Tim Curry: 3 Career-Defining Performances

Tim Curry is one of the most commendable performers in the entertainment industry today, with his talents belonging to some of cinema’s most reputable and sensationalised films. As with many great performers, Curry’s talent has not been confined to one particular line of work, his compelling artistry lending a hand to a successful theatre career and three studio albums.

Curry first caught the bug for performing in his university days, eventually joining a swing band before graduating in English and drama. During these early years, Curry ensured that his devotion to drama would not die on his academic certificate as he swiftly booked a role in the London musical “Hair” (1968), where he happened to meet future collaborator Richard O’Brien. Amidst these sophomore years, Curry continued to blossom under the bright lights in productions such as “Life of Galileo” (1971) and “Cinderella” (1972), earning a stellar reputation along the way.

As Curry was earning his acclaimed Broadway status, he put himself forward for O’Brien’s upcoming stage play, “The Rocky Horror Show” (1973-), and was eventually cast in the lead role. The show was a bustling success, with Curry’s performance as the enigmatic Dr Frank-N-Furter eventually leading him to reprise his role in the show’s cinematic adaptation. This would be Curry’s first role in a movie, but it would certainly not be his last, the artist featuring in over forty films over the next five decades.

Being able to transform into a character, to become immersed in the role so much that the barrier between screen and reality is ripped away, is a rarely attainable talent. In celebration of Curry’s commendable work over the years, The Film Magazine has curated this evaluation of Tim Curry’s three career-defining performances.

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1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

The Rocky Horror Picture Show Review

The Rocky Horror Picture Show has become so entwined with its lavish visuals, energetic musical numbers, and the zany storyline, that it has become both a cultural phenomenon and one of, if not the most, career-defining performance of Tim Curry’s lengthy career. When questioned about what reminds people of Tim Curry, many will recall him bound in a black-jewelled corset, ripped fishnet stockings, bright red lipstick, and a mop of curly hair. His portrayal of the infamous Dr Frank-N-Furter is an iconic look that has helped coin the glorious madness cult cinema is known for.

Curry’s staple role in this wacky extravaganza is a testament to how crucial actors are to the success of a film. Whilst the staging, costumes, and soundtrack are all achievements in their own rights, without Curry’s uncontainable zest as the utterly unhinged ‘mad scientist’, the film indeed would not contain that heap of gusto that makes The Rocky Horror Picture Show just as contagious now as it was back in 1975. The narrative structure represents a fever dream that requires equally vibrant characters willing to break free of social constraints. Whilst every character shines, Curry fully embellishes this vibrancy, creating a trippy, wild ride of a film.

Throughout The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Curry exercises a unique air of naturalness, with his years of portraying the character on Broadway lending its hand to his smashing performance. As the film unravels, this sense of authenticity and expertise is furthered by Curry’s many vocal numbers. The movie set was his stage, and everyone else was just his audience, with his deep baritone pipes making for some exceptionally entertaining and catchy tunes.

2. Clue (1985)

Based on the famous board game Cluedo, this Johnathan Lynn-directed film stars Tim Curry in one of his most comical roles. Clue is peak 1980s humour, with plenty of irreverent jokes and lude quick-witted characters, including Curry’s astute Wadsworth.

Wadsworth, the secretive butler, acts as the film’s resident unreliable narrator, as many of the film’s rocky events are explained through his lengthy monologues. Clue’s co-writer John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) created the idea of a triple ending, rotating which endings were sent to theatres, urging cinema-goers to make multiple trips to the movies. Wadsworth plays a large part in each of these endings, with all of the finales falling upon Curry’s character and relying upon his gift of repartee.

Furthering the dry humour and suspense that Curry infuses amidst all the murder mystery and mayhem is his winning charm that runs across every one of his performances. Films including Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Congo (1995), and Muppet Treasure Island (1996) capture that ‘Wadsworth’ magic, utilising Curry’s fun, attention-commanding aura to create irreverent, wholesome entertainment.

Clue solidified Curry’s future acting portfolio, with many of his following roles capturing his witty and sarcastic tone.

3. It (1990)

Disclaimer: this ABC miniseries (released on television in two parts) was released in some territories as a feature film.

Pennywise the Dancing Clown has become the godfather of recent horror icons thanks to Andy Muschietti’s 2017 adaption of the classic Stephen King novel. However, while Bill Skarsgård did a fantastic job playing the evil clown, the lore and success of everyone’s favourite clown is owed to Curry’s original portrayal.

It is brimming with nightmare fuel. One particularly memorable scene showcases Pennywise standing in a half-dug grave, wielding his infamous grin whilst giggling at the thought of his maniacal plans, all-but singlehandedly ensuring that every viewer develops a lifelong mistrust of clowns. The mere thought of such imagery is enough to send shivers down one’s spine, and whilst storytelling is a major factor in fashioning effective scares, It owes most of its superb execution to Curry’s performance. It plays out like one large urban legend, one that is told around campfires to scare youngsters and create thrilling but chilling atmospheres. Capturing this nostalgia-driven narrative is Curry’s playful attitude that he lends to Pennywise, luring his victims in with the promise of ‘fun’, only to brutally murder them.

Despite not being the studio’s first choice for Pennywise, director Tommy Lee Wallace was eager to secure Curry for the role, with the actor’s innate ability to fully absorb himself into a character’s psyche and ultimately transform being a critical factor in Wallace’s determinations. After beating the likes of Alice Cooper and Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) to the gig, Curry eventually settled in as Pennywise and assured his place as one of the scariest movie villains in horror history.

Each time Pennywise appears on screen, the atmosphere darkens, and tension looms as he spouts the most unsettling threats in a thick Bronx accent, glaring with bulbous and piercing eyes. Nothing is more startling or skin-crawling than witnessing Curry transform into this horrifying beast. Many viewers would have seen It years ago, or many new watchers would have been subjected to modern horror’s much more gruesome and graphic films, but It manages to be scarier than many of today’s must-sees. Curry’s performance has created a legacy, with his unique ability to tiptoe between being cheery and bright to utterly sinister and twisted becoming one of the film’s most essential factors in its thirty-plus years of success.

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Though now largely withdrawn from the public eye, Tim Curry remains an instantly recognisable and beloved artist. His work on the stage, in music, and on the screen, have ensured a legacy that is bound to make anyone smile.

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