are still very much with us.)
The term “living legend” is thrown around a lot. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s an overused term because we are living in a pretty exceptional time with so many talented actors, storytellers, athletes, and activists, but I will say that if we’re going to be looking at Hollywood’s living legends candidates then Tim Curry has to be somewhere near the top of that list.
Curry is famous for his comic timing, extreme charisma, and for quite possibly rocking fishnets better than any other living person, male or female. But what he might not get credit for is his range.
His later career seemed to fully embrace the absurd. From 1991’s “Oscar” on, the vast majority of his work was highly comedic, which admittedly was always something he excelled at, but seemed to be most of what he was hired to do as an actor as long as most of you reading this have been alive.
And he’s great at it. “Clue” is a masterclass of comedic timing, his delivery of “I lllllove you” in “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” still cracks me up to this day and I’m one of the few people I know who will go to bat for “Scary Movie 2” in which he plays an exceedingly horny professor and relishes every second that he gets to play in that frankly ridiculous sandbox.
At his best, Tim Curry combined that sense of humor with real, dark menace and an unquestionable eroticism. Fans that only know him from “Home Alone 2” and “Muppet Treasure Island” might not believe that, but trust me, young ones, that dude’s sex appeal was right off the charts. In fact, that’s what he made his name with.
Funny, Sexy, And Scary
Curry’s first big break was on stage with “The Rocky Horror Show,” which debuted in London before moving to Los Angeles where it caught the eye of Hollywood producers. In 1975, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” debuted and quickly became one of the longest running theatrical cult films of all time.
Curry’s Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a transvestite alien mad scientist, is played with such charisma and flair and personality and horniness and humor that he became not only an icon of the queer community, but also one for all the world’s outcasts and weirdos.
Yes, Frank is a little crazy, but he was 100% himself without even a sliver of shame or hesitation.
Watching that movie now, Curry is such a powerhouse in that role. “Sweet Transvestite” is one of the most energetic, catchy musical numbers ever, but consider later in the film when we see Frank’s more vulnerable side and you start to get a better picture of the range Curry had as both a singer and actor even in this bizarre cult film.
“I’m Going Home” is a legitimately heart-breaking song, tonally so different from the character we’ve spent most of the movie with and it gives him instant depth in less than three minutes.
Let’s fast forward now to 1985 when we got two towering performances from Mr. Curry in the same year. I’m leaving behind a lot of gold from the stage and screen, by the way — including the fact that Curry originated the role of Mozart on stage in “Amadeus” (with Ian McKellen as Salieri, no less), his turn as Rooster in “Annie,” and a successful, if brief, bid as a rock star — but if I hyper focus on every single project, this love letter to Tim Curry might as well be a book, so we find ourselves in 1985.
‘What Is Light Without Dark?’
On one side you have Ridley Scott’s “Legend” which sees Curry transformed into a towering Satanic figure representing all that is rotten and evil in the world, and on the other you have Wadsworth, the hyperactive, yet instantly likable, butler in “Clue.” These two performances couldn’t be any more different, but they both encapsulate Tim Curry at his best.
In “Legend,” Curry was buried beneath hours worth of makeup and prosthetics, and yet every nuanced expression and subtle facial tic showed through, bringing the entire creature to life. It helped that he had the (apologies for the pun) legendary makeup effects artist Rob Bottin creating the look, but it’s not an easy thing to act through that much rubber, even if you’re a great actor (looking at you, “X-Men: Apocalypse” Oscar Isaac) and Curry made it seem effortless.
Ridley Scott lowered Curry’s voice, but all the seductiveness and danger made it through. Darkness is one of my all-time favorite movie monsters and there’s nobody that could have rocked those massive horns like Tim Curry. Somehow this giant Satan is scary and unbelievably sexy. He’s the ultimate bad boy and he woke something up in many a young goth.
‘I Butle, Sir.’
Curry shot “Clue” around the same time and his performance as Wadsworth is just as theatrical and broad, but it leans so far into comedy that there’s not a shred of the inner beast he displayed so well for Sir Ridley Scott.
That’s that perfect Tim Curry triangle I’m talking about. One point is theatricality, one point is pure sex appeal, and one point is comedy. Every single performance of Curry’s that jumps to mind is a dot somewhere between those three traits. In “Clue” that dot is between theatricality and comedy, in “Legend” it’s between theatricality and pure sex appeal.
His comedic timing in “Clue” is up there with the best of the screwball comedy actors from Hollywood’s golden era. I’m talking about William Powell or Cary Grant levels of rapid-fire dialogue, jokes upon jokes hitting the audience at such an unrelenting pace that at some point you have to just give up and let the comedy wash over you, knowing you’ll have to watch “Clue” a few more times to catch everything.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two more of my favorite Curry performances, one a very famous evil villain turn that terrified a whole generation of children and one a bizarre oddity that embodies the insane whirlwind of personality that is Tim Curry.
Anything Can Happen On Halloween
“The Worst Witch” was a TV movie based off of Jill Murphy’s book, which has been adapted a few times over the years. In 1986 Fairuza Balk starred in this particular adaptation and it is unquestionably cheap and very, very ’80s. Think of it as a dry run at “Harry Potter.”
Curry plays The Grand Wizard, a powerful warlock in the witching world who flies in to grace the young students of this school with a wonderfully bonkers song about why Halloween rules. If you’ve never seen this particularly wonderful bit … well, brace yourself for a new seasonal classic.
Curry’s work on “The Worst Witch” probably took all of two days to film and is just a blip on his impressive resume, but again it’s something I feel underlines his personality. It’s goofy, slightly intimidating, and oddly seductive, especially in a movie about a bunch of tween witches.
I’ve heard him asked about filming this cameo and the only story he had about it was that he and Dame Diana Rigg were sneaking liquor because it was so cold outside and got super sloshed, resulting in them having to reshoot the song. That’s about right.
‘I Am Everything You Ever Were Afraid Of!’
The other performance I want to highlight is one Mr. Bob Gray, otherwise known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, in the 1990 TV adaptation of Stephen King’s “It.”
I consider this a sister performance to Darkness in “Legend.” Curry played both as ultimate evils and did so while buried under a ton of makeup. You do get more of Curry’s features showing through with Pennywise, though, and he does something with this performance that I think is pretty spectacular and doesn’t get enough recognition.
Yes, he’s very creepy, but there’s a little innocence that he channels in that first appearance where he’s talking with Georgie from the sewer that is played without any hint of evil. When he’s introducing himself to the boy in the yellow slicker and telling him about the wonderful carnival with all the treats and goodies, he does so with the excitement of a child.
In other words, he connects to his victim in a way that is so on the level that it becomes even creepier than if he played Pennywise sinister the whole way through. By the time he’s onto the famous, “Yes, Georgie. They float… they all float…” and he switches gears to the monster, it’s too late. He’s trapped his prey.
I’m a big fan of what Bill Skarsgard did with his version of Pennywise, but he never makes that choice for the character. He’s always off, always threatening. That works, it’s effective and is iconic in its own right, but I think there’s a reason Curry traumatized a whole generation with this performance, and part of it is that he played up the clown side of the character.
Raise A Toast For Tim Curry
In 2012, Tim Curry suffered a major stroke and took some time off to focus on his health. He’s still around and working, delivering some voice performances and even appearing as The Criminologist in the 2016 TV production of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
Curry does regular signings and meets with fans over Zoom, many of these short meetings you can find on YouTube, by the way. Just a heads up, most of them are a little cringey to watch, but it’s good to know that he’s still around, still active and is well aware that he has a legion of fans who appreciate his work.
That was one thing that really stuck out to me in the wake of Betty White’s passing, that she wasn’t a legend who kinda drifted into obscurity in her later career. She was celebrated right up until the end, as well she should have been, and my hope is that Mr. Curry knows that all his hard work on the stage, screen and, yes, even bonkers video games (looking at you, “Red Alert 3” AKA the origin of this wonderful line delivery that Curry can barely get out with a straight face).
Tim Curry rules and cinema is so much more exciting thanks to his contributions. Thanks for all you’ve done for us so far, Mr. Curry, and for what you may still have in store.
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Source: Slash Film