For someone who’s name is so little known, Curtis Armstrong has remained one of the most recognizable actors of the last 25 years.
As Miles, opposite Tom Cruise in Risky Business, he was the true soul of the movie. His character delivered the ultimate philosophical underpinning of what would become Generation X – “Sometimes you just have to say, what the #@!*. What the #@!* gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.”
It was a star-turn for Curtis – and one can only imagine how it must have changed his life. “It didn’t change at all. I didn’t work for a year,” Curtis recounts. “Risky Business went through this difficult period of post-production where there had been originally a different ending to the movie which was much darker and much less upbeat than the version that everyone knows. The studio wanted to re-shoot and do a new ending which was more with Tom winning. They felt that kids were not going to go see the movie six times to see Tom Cruise lose every time. Eventually the director went back and re-shot the ending that is there. Tom is noticeably heavier, if you look at it carefully, because he had already moved on.”
Curtis explains that he completely understands the studio’s point of view, but adds, “I liked the ending the way it was. It had been a cautionary tale of Reagan America. And the message, to say the least, becomes diluted when you have the guy winning at the end.”
Of course, it would be his next role, as Dudley “Booger” Dawson in the Revenge of the Nerds series of feature films and TV movies, that would elevate Curtis to a cultural icon. It was hard not to feel an affinity for Booger and the other nerds because they were underdogs who accepted other disenfranchised people with no discrimination whatsoever. “That was the idea of the script,” Curtis explains. “It was all about anti-semitism and the self-loathing which breeds it.”
As a classically trained theatrical actor, getting cast as a Tri Lam turned out to be quite a stretch for Curtis. “The funny thing is,” he says, “in retrospect I consider it one of my most successful roles as an actor, because it is so totally polar opposite from who I am. It was an interesting experience and not that easy, actually.”
True. Here is a guy whose passion for Harry Nilsson has led him to become Nilsson’s unofficial biographer, having written the liner notes for numerous Nilsson re-releases. Whose hobby is reading and collecting rare books by Washington Irving, P.G.Wodehouse and Sherlock Holmes, and others.
After Nerds, the film roles kept coming, most notably Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer. On television, Curtis established a major presence playing Herbert Viola in the vaunted ABC series Moonlighting. He’s been busy ever since, doing cameo roles in numerous shows including Murphy Brown, Suddenly Susan, That 70’s Show, Ally McBeal, and Boston Legal.
Curtis has been a member of First Entertainment for years. “It’s been marvelous to have it,” Curtis says emphatically. “It’s such a different thing dealing with First Entertainment as opposed to a bank. There’s a definite connection with the credit union that you have where you don’t feel overwhelmed with the enormity of the place that you’re calling. And that’s one of the nice things about doing business with a place like this, that although there may be changes, you still have a sense of continuity. First Entertainment has been helpful to me on a lot of levels. They understand what it’s like being an actor.”
And an unforgettable one at that.