Bravura is actor Tim Curry's trademark

November 22, 1993|By Henry Sheehan | Henry Sheehan,Orange County Register

The attractiveness of evil was never more clear than in the new screen version of "The Three Musketeers."

The Brat Pack heroes are a rather bland selection picked from the teen-idol lazy Susan, attractive in a routine way, but not particularly engaging.

But then there's Tim Curry's Cardinal Richelieu. He purrs out his plots in perfectly modulated tones of intimate conspiracy. His eyes widen, seemingly involuntarily, with a libertine's sense of illicit pleasure as he concocts a particularly evil twist.

As he strides through palace corridors, his red robes billow threateningly about him. Every remark is soaked in murderous double entendre; he's bad to the bone and enjoying every minute of it.

When Mr. Curry describes playing the part, he speaks in the same tones of chortling delight that Richelieu uses.

"The good thing about playing Richelieu is he has this Machiavellian brain, so at least you're playing a thought process and you're playing somebody who isn't necessarily meaning what he says," says the actor, 46.

"Which means you can operate on two levels -- which in Hollywood is a luxury, as you know."

Not to mention that Richelieu the character, swirling his robes and commanding his minions, is very much aware of his own theatrical power.

"Absolutely," Mr. Curry agrees with a laugh. "He was written with a lot of bravura -- and Bravura R Us."

Mr. Curry has been associated with florid and theatrical parts ever since he first made a stateside splash in the mid-'70s.

Mr. Curry starred in the Broadway production of Tom Stoppard's scathingly clever historical farce "Travesties" just as the film version of a play in which he had appeared in London's Royal Court Theater opened -- "The Rocky Horror Show."

Mr. Curry's "sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania," Dr. Frank N Furter, became a model for at least three generations of acting-out youth.

And like it or not, it's a part that has stuck with Mr. Curry for his career.

"Yeah," Mr. Curry says. "I mean, it would be nice to play somebody shy and thoughtful. I tend to be asked to do bravura kinds of roles. I guess there's a reason for that, and I certainly enjoy them. Particularly if they drive the film along, I think they're always good to play. The problem is that one just has to be careful not to make too much of a meal of them."

A closer look at Mr. Curry's resume reveals a much wider variety of roles than his current media peg would suggest. His first professional job was in the original London cast of "Hair."

Aside from "Rocky," he appeared in many other plays at the Royal Court, spent a year with the prestigious National Theater and another year with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Along with "Travesties" on Broadway, he originated the role of Salieri in "Amadeus."

But it was at the National, the company founded by Laurence Olivier, where Mr. Curry honed the sharp-tongued talents that are currently his trademark. There he mastered the mile-a-minute pace of farce. "Energy, it's about energy," Curry says. "I think farce has to be played so fast and so accurately so the audience doesn't have time to think about the inconsistencies of the plot and they're just bowled along. John Cleese described farce; I think it was, 'If you could imagine everything that you hoped would never go wrong in your life happening in one evening.'"

There's a beautiful example of Mr. Curry as farceur in the otherwise unmemorable "Oscar," one of Sylvester Stallone's unfortunate attempts at comedy. Amid the bellowing and overacting of the rest of the cast, Mr. Curry depicts a romantically abashed tutor with a fast-flowing stream of hilariously delivered dialogue. Watching him in the film is like seeing a sleek Italian sports car dart among a fleet of 18-wheelers.

In the meantime, Mr. Curry is dogged by the cult fame of "Rocky Horror," which was once again in the news recently when it had its broadcast television premiere.

Notes Mr. Curry: "It got in the way for a while. I certainly resent talking about it to the exclusion of all else, which thankfully hasn't been the case. I thought it was a pretty good movie, and I'm proud of it."

Mr. Curry lets loose with another irrepressible chortle. "You know, nobody asks Susan Sarandon these questions and she looks just as good in a corset. Well, almost."

For a moment, though, he turns serious.

"It's oddly undated," he says of the film. "I also was sort of pretty fascinated with Japanese theater at the time and I used that quite a bit. You know how in Kabuki, for example, if you hit a particularly good pose, you just sort of hold it and freeze it for a while and say, 'That's pretty cool, isn't it?'

"In a sense, to do it at all was an act of courage. It would be stupid to have hedged one's bets. So there you are, and it's a disproportionate part of a body of work."

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