When I was seven years old, my mom, my brother, and I watched Clue for the first time. That movie helped form my love of film. I can quote every line by heart and talk endlessly about what makes it great. But ultimately, there’s really only one reason the film has stuck with me: Tim Curry.
Curry’s performance was revelatory for me. I was taken with how funny he was. Clue is full of black humor and Curry never backs down from it. His character’s reserved nature creates humor in situations that shouldn’t be funny. Consider the scene where Curry’s character, Wadsworth the butler, shows total disinterest in the fact that there’s murderer on the loose. He’s more interested in stained upholstery. “Careful, don’t get blood on the sofa,” he says sardonically.
After Clue, I went on to watch every film I could find that featured Curry. I saw FernGully, the TV shows Dinosaurs and The Wild Thornberrys and eventually The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It soon became evident to me that he was a real talent.
Curry studied drama and English at the University of Birmingham in the UK where he graduated with combined honors. Curry got his start as an actor in London with his first successful production, Hair. He followed this up with more theater work as a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company.
He was catapulted to fame when he reprised his role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the screen adaptation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Since 1968, Curry has starred in almost 200 films and television shows and each role has been just as strange and unique as the one before it. In addition to the aforementioned, Curry’s most notable works include It, Muppet Treasure Island and Charlie’s Angels. As for TV, Curry has provided live-action performances and voice work for Psych, Young Justice, Batman Beyond, Criminal Minds and many more.
His work in TV is fascinating considering Curry is a bonafide big screen actor. His he has seemingly filled his filmography with roles he wants to play, and not parts that would make him famous. This is rare for an actor. Take Nic Cage, for example. Like Curry, Cage is no stranger to weird roles. However, he often seems more concerned with money and fame than he does with the part he’s playing; we all remember Ghost Rider and, for some reason, its sequel.
A quick glance at Curry’s work reveals he loves two things: voice acting and playing the villain. Most of his roles have been animated and villainous parts (or both). Only a handful of his roles have fit the traditional “good guy” mold.
It is rare to watch an actor delve into such horrifying and twisted characters while keeping the audience’s undivided attention. Curry has played some of the most terrifying villains in film history. Consider Pennywise in It, a playful character that also happens to embody the very essence of evil.
Pennywise plays to both of Curry’s strengths, making use of his ability to terrify and his impeccable comedic timing. Pennywise may be a horrifying inter-dimensional life form who exists to prey on his victims worst fears, but he also is a wisecrack. The role is pure Tim Curry.
Curry’s acting style adds to his intrigue. There is something mesmerizing about watching him perform; even when playing the villain, there is something magical and engrossing about his presence. It helps that he has a masterful grasp of black humor. In the midst of a dark moment on screen Curry can make the viewer laugh through well-timed deadpan deliveries (e.g. “blood on the sofa”).
The Rocky Horror Picture Show launched Curry’s career and brought to light his ability to balance being the bad guy with humor (although Dr. Frank-N-Furter is more misunderstood than evil). Curry’s flair for the dramatic allows him to push boundaries, turning the character into an instant classic. His best moment is the film’s end scene. He lays it all out on the table in the final moments of the film and the result is stunning.
Curry seemingly submerges himself in the roles he plays, bringing so much passion and raw talent that the viewer begins to question what he’s like in real life. Curry is so adept at playing the villain that after recording four episodes as the voice of the Joker for the Batman: The Animated Series, his version was deemed too scary for children. The role was given to Mark Hamill, although Curry did stay on to play a few bit parts both in that show and its successor, Batman Beyond.
That wasn’t the first time that happened to Curry, either. When auditioning for the role of Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Robert Zemeckis, Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Michael Eisner all felt he was too terrifying. The role eventually went to the apparently less-menacing Christopher Lloyd.
Curry has made a career out of playing bad guys. That’s not because he can’t handle playing the protagonist, but because being bad is what Curry excels at. Hexxus, the evil spirit in FernGully, still terrifies me to this day. I will never forget Hexxus’ song, “Toxic Love,” or his menacing laugh. Every actor has their strong suit and it’s crystal clear what Curry’s is.
It is important to note that – as with any good actor – Curry can play against type. His role as Nigel Thornberry in The Wild Thornberrys is the exact opposite of his usual fare. Nigel is a downright goofy dad character who’s delighted children for years with his absurd antics.
Curry brings the same magic to Nigel as he does to any villainous role. He trades in freakish menace for impeccable comedic timing. This cocktail worked so well in The Wild Thornberry‘s that it even became its own meme!
With a career as hefty as Curry’s, it’s refreshing to see how varied his acting gigs have been. His desire to go for the downright scary roles sets him apart from his peers. While his knack for humor is certainly impressive, one thing is for certain:
There’s no one so good at being bad.
As an added bonus, here’s Mark Caldwell’s full 1975 interview with Curry about his role as Frank-N-Furter – a part he’s been reluctant to talk about before or since: