"I've no need to be a Renaissance man," says Tim Curry as soft light struggles through hair that looks like a sunset in a medieval tapestry. "I take it project by project. I go where the work is."
In the early '70s it was London and the role of the crazed transvestite from outer space: Dr. Frank N. Furter in a new musical called "The Rocky Horror Show." (The film version was to come). Later, it was New York in the role of Tristan Tzara, a Dadaist poet and sculptor in Tom Stopard's Tony-winner, "Travesties." For the past two years, it was a tour of 80 American cities as Tim Curry, rock singer.
Most recently it was a new film, "Times Square," in the role of frenetic deejay Rodriguez; and now the part of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in "Amadeus" at the National Theatre.
But at 34, serious British actor Tim Curry is still best known for Dr. Furter -- and he's a bit weary of the association. Der Furter has been chasing Curry ever since the film version of "Rocky Horror" became a staple of the midnight-movie circuit. The film has been playing at the Key in Georgetown for three years, just as it has in some 200 theaters across the country. And now, three weeks into the fun of "Amadeus," a road version of "Rocky Horror" has opened at the Warner Theater -- a half-block from and in plain sight of the stage door Curry must walk through each day.
"I'm proud of that character," Curry insists, despite an ironic dismay that the show has caught up with him again. "I have no intention of disowning it. There's no point in saying, 'I'm not the Fonz.' And I did it for so long. At the beginning, it was just another play, the fifth I was doing at that theater [The Royal Shakespeare Company; he repeated the stage roles in the New York and Los Angeles productions as well]. It just clicked and went on and took so long to surface as a film. [The movie bombed on its original release.] Now it's a minor religion. I don't think you can worry too much about how the public sees you.
Or doesn't see you. Curry, who looks like a young, rugged cross between Lou Reed and Roger Daltrey but sounds as if he learned English watching "Masterpiece Theater," went a long way toward shedding his camp image three years ago when he played the title role ina six-part British TV series called "The live of Shakespeare." "It was my first genius," he says. Unfortunately, the series never made it overseas, though it was funded by ABC and Sir Lew Grade. Curry describes it as a "a rollicking, rompy series, not deeply serious. I didn't get to die, unfortunately. They wanted to end on an upbeat note."
His other film roles have been less than spectacular, and the experience has made him exceedingly cautious in choosing parts after "Times Square." "The film I made is not the film that came out. It's like going to the butchers," he says of his character, parts of whom, he says, ended up in splices on the cutting-room floor. He also had a minor role in Jerzy Skolimovski's "The Shout," a film that died of art-house neglect.
Which leaves legitimate theater and rock 'n' roll. Curry's forays into the latter have not been immensely successful. He has tended toward overdramatic, almost operatic hard rock, symbolized by an overwhelming rendition of the old folk tune "Wake Nicodemus." Curry's performance probably could. His two albums for A&M -- "Read My Lips" and "Fearless" -- have not sold well, though there is a base of "Rocky Horror" fanatics who will patronize anything associated with the picture. At concerts, he says, "people didn't know what to expect.They'd only seen me with seven pounds of Max Factor on. As soon as they saw me without it, the problem was largely resolved" and the curiosity faded.
Curry recorded his first album in 1973, though it was never released ("which I'm grateful for"), so he's no newcomer to the crossing of disciplines that reacently brought Linda Ronstadt and Curry's old friend David Bowie to New York stages.
"As a singer, I'm probably much more of an actor, though I don't separate them a great deal," says Curry. "The control of language and resonance is not terribly different. In rock, you can't hear yourself, and rock 'n' roll encourages excesses of every kind . . . just the hours and touring are ludicrous."
Which leads back to the stage and the discipline of a defined role, the centered physical demands, "which is one of the reasons it's nice to be back in theater," says Curry of "Amadeus," his first play since "Travesties," five years ago. Curry received his degree in drama at Birmingham University in England, which has a Shakespearean department and is located near Stratford Park. Leaving there at age 22, Curry went directly into the London company of "Hair," performing later stints with the Royal Court Theater and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Landing the title role in "Amadeus" was "an absurd coincidence," he admits. Curry had been living in New York while pursuing the rock side of his career (his band members are all studio musicians there). But when he flew home to England for a visit, he wanted to see the successful new work by playwright Peter Shaffer, whom he'd known since the "Travesties" days. Curry tried to get into a Friday-night performance, couldn't, and settled for buying the book the next morning.
"I was halfway through the second act when Peter called and said 'See it tonight and see if you want to do it.' I flew back to New York Sunday and on Monday I signed for the role," to which he is committed through July.
Some not familiar with Curry's background have accused him of being a rock-'n'-roll singer trespassing on Mozart. "Time takes care of all that, really," wighs Curry, who admits that personal publicity of any kind is not "something I'm very good at. It's difficult enough surviving the scrutiny of one's professional life without surviving personal scrutiny as well. It's more draining than working."