acid logicpresents...

An Interview with Curtis Armstrong

Part One


Part:
1

By Wil Forbis

August 1st, 2001
Ask the average guy on the street what he thinks of the acting career of Curtis Armstrong and he's liable to ask, "Who's Curtis Armstrong?" But if you follow up with a picture of Curtis's memorable mug, he'll probably say, "Ohhh, that guy!" Anyone who's been semiconscious during the past twenty years has seen Curtis's work and his wide array of characters. His performances in such teenage comedy classics as "Revenge of the Nerds," "One Crazy Summer," and "Better Off Dead" made him the definitive character actor for anyone who was in high school in the 80's. He then established a television presence by appearing as a regular cast member on ABC's "Moonlighting" and doing cameo roles in numerous shows including "Murphy Brown," "Suddenly Susan," "That 70's Show" and "Ally McBeal." Curtis has worked consistently up to present day, and has just embarked on his current venture as a cast member on the Sci-Fi Channel's The Chronicle.

Recently, I managed to talk at length with Curtis about his classic "Nerds" role, the unmaking of "Clan of the Cave Bear", Hollywood politics and what it's like to be a Sherlockian in good standing.

Part One: All About "Nerds!"

Wil: Let's talk nerds.

Curtis: Let's.

Wil: You sort of rose to acclaim playing the character, Booger, in "Revenge of the Nerds", and also playing variations of that character in other films. Booger was kind of like a cosmic entity who traveled to parallel universes to help whoever was in need, be it John Cusack or Robert Carradine. I was kind of interested to find out that at first you were totally opposed to playing the role of Booger.?

Curtis: Well, yeah, I was living in New York then and I had just done "Risky Business". and I had been out of work pretty much since then. Then I got the offer to do the audition for "Revenge of the Nerds." I read the script and it was really bad, especially after "Risky Business" which was, you know, kind of a classy project. So I was reading for the Anthony Edwards part (Gilbert Lowe, secondary nerd ) which I think they gave me just because of those two characters, Bobby (Robert Carradine, who played main nerd, Lewis Skolnick) was already cast, and those two characters were the only ones with any substantial dialogue. So I was reading for Anthony's role, although I don't think I was ever up for Anthony's role.

Wil: It does seem kind of hard to see you in that role.

Curtis: Well, yeah, at the time, you don't think about those things, you think, "Oh, I could play this." But in retrospect, it's impossible. So I read for it, and they called me back, but they said "Would you consider reading for the part of Booger?" And I just got on my artistic high horse and said, "How dare they ask me such a question?". to play this horrible person, picking my nose and belching and I said "Absolutely not!" And then I said."Okay." Because of course, I had no money. You know, I had to work. So I went in and read for Booger. And, umm, got it!

Wil: Have you ever had anyone come up to you on the street and say, "You know, all joking aside, Booger really changed my life!"

Curtis: Nobody's actually said that in those terms, but I'm approached by people daily.

Wil: That recognize you from the role?

Curtis: Yes.

Wil: Do you think the "Nerds" films had some kind of effect with the message of, "it's all right to be different"?

Curtis: Oh, absolutely. You know, it's a bizarre thing, because it's a simple little teenage sex comedy. And yet, it had this theme in it that definitely spoke to people. A message of tolerance and acceptance and all that. And there are a lot of lonely, disenfranchised young people out there - guys, usually - who grab onto the Nerds as being this floating life raft. Because the thing about the Nerds, what made them so appealing, was that not only are they underdogs, they are underdogs who accept other underdogs unconditionally. And that speaks volumes to people.

Wil: What I thought was interesting was that the writers could've made a film that was just about the classical definition of nerds - guys with the pocket protectors and the eyeglasses - but instead they threw in a Booger, they threw in a Lamar (Larry B. Scott's overtly gay character). I think there was one other character that didn't fit into the traditional nerd role.?

Curtis: Well, yeah, there's Takashi who also isn't the classic idea of what a nerd is. The stereotypical nerd character was Bobby's, though Bobby was so good that he brought in all sorts of elements to it to make it more than just a cartoon. But the rest of those characters weren't really, traditional nerds. And it would be done very differently today.

Wil: You think so?

Curtis: Well, yeah. The funny thing about "Revenge of the Nerds" is that it was sort of lumped together with a lot of those "Porky's" type movies as being a gross out, teen sex film and so on. And to compare it to movies today, it's, you know, a bedtime story. It's so mild.

Wil: Yeah, certainly in terms of sexual content.

Curtis: And not just sexual content but the gross out humor. It's just become eclipsed by the Tom Greens and all those other people who are doing such extreme stuff now, stuff that you have to do in order to get attention. But at the time, "Nerds" was considered a gross out movie. And yet, really. you know, it was quite sweet.

Wil: Was there a Booger in your high school or college?

Curtis: No. The guys who wrote "Nerds", Steve Zacharias and Jeff Buhai, based him on a real person who. this is really sickening. this guy used to drive around in a truck and he kept a box of his own boogers on his seat.

Wil: That's glorious!

Curtis: According to them, that was what he did. So that's how Booger got his inception.

Wil: Well, I knew a guy who used to chew tobacco and he would save up all his spit in a jar.

Curtis: That's disgusting.

Wil: .so I guess that sort of thing gets around

Curtis: That's really disgusting.

Wil: Something I only recently realized is that Robert Carradine is the son of John Carradine and the half-brother of David Carradine from the Kung Fu series.

Curtis: And Keith Carradine also. Keith Carradine is his other brother. Maybe they're half brothers. I thought they were all full brothers. But, yeah. John Carradine was one of my faves when I was a kid because I loved all the old Universal horror films and so on. Even though, I guess he was sort of ashamed of them. But he did some great roles in other movies like "Stagecoach" and "The Grapes of Wrath." He was a terrific actor.

Wil: Did those guys ever interact with you on the set? Did David Carradine stop by and.

Curtis: Oh, no, no, no. The original "Nerds" film was filmed in Tucson, Arizona, so nobody was dropping by. Keith was the only one that I met, because when we came back to L.A., Bobby's girlfriend threw him a birthday party at On The Rocks in Hollywood, and Keith stopped by there. But he's the only other member of the family I met.

Wil: I would think that be tough on Robert Carradine because all his relatives are these tough guys and he's basically this nerd.?

Curtis: No, I don't think so because he's had a huge career. You should rent "The Long Riders." That's all three Carradine brothers. that's David and Keith and Robert. And the Keach brothers (Stacy and James Keach) and the Guest brothers (Christopher and Nicholas Guest). It was sort of stunt casting, because it's about the younger Dalton gang and they cast actors who were brothers for all the brothers.

Wil: That's an interesting kind of shtick.

Curtis: But it's a great movie, and Bobby is wonderful in it. He has had a long and very prosperous career as an actor. His first movie was "The Cowboys" with John Wayne. I don't think he has anything to be ashamed of.

Wil: Well, yeah, I'm being somewhat facetious there.

Curtis: I know, yeah, it's just. well, now Bobby's daughter, Ever, who was about nine when I met her, is a beautiful young woman now, and she's an actress here in Hollywood. So, it's continuing.

Wil: The Carradine legend continues?

Curtis: The Carradine legend continues. That's right.

Wil: Do you have much communication with any of the "Nerds" these days?

Curtis: Yeah, actually. I have a daughter who's five, and we went to a birthday party of one of her schoolmates a couple of months ago, and we walked in and there was Bobby. And I hadn't seen him, at that point, in years. But he's working on a show for the Disney Channel right now, and it was such a bizarre thing that we would meet that way, because then we were talking and he said, "You have to come to the set next week because our director is Tim Busfield."

Wil: Ahhh, he was Poindexter, right?

Curtis: He was Poindexter. So the next week I went down and we hung out on the set, the three of us, and it was a lot of fun. And then two weeks later I was contacted by Brian Tochi, who played Takashi, and he was producing a pilot for cable TV that he wanted me to act in. So I wound up working with Brian again, only this time he was the Producer/Director. And then I ran into someone the other day who's good friend of Larry B. Scott.

Wil: And that's Lamar.

Curtis: That's Lamar. So he gave me Larry's number and I'm going to call Larry. I mean, it's obvious that there's something in the stars here that we should all get together again.

Wil: The planets have been aligned?

Curtis: Yeah.

 

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Continue to Part Two of the Curtis Armstrong Interview

 


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