Tim Curry Retrospective – A Legacy of Character Greatness

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Scene Stealers pays homage to the forgotten figures in pop culture that elevate the medium that they are in, whether it’s a standout in a small but memorable role, as the glue guy that holds everything together or as a subtle addition that makes something that much better (or borderline watchable). This feature honors those who may not be the stars but that doesn’t make them any less important.


From the leading role to random civilians going about their business in the background, one of many crucial components to expand and enrich a film’s world is its population of great and memorable characters.  And while credit is always deserved for a great lead performance, sometimes the best to be had are often brought in by supporting roles played by many of the best character actors working today.  Whether known or not, character actors are always guaranteed to bring their best work forward and provide a memorable film experience, regardless of any genre.  In light of this weekend’s theatrical release of IT (2017), adapted from Stephen King’s 1986 novel of the same name and remake of the 1990 TV mini-series, it seems only fitting that one of the greatest character actors and performers is spotlighted for his unique genius.  A performer who’s made the art of playing engaging characters and villains just as much fun to watch: Tim Curry.

Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter For Rocky Picture Horror Show (1975)

Whether it’s through a dry yet assertive delivery, chilling laugh, smooth crooning voice, or flashing a practically trademarked devilish grin, Curry steals the show in almost every role he takes.  Graduating in Drama & Theatre Studies from the University of Birmingham and cutting his teeth on London’s West End, Curry first graced the silver screen with his appearance in Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman’s enormously popular cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975).  As Doctor Frank N. Furter, the exuberant sweet transvestite from Transsexual Transylvania, the film propelled Curry into triple-threat stardom and a lucrative career spanning 4 decades playing a wide variety of characters, making each performance uniquely his own.

Whether as the hapless and charismatic butler, Wadsworth, in Clue (1985), shrewd con-man “Rooster” Hannigan in Annie (1982), the cold-hearted Lord of Darkness in Legend (1985), or even sailing the high seas as Long John Silver with the Muppets in Muppet’s Treasure Island (1996), Tim Curry has become a staple of film experiences for all ages; to say nothing of nearly countless television appearances and voice roles.

"I tend not to play dull people; I tend to play very over-the-top people."
Tim Curry
(Fangoria‘s issue #99)

However, while many to choose from, a favourite role that fans always come back to is Pennywise, simultaneously his most terrifying and entertaining of all his other roles. Considered among his best work, Stephen King’s It follows the experiences of seven children, collectively known as “The Loser’s Club”, and their struggle against a mysterious eldritch entity. Known only as “IT” the creature preys upon the fears and phobias of those hunted every 27 years in the town of Derry, Maine.  Donning seemingly innocent clown apparel, a sinister cackle, and more than a few balloons (and do they float? Oh yes…they float…), Curry took on the title role in the following 1990 mini-series with the same relish as to be expected.  However, particular effect with the role also comes from his approach in balancing equal parts terrifying but accompanied with a wicked sense of humour.   A creature embodied into a traditionally comforting image, but all the while reflecting recognizable childhood fears, delivered not so much physically but mentally, with its very presence delivered like a punchline straight from the worst anti-joke.  Or as Curry himself would have it “a smile gone bad…”

Curry's Portrayal Of Pennywise vs Skarsgård's Portrayal

While impaired with a less satisfying second-half, the mini-series was a successful run for ABC and today (like much of Curry’s work) achieved a successful cult status and Curry’s performance receiving continuous critical praise to this day.  So much so that with the onset of the remake, many were skeptical if any actor could successfully live up to it, the first being British actor Will Poulter and current Swedish actor Bill Skarsgård.  While it remains to be seen if Skarsgård’s own physically intimidating interpretation of the creature will come into similar iconic status in comparison to the original (though early reviews have been more than positive), it will be interesting to see how much of the original may have influenced the portrayal and it’s reactions.

"What’s fun about him is that a clown is traditionally a very cosy, comforting kind of cheery image, and Pennywise is none of these things. I think of him all the time as a smile gone bad—that’s my image for him.”
Tim Curry
(Fangoria‘s issue #99)

Since suffering a major stroke in 2012,  leaving him confined to a wheelchair,  Tim Curry’s roles in recent years have sadly decreased.  Though, at 71-years old, Curry still continues work, occasionally appearing in varieties of media, even guest appearing as the Criminologist in 2016’s television revival of  The Rocky Horror Picture Show (perhaps one of the only positives to come from it).  With his last few credits for many popular TV series, including Cartoon Network’s avant-garde mini-series Over the Garden Wall (2015) and his chilling mid-series turn as Chancellor Palpatine/Darth Sidious in Star Wars: Clone Wars (2008-2014), Curry continues to demonstrate just how much staying power his career has gained, earning himself a permanent cult status in pop culture

And in all the years and many characters he’s brought into audience’s lives, becoming even a saving grace to even the most minor projects, we can say he’s certainly kept his promise.

And to that end, Mr. Curry, fans can all agree that Mr. Hector probably said it best:

Ken Sims
Ken Simshttp://beforethecyborgs.com
Ken is a graduate of the University of Alberta, studying Drama and Film Studies. When not trying his hand at writing his own projects, he actively pursues his other passions for performing on stage and screen.



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