Sitting down to Tim Curry’s first-ever audience Q&A, I was filled with both antici….PATION and a bit of apprehension. Tim Curry is a rare type of performer; he excels at everything he does, in every form from comedy to horror to animation to whatever-the-fuck-you-want-to-qualify-Rocky Horror Picture Show-as (other than SPECTACULAR) and has been a foundational part of my pop culture and professional life for almost as long as I can remember (Muppet Treasure Island and its sister film Muppet Christmas Carol are directly responsible for the style of my Shakespeare puppet company here in Toronto). He’s a living legend and has been a part of an embarrassment of cinematic riches…but lately, he’s also been laying low.
In 2012, Curry suffered a very severe stroke, following which he removed himself from the spotlight to recover (understandably). While his appearance as the Criminologist in the abysmal FOX Rocky Horror was a sign of his return, sitting in the auditorium, I was nervous. I’ve never met him, but I care deeply about him, and I was desperately hoping his recovery had gone well.
As it turns out, my fears were baseless and I couldn’t be happier to report that the razor sharp wit, wry charm, and overwhelming graciousness that have defined him were all on full display as Tim Curry, living legend (or living Legend, if you’ll forgive the pun), somehow surpassed who I’d hoped he would be. The result was a truly unforgettable Q&A that left me laughing, crying, and reflecting on the legacy of one of the greatest character actors of a generation.
And he did the Pennywise voice. Twice.
Moderated by Charlie Adler a long-time collaborator and friend of Curry (director of The Wild Thornberrys and acted alongside Curry in Hanna-Barbera’s Paddington Bear, where Adler voice Paddington and Curry the villainous neighbour ‘Mr. Curry.’), the panel achieved a rare feat: being better for being almost entirely fan questions (this is a tricky prospect…when it goes bad it goes BAD); but the amount of reverence and love pouring out of every fan on the mic was as astounding as it was well-earned. Wisely, Adler chose to hop in with questions based on fan question topics, covering important info while keeping the event fan focused. Curry was incredibly gracious and frequently moved by people who wanted to let him know how he got them into musical theatre. He thanked each one, very earnestly and it was an amazing thing to watch.
The whole panel was excellent, but here are the highlights that I scrawled down between applauding wildly, chuckling-to-laughing-to-guffawing, and crying. It was quite an hour.
I’d also like to point out that adorably, almost everyone who went up called him “Mr. Tim Curry.” I chuckled the first few times, but then realized that yeah, he’s one of those ‘only referred to with first-and-last name’ people, but people still want to be respectful…I think it’s actually pretty fitting. There was also a sense of awe that he had come to Toronto, with almost everyone thanking him profusely for coming. No one had expected to ever be able to thank him for his contribution to their life in-person.
- When asked about his favorite films he’d been in, he broke my damn heart by saying: “Clue. I also love Muppet Treasure Island.” If you haven’t seen either of these, you should probably stop reading this and go watch both immediately, but if you have you’ll know that Clue is, perhaps, Tim Curry at his most Tim Curry as the manic butler who ties the whole piece together. Watching him run from room-to-room while explaining things is still one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen and when asked if he’d had to tone down his theatrical sensibilities for it, he admitted no, they actually rehearsed for two weeks (a rarity in film) because the director had only ever directed for theatre and was nervous about film. The results are obvious in the constant, tight, madcap comedy of the film, as is the amount of fun they were having. Curry said he loved the cast and that when Madeline Kahn as Mrs. White improvised the line “Flames…flames…on the side of my face…” they “had to scrape us off the floor, made for a difficult editing job.” Watching a film like Clue, you always hope the actors are having as much fun as it looks like they’re having…and out of the mouth of Wadsworth himself, it was ever-so-gratifying to get confirmation that they were.
- Curry loves working in animation; he said his favorite was the ever-so-meme-able Nigel Thornberry of The Wild Thornberrys, which is definitely the most Tim Curry he’s ever sounded in a piece.
- When told he’s built for everything and asked if there’s anything he isn’t built for, he considers for a fraction of a second then says, “I’ve never been a contortionist, but one day I hope to be.”
- Asked about his biggest influence/who inspires him, he cited Sir Alec Guinness, best known (much to the departed actor’s chagrin) as the original Obi-Wan Kenobi. Curry was visibly moved when Adler pointed out after the third or fourth person to tell Curry that he’d inspired them to act that Curry was their Alec Guinness. Having read his autobiography and experienced his wit, I think Sir Alec would have approved.
- The conversation eventually turned to IT, where Curry’s Pennywise kicked off a generation’s worth of fear of clowns, to which Curry noted, “That performance is about to be challenged.” Asked about his experience with the film, Curry recalled an amazing story about luring Georgie toward the gutter in the infamous opening to the story. As Curry rasped his, “Down here we all float,” the little boy said, “Mr Tim?”, Curry responded as Pennywise, “Yeah?” “You’re scaring me.” Curry responded, “I’m so sorry, but that’s what I’m supposed to do to you.” Adler jokingly asked if the kid was in therapy for the rest of his life. Curry responded quite earnestly that he hope so, saying you’d probably need it after that, wouldn’t you?
- There was a lot of praise for his work in video games, leading to a question of whether he enjoyed playing grounded characters or wacky characters more. He responded: “I actually want to play a bank clerk, but body has given me the opportunity.” I immediately came up with four pitches for stories where Tim Curry could play a bank clerk. Maybe I’ll start a Kickstarter.
- When asked about Home Alone 2, he said he quite liked working with Macaulay Culkin, though due to the suites they had at the hotel, he often showed up pretty tired because he’d stayed up all night watching cartoons. Though he quite like Culkin, Curry admitted you have to be choose whether to have a relationship with child actors, who “Often don’t know that the hell they’re doing there” and admitted his concern for the stresses that many child actors grow up with. He also told an unfortunately all-too-familiar story about Trump, who owned the hotel and cameos in the film, introducing director Christopher Columbus to his then girlfriend Marla Maples, saying, “She’s a very talented actresses, of course, she’s a pain-in-the-ass, but they all are, aren’t they?” Yep, he was even gross on the set of Home Alone.
- When asked about Bill Skarsgard’s upcoming Pennywise, Curry said he was excited to see it: Skarsgard, I like him, he’s very clever, he’s very good, interesting to see what kind of clown face they give him. I hope they make the end better. I turned into a sort of giant spider and it wasn’t very scary…or convincing.
- Fittingly enough since the seminal Batman: The Animated Series is celebrating its 25th anniversary this month, Curry was asked about his role as The Joker, which eventually (and famously) went to Mark Hamill (who will always be the definitive Joker to me). Curry said he had bronchitis and the show couldn’t wait, so they gave Hamill the role. “That’s the business,” Curry said.
- Asked whether the Legend or IT makeup was worse, Curry definitively said “Legend” saying the first application was 10.5 hours, then they just ripped it off him. It got to the point where he’d sit in a hot bath, they’d tear a hole in the make-up, then just pour solvent into it. Reflecting briefly on the bath, Curry admitted, “It could have been worse.”
- When asked why he thought Rocky Horror Picture Show had achieved its untouchable cult statue, he said “Like any other good movie, it has a good story, exciting narrative, and accomplished performers who’d never performed on film before.” A Rocky virgin asked advice for her first screening, Curry suggested, “Wear and rain coat. And take a body guard.”
- Asked for a favorite quote, it took a few further questions’ worth of thinking, but Curry thought of one that made me ever so happy: during Muppet Treasure Island, it’s implied that Curry’s Long John Silver and Frank Oz’s Miss Piggy had an affair, on set, Oz was improvising a line about the length of Long John’s ‘sabre’ to which Curry responded, “Well, you know Piggy, once you’ve had pork, you never go back.” The audience lost their minds, to which Curry responded innocently, “They cut it, which really pissed me off.”
- Asked about his method for getting into character, Curry launched into the best answer of the night: “There’s no trick, its play acting, you have to be able to just pull it on and pull it off, as the actor said to the bishop.” As the audience exploded into shocked and delighted laughter, Curry added, “You’re welcome. Just tread lightly around cathedrals.” It was like seeing all of your favorite Tim Currys combine for a moment and deliver a line that would feel at home in almost any role he’s ever done. It was pure Mr. Tim Curry and it was perfect.
- A rather poignant moment came late in the show, as ‘Kirk from Cleveland, I voted for the other one’ delicately asked Curry how he looked on the Bright Side of Life (in reference both to Curry’s condition and his star turn in Broadway’s Spamalot.) It was the first real acknowledgement of the night of Curry’s condition and I tensed up. Curry, on the other hand, responded levelly: “I always try and look on the bright side of life. It’s dull and annoying to look on the dark side and it makes you no fun to be around. I think it’s a personal responsibility to be positive.” Once again, I’m struck by how he is every bit the person you’d hope and wish him to be.
- Asked about his American accent, he admits he stole it and his mannerisms for Rooster in Annie from a fidgety stagehand on a production of Amadeus he was in. He was also offered the role of Charlie Chaplin in a new musical, but declined to return to England to join the National Theatre. The choreographer who offered him the part was appalled, but the director shrugged, “It’s what Chaplin would’ve done too, if he’d been offered the chance.”
- Fittingly enough, the evening ended with a line request: Beep beep, Richie. If you think the lack of make-up or the many years make it any less terrifying, you’d be dead wrong. Mic held high, almost Breakfast Club style, Curry was wheeled off-stage to a thunderous standing ovation. We’d been lucky enough to be in the presence of one of the greats; not just as a performer, but as a human. It’s not often our heroes turn out to be the people we’d hope them to be, but in the case of Mr. Tim Curry, he’s better. Now go watch