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Star of 'Spamalot,' Actor Tim Curry

He is currently starring in the Broadway production of Spamalot, the musical of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He plays King Arthur. The show has been nominated for 14 Tony awards, including one for best performance by a leading actor in a musical for Curry. Curry's first movie, the film that made him famous, was the 1975 cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. This interview was originally broadcast on March 15, 2005.

32:52

Other segments from the episode on June 3, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 3, 2005: Interview with Tim Curry; Interview with Hank Azaria; Review of the film "Cinderella man."

Transcript

DATE June 3, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Tim Curry discusses his movie career and his role in
the new Broadway musical, "Spamalot"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli sitting in for Terry Gross.

Tim Curry became a star and was typecast for decades when he reprised his
British stage role of sweet transvestite Frank-N-Furter in the 1975 cult film
musical "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Thirty years later, he's back on
stage, this time on Broadway, in a role and play inspired by a film. The film
is "Monty Pyton and the Holy Grail" and the musical, "Spamalot," is the big
hit of the Broadway season and a front-runner at Sunday's Tony Awards.

Tim Curry isn't just in "Spamalot," he's at its center as the Grail-seeking
King Authur.

(Soundbite of "Spamalot")

Mr. TIM CURRY: (As King Arthur) I am Arthur, king of the Britons and we are
seeking men who are able. And so we're recruiting ...(unintelligible) to sit
at a very, very, very, round table.

(Soundbite of clapping)

Mr. CURRY: (As King Arthur) Ready!

Chorus: (In unison) OK. K-I-N-G-A-R-T-H-U-R, Arthur. K-I-N-G-A-R-T-H-U-R,
Arthur. Arthur King, Arthur King, ...(unintelligible) coolest thing.

Mr. CURRY: (As King Arthur) Who's the king?

Chorus: (In unison) You are!

Mr. CURRY: (As King Arthur) Who's the king?

Chorus: (In unison) You are! A-R-T-H-U-R, Arthur.

BIANCULLI: "Spamalot" is written by Monty Pyton member Eric Idle and directed
by Mike Nichols. In addition to Tim Curry, "Spamalot" features Hank Azaria,
from whom we'll hear in the second half of the show, as well as David Hyde
Pierce and Sara Ramirez. Terry spoke with Tim Curry in March when "Spamalot"
was about to open. She asked him how he got involved with the show.

Mr. CURRY: I've known Eric Idle a long time, one of the original Pythons,
and he now lives in Los Angeles, as do I, and so we see each other quite a
bit. And in fact, the summer before last, we were hoping to do a film
together which he had written and was going to direct, which was a kind of
demolition of every Miramax movie ever made, called "The Remains of the
Piano." And that never quite happened, because the money...

TERRY GROSS, host:

(Laughs)

Mr. CURRY: It's a good title, isn't it?

GROSS: Very good. Very good.

Mr. CURRY: I was going to play the Reverend Whoopsie. And Robin Williams
was going to play Vanessa Redgrave in "Howards End." I loved his lines, which
were stuff like, `You, I haven't met you before. You shall have the teacup
when I go. No, no. No, you shall have the grand piano. Oh, no. No. You
shall have the house.' So that never happened, but he said, `I think it looks
like we are finally going to get to do the musical version of "Monty Python
and the Holy Grail," and we're going to call it "Spamalot." And first of all,
I thought that was just terribly funny. But I also thought, oh, `Well, you
know, I'll believe it when it happens.' And then suddenly Mike Nichols was
directing it, and they put David Hyde Pierce and Hank Azaria and I and a
couple of other people on a plane from California, and we came into New York.
And we sat down and read it with a bunch of other people from New York, some
of whom are in the play. And it just went like gangbusters, and I guess the
next day I was going to be King Arthur.

GROSS: So "Spamalot" incorporates some classic Monty Python bits in it that I
assume a lot of people in the audience probably know by heart. What kind of
response do you get when you get to the classic parts?

Mr. CURRY: It's quite interesting because the audience always sort of
contains some core of Monty Python fans who see stuff coming, you know, and
react with great whoops of joy and then settle down to see it unfold. I mean,
they're hugely welcoming and then they really want to see it happen. I mean,
happily, they're not talking along with it, because that would, you know, need
a spanking. But they love it and they see it coming, and they are thrilled to
see characters and sketches that they recognize.

GROSS: You knew the Monty Python material.

Mr. CURRY: Yes.

GROSS: And audience knows a lot of the Monty Python material.

Mr. CURRY: Yes.

GROSS: But do you know a lot of the early Nichols and May scripts?

Mr. CURRY: I do. I do. I was always a fan, and so it was sort of very
interesting for me to work with him. And he has--first of all, every note
that you ever get from Mike is preceded by `That was wonderful. That was
wonderful. One small thing...' So you're given this enormous sort of sense
of entitlement and then something tiny and completely accurate is lodged like
a little sort of Navajo arrow in your brain. And his great note, I think,
because I was playing it pretty broadly at the beginning, because so much of
it is like something that we in England call pantomime and sort of is part of
vaudeville really. And his first note and recurring note to me is, `Yes,
that's great, you know. It's very funny. Now let's make it true.' And I
think that's his great gift to this material, is that he's given it a great
big sort of beating Arthurian heart. And that's an extra dimension that you
just sort of don't expect and, of course, also makes it so much more
interesting to play.

BIANCULLI: Tim Curry speaking with Terry Gross.

Let's hear something else from the Broadway musical "Spamalot." David Hyde
Pierce, from "Frasier," in his show-stopping second-act number called "You
Won't Succeed on Broadway." The king is seeking his advice.

(Soundbite from "Spamalot")

Mr. CURRY: (As King Arthur) Have you heard of this Broadway?

Mr. DAVID HYDE PIERCE: (As Brother Maynard) Yes, sire. And we don't stand a
chance there.

Mr. CURRY: (As King Arthur) Why not?

Mr. PIERCE: (As Brother Maynard) Because Broadway is a very special place,
filled with very special people, people who can sing and dance, often at the
same time. They are a different people, the multitalented people, a people
who need people and who are in many ways the luckiest people in the world.
I'm sorry, sire, we don't have a chance.

Mr. CURRY: (As King Arthur) But why?

Mr. PIERCE: (As Brother Maynard) Well, let me put it like this.

(Singing) In any great adventure, if you don't want to lose, victory depends
upon the people that you choose. So listen, Arthur, darling, closely to this
news, we won't succeed on Broadway if we don't have any Jews. You may have
the finest sets, fill the stage with Penthouse pets. You may have the
loveliest costumes and their shoes. You may dance and you may sing, but I'm
am sorry, Arthur King, you'll hear no cheers, but lots and lots of boos. You
may have bushmen by the score, whom the audience adore, you may even have some
animals from zoos. Though you ...(unintelligible) instead, you may have
unleavened bread, but I tell you you are dead if you don't have any Jews.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. PIERCE: (As Brother Maynard) (Singing) They won't care if it's witty or
everything looks pretty, they'll simply say it's (censored) and refuse.
Nobody will go, sir, if it's not kosher, then no show, sir. Even goyim won't
be dim enough to choose. Put on shows that make them stare with lots of shows
and underwear, you may even have the finest of reviews. But the audiences
won't care, sir, as long as you don't dare, sir, to open up on Broadway...

Unidentified Cast Members: (In unison) ...if you don't have any Jews.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Music from "Spamalot," the Eric Idle musical starring David Hyde
Pierce, Hank Azaria and Tim Curry. More with Tim Curry after a break. This
is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: We're listening back to an interview Terry Gross recorded earlier
this year with actor Tim Curry. Curry became famous for his starring role in
the 1975 cult classic "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" as Dr. Frank-N-Furter,
the sweet transvestite from Trans Sexual Transylvania.

Here he is welcoming two naive strangers, Brad and Janet, played by Barry
Bostwick and Susan Sarandon to his isolated estate.

(Soundbite of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show")

Mr. CURRY: (As Dr. Frank-N-Furter) Magenta, Columbia, go and assist
RiffRaff. I will entertain er... (Laughs)

Mr. BARRY BOSTWICK: Brad Majors. This is my fiancee Janet Vice.

Ms. SUSAN SARANDON: (As Janet Weiss) Weiss.

Mr. BOSTWICK: (As Brad Majors) Weiss?

Mr. CURRY: (As Dr. Frank-N-Furter) Enchante.

Mr. BOSTWICK: (As Brad Majors) Well...

Mr. CURRY: (As Dr. Frank-N-Furter) How nice, and what charming underclothes
you both have. But here, put these on. They'll make you feel less
vulnerable. It's not often we receive visitors here, let alone offer them
hospitality.

Mr. BOSTWICK: (As Brad Majors) Hospitality? All we wanted to do was to use
your telephone, dammit, a reasonable request, which you've chosen to ignore!

Ms. SARANDON: (As Janet Weiss) Brad, don't be ungrateful.

Mr. BOSTWICK: (As Brad Majors) Ungrateful!

Mr. CURRY: (As Dr. Frank-N-Furter) How forceful you are, Brad, such a
perfect specimen of manhood, so dominant.

GROSS: You know, like so many other of your fans, I first saw you in "The
Rocky Horror Picture Show" in the '70s, and when you see somebody in a movie
for the first time, it's sometimes hard to tell how good they are. You don't
know--is this all they can do? Do they do other things, too? Is this what
they're really like, or, you know, how much are they acting? And so I saw
you--I guess it was probably like the late '80s, in "Wiseguy," the TV series.

Mr. CURRY: Yes.

GROSS: And you played a kind of Phil Spector-ish, brilliant but crazy record
producer.

Mr. CURRY: That's right.

GROSS: And a great, really terrific performance, and that's I think when I
really got the picture, `Wow, he's really good at doing all kinds of things.'
So...

Mr. CURRY: That's so nice. I mean, it's sort of important for me, because,
you know, that first performance that sort of introduced me to everybody was
so out there and so...

GROSS: I'll say. Yeah.

Mr. CURRY: ...so kind of outrageous that, you know, I was a very quiet boy
for a while, you know, just to make sure that people got it, that, you know,
that wasn't necessarily who I was.

GROSS: Was that because of...

Mr. CURRY: It was my first movie, you know.

GROSS: That was your first movie?

Mr. CURRY: Yeah.

GROSS: How did you get the part?

Mr. CURRY: I got the part because I used to work a great deal at a theater
in London called The Royal Court, and I guess they have a little theater
upstairs which seats about 60 people, and I did Brecht there, and I did a sort
of Rudyard Kipling show there. And I guess the next show, I did a dreadful
musical, a Marxist musical called "Give the Gafferstein to Love You"(ph) with
a director who kept saying, `Barry, the second act just simply isn't Marxist
enough.' And that, of course, never even opened to the critics, but the next
show coming in was this other musical called "The Rocky Horror Show," and
originally I played Frank-N-Furter as though he was German. (With German
accent) I was Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and everything was very interesting and
stupid. And then one day I heard a woman on a bus saying, `Do you have house
in town or a house in the country?' And I thought, `Yes, he should sound like
the queen.'

GROSS: (Laughs) Oh, that's great.

Mr. CURRY: So he should sound like the queen. But that's how it happened,
and it just started in this tiny theater, you know, and it just took off like
a sort of rocket.

GROSS: Did you like the kind of cheap horror films that it in part parodied?

Mr. CURRY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, Richard's brilliance really was just,
you know--it was really like reaching up a hand into the Zeitgeist and just
grabbing, you know, '50s horror movies, Sandra Dee, comic books and '50s
rock 'n' roll and just hurling them all together with, you know, some fishnet
tights thrown in. And the fishnet tights really, you know, came from a
brilliant costume designer called Sue Blane, who I'd worked with before,
actually, in a wonderful theater in Scotland called the Glasgow Citizens'
Theater where we did a production of "The Maids" where I wore exactly
that corset.

GROSS: The Jean Genet part?

Mr. CURRY: Yeah, the Jean Genet play. I played Solange, and we bought
the corset for three pounds off a barrow in the market in Glasgow and wore it
back to Brunt(ph).

GROSS: That's funny. You'd be wearing for, like, this transgressive
playwright Genet...

Mr. CURRY: Well, absolutely.

GROSS: ...and then this kind of parody of everything, "Rocky Horror."

Mr. CURRY: Absolutely.

GROSS: Well, there's probably nothing that can get you into character quickly
like black bikini briefs, fishnet stockings, the garter belt, the corset, the
whole thing.

Mr. CURRY: Well, absolutely. And that was a fairly late development. I
mean, I had no idea it was going to be like that until, you know...

GROSS: You didn't when you accepted the part?

Mr. CURRY: No, no, no, no. No. I thought I'd be in a white lab coat, you
know. And, I mean, I thought the great gag about, you know, the way that we
all looked was--and I've always said this to anybody who's ever asked me about
playing Frank-N-Furter if they were playing it, you know. So just never think
about it as drag, because it's not. It's just what people wear in
Transylvania.

GROSS: (Laughs)

Mr. CURRY: You know, it's just what everybody wears in Transylvania, so just
get over it, you know. It's truck driver drag. It's not about going boop
boop be doop. It's just what they happen to wear.

GROSS: I think the thing I found most amazing about the whole phenomenon of
"Rocky Horror" was watching, like, the 12-year-olds outside the theater
parading around in their transvestite clothes, because they're all--there were
just, like, all these 12-year-olds outside the theater imitating you in your
get-up. And you had to just kind of ask yourself, what is going on here?
What do the 12-year-olds make of it? I mean, are they going through some kind
of gender thing, or do they just love the movie? Like, what is this about?

Mr. CURRY: I think it's all of the above. It's a kind of rite of passage
now, I think, and actually, first of all, it's a guaranteed weekend party to
which you can go with or without a date and probably find one if you don't
have one. And it's also, I think, a chance for people to try on a few roles
for size, you know, help them maybe figure out their own sexuality. I mean, I
think that's probably taking it a little deeper than it needs to go, but I
think it has had a useful purpose in that way. And I've certainly had some
very interesting and moving mail from people who've said, you know, `Thanks
for helping me figure out who I was,' you know, and that's very nice.

GROSS: Now your father was a chaplain in the British navy.

Mr. CURRY: Yes.

GROSS: What did your parents think of your role in "Rocky Horror"?

Mr. CURRY: Well, he, alas, was dead, because he died when I was 12.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. CURRY: So he wasn't even aware that I was an actor even. I think my
mother--who, you know, is really like one of those sort of "Monty Python"
ladies, you know, (Imitating his mother) `Oh, I can't imagine what's going
on,' you know, who always had a hat. And since my first job in the theater
was "Hair" and, you know...

GROSS: And you were probably naked in that, right?

Mr. CURRY: ...and I did appear naked in it, I think, you know, it was a
relief to her that I actually was wearing clothes of any kind in "The Rocky
Horror Show."

GROSS: At least you were covered by a corset and garters.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CURRY: She was happily unaware that part of the character, particularly
of Frank-N-Furter at his most gracious, was based on her. That was
actually...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: In what way?

Mr. CURRY: Well, it was sort of her telephone voice, you know. (Imitating
his mother) `Do you have any tattoos, Brad?' My sister, when she saw it, fell
on the floor and said, you know, `Does she know?' and I said, `No, she has
absolutely no idea, and please don't tell her.' She thought it was very, very
amusing and brought all her friends. So she was a pretty hip lady, my mother,
and she got it, I mean, you know, astonishingly. She loved it.

GROSS: That's really funny.

Mr. CURRY: She didn't like it as much as "The Pirates of Penzance," which I
did at Drury Lane, because the Queen Mother came to that and that, you know,
was the total seal of approval of my career.

GROSS: And I would bet that the Queen Mother did not go to "Hair" or "Rocky
Horror."

Mr. CURRY: I didn't think she went to either. Although, Princess Margaret
did come to "Rocky Horror" and had a wonderful time.

GROSS: Really?

Mr. CURRY: And so did prince--and Princess Diana actually requested to meet
me, because she was such a "Rocky Horror" fan.

GROSS: So did you ever meet Princess Diana?

Mr. CURRY: I did actually meet Princess Diana. I was doing a production of
"Love for Love," and it was taken to Vienna for British Week and we played at
the Burgtheater. And Prince Charles and Princess Diana were the guests of
honor, and--which was when she said that she very much wanted to meet me, and
so they sort of put me at the end of the receiving line. And Prince Charles
said, (Imitating Prince Charles) `I think I've seen you on television.
Haven't I seen you on television?' (In normal voice) I said, `Yes, I'm sure
you've seen me on television.' (Imitating Prince Charles) `Yes, I'd thought
I'd seen you on television.'

(In normal voice) But Diana said, `You were in "The Rocky Horror Show."' And
I said, `Yes, ma'am, I was. I was, but I'm sure that you haven't seen it.'
She said, `Oh, yes. It quite completed my education.'

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CURRY: She's a very funny girl, and a very beautiful one and sort of
the--a very wicked smile came with that sentence. She was great fun, and the
world is poorer without her.

BIANCULLI: Tim Curry speaking with Terry Gross. He's nominated for a Tony
for his role as King Arthur in the Monty Pyton Broadway musical "Spamalot."
We'll hear more with Tim Curry in the second half of the show. I'm David
Bianculli and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of "Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show")

Mr. CURRY: (As Dr. Frank-N-Furter) (Singing) How d'you do, I see you've met
my faithful handyman. He's just a little brought down because when you
knocked, he thought you were the candy man. Don't get strung out by the way I
look. Don't judge a book by its cover. I'm not much of a man by the light of
day, but by night I'm one hell of a lover. I'm just a sweet transvestite from
Transexual, Transylvania. Let me show you around, maybe play you a sound.
You look like you're both pretty groovy. Or if you want something visual,
that's not too abysmal, we could take in an old Steve Reeves movie.

Mr. BOSTWICK: (As Brad Majors) I'm glad we caught you at home. Could we use
your phone? We're both in a bit of a hurry.

Ms. SARANDON: (As Janet Weiss) Right.

Mr. BOSTWICK: (As Brad Majors) We'll just say where we are then go back to
the car. We don't want to be any worry.

Mr. CURRY: (As Dr. Frank-N-Furter) (Singing) Well, you got caught with a
flat, well, how about that. Well, babies, don't you panic. By the light...

(Announcements)

(Soundbite from "Spamalot")

Chorus: (Singing in unison) Camelot, ...(unintelligible) Camelot.

BIANCULLI: Coming up, we continue our conversation with Tim Curry and hear
from another star of "Spamalot," Hank Azaria. Also, David Edelstein reviews
"Cinderella Man."

(Soundbite of "Spamalot")

Cast Members: (Singing in unison) We're knights of the round table, we dance
whenever able. We do routines, and chorus scenes, the footwork is with cable.
We dine well here in Camelot. We eat ham and jam and Spam a lot. We're
knights of the round table. Our shows are for-mid-able. The many times we're
given rhymes, that are quite un-sing-able. We're opramadic Camelot. We
sing from the lie of Hamalot!

(Soundbite of dancing and music)

BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

Tim Curry became famous for his role in a cult classic, playing Dr.
Frank-N-Furter in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Now, 30 years later, he's
up for a Tony for his role in another, playing King Arthur in the "Monty
Pyton" Broadway musical "Spamalot." Let's get back to Terry's interview with
Curry, recorded in March, just before "Spamalot" opened.

GROSS: Now you grew up in England. Your father was a chaplain in the navy.

Mr. CURRY: Yeah.

GROSS: Were you religious when you were growing up?

Mr. CURRY: Rather not, as preachers' kids tend not to be, you know. I mean,
my father was pretty chill about all of that. I mean, he wasn't--Methodism in
England is a lot more relaxed than it is in the States. And it's not as
forbidding or as chilly. And he was a very liberal and a very funny man. But
you know, I did willy-nilly show up, you know, to Sunday school morning and
afternoon and went to hear him preach when he was onshore, because he was
quite often at sea. And I spent my childhood in sort of various sort of naval
bases until--he died when I was quite young, when I was 12, and we moved to
south London and I went to boarding school.

But it--and I actually went to a school that was founded by John Wesley, I
mean, who founded Methodism and, you know, the school, I think, started in
1784 or something and was founded for the sons of Methodist ministers. So I
went to a fairly kind of churchy school, which had also turned out to be very
kind of relaxed and liberal, and I was a cheerful agnostic, really, you know,
from then on.

GROSS: Still a cheerful agnostic?

Mr. CURRY: Still a cheerful agnostic.

GROSS: Did you have to go to church, and did you sing a lot in church?

Mr. CURRY: Well, that was the great bonus, because the Methodist Church has a
remarkable body of hymns, largely--a great number of them by Charles Wesley.
And so I sang in church from about--I don't know--six or seven, and I was--you
know, I was a real boy soprano for--you know, until my voice changed.

GROSS: It changed a lot, didn't it?

Mr. CURRY: It did change quite a whole lot. I was very lucky because there
was--I had a great music teacher who sent away to Westminster Choral School
for exercises when my voice started breaking because, you know, so often
people with wonderful soprano voices end up with no mature singing voices at
all. And I managed to make that transition, happily.

And it's funny. When I was doing--I don't know whether this is interesting.
When we were doing "Pirates of Penzance" and I had my first singing lessons,
really, the lady who was doing them said, you know, `We must work on your
falsetto and get your range up.' And I said, `I don't have a falsetto,' and
she said, `Oh, nonsense. Everyone has a falsetto.' And I said, `No, I really
don't.' And she made me find one. And she suddenly had this revelation one
day and she said, `Were you a boy soprano?' and I said, `Yes, I was.' And she
says, `Hmm. You're in mourning for that sound, aren't you?' And I realized
that I was. I mean, it is of great sadness not to be able to make that
extraordinary pure sound that you do make as a boy soprano. And I guess I
just...

GROSS: That's actually really interesting. Yeah.

Mr. CURRY: It is. It's fascinating, isn't it? I think I just, you know, cut
off that alley, as it were.

GROSS: But you kept singing, didn't you?

Mr. CURRY: I kept singing, yes. Absolutely.

GROSS: So did you go to, like, the loud, gruff rock band kind of singing
afterwards?

Mr. CURRY: Well, no, actually. I mean, you know, at 17 or 18, I was singing
lieder and you know, I was singing sort of classical music, really.

GROSS: Oh.

Mr. CURRY: But then I guess, you know, The Beatles happened, and it was all
over.

GROSS: So what kind...

Mr. CURRY: That and Marlboro, you know.

GROSS: Marlboro cigarettes? Oh.

Mr. CURRY: It's funny, because I actually--yes. I actually quit smoking a
year ago, and it was fascinating because within three weeks, my voice went
back up a tone and a half, and I remembered--and I heard the voice that I
remembered myself singing in when I was 19 or 20.

GROSS: Huh.

Mr. CURRY: It's very odd and it's a great warning to anyone to stay away
from the demon tobacco, stupid drug that it is.

GROSS: Now I've read that you not only love Billie Holiday, but that you do
Billie Holiday. And I wasn't sure whether that meant that you sing a lot of
songs associated with her, or whether you can do a good Billie Holiday
impression.

Mr. CURRY: Well, both, I hope. I don't know. I did a film for television in
England called "Blue Money," where I played, you know, an impressionist, and I
did a few singers, including Billie Holiday. Who else did I do? I did Ray
Charles and I did Elvis and--I don't know. Yes, I do do Billie Holiday.
Whether you would want to hear it now, I sort of doubt.

GROSS: Well, you'd be wrong, because I'd love to hear it, if you were game.

Mr. CURRY: Oh, OK. (Singing as Billie Holiday) Them that got shall give them
that's not shall live, so the Bible says. It still is known Mama may have,
Papa may have, but God bless the child that's got his own.

(In normal voice) Oh, it's much too early in the morning for this.

GROSS: Did her singing influence you a lot, even though it's...

Mr. CURRY: Oh, hugely.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CURRY: I didn't listen to anybody else for about two years when I was 18.
I was just, you know, this awful depressive teen-ager listening to Billie
Holiday and wondering, you know, which gloomy Sunday I was going to throw
myself under a car.

GROSS: Oh, yeah.

Mr. CURRY: You know how it is.

GROSS: Which period were you mostly listening to of her?

Mr. CURRY: Mostly the really early stuff.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CURRY: I find the latest stuff very...

GROSS: Because you were singing in the later voice.

Mr. CURRY: ...very unhappy.

GROSS: Right.

Mr. CURRY: Yeah.

GROSS: That's the voice you were just doing there.

Mr. CURRY: Well, I was singing the later voice because, of course, I'm
singing eight times a week and...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. CURRY: ...I don't quite have the control over my voice that I do.
Really, it doesn't actually sort of start to warm up until evening. It's
weird when you do a musical, because you sing so hard and so regularly that
your voice kind of goes into shock until it actually has to be produced for
that evening.

GROSS: Did you always know that you had that ability to mimic?

Mr. CURRY: Yes, I think you know you have it or you don't. Hank Azaria, who
is...

GROSS: Hank Azaria.

Mr. CURRY: ...in this show, is an absolutely dazzling mimic; can do anybody.
You sort of have an ear or you don't, I think. And I think, you know, a lot
of it has to do with amusing other children when you're young and, you know,
getting out of being hit.

GROSS: Right. Was that effective for you?

Mr. CURRY: I think it's effective for all childhood comedians. I think it's,
you know, the root of a great deal of comedy.

GROSS: Well, Tim Curry, I wish you really good luck with "Spamalot." Thank
you so much for talking with us.

Mr. CURRY: Thank you very much, indeed. My pleasure.

BIANCULLI: Tim Curry, speaking with Terry Gross in March. He's nominated for
a Tony for best performance by a leading actor in a musical for his role in
"Spamalot." The ceremony is Sunday night.

Coming up...

(Soundbite of "Spamalot")

Chorus: (Singing in unison) His name is Lancelot. And in tight pants a lot.
He likes to dance a lot. You know you do.

Mr. HANK AZARIA: (As Sir Lancelot) I do?

Chorus: (Singing in unison) ...(Unintelligible) a lot and try to
(unintelligible). find out who's really you. His name is Lancelot. And in
tight pants a lot. He like to dance a lot.

BIANCULLI: We'll hear an interview with Hank Azaria, now starring as Sir
Lancelot, among other roles, in Monty Python's "Spamalot."

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Hank Azaria talks about his career on TV and movies
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

We just heard from Tim Curry, who's up for a Tony as best actor in a musical
for his role in "Spamalot." He'll face tough competition from Hank Azaria,
who's up for best actor in a musical for his role in "Spamalot." They account
for two of "Spamalot's" 14 Tony nominations.

Azaria has four roles in "Spamalot" including Sir Lancelot and Tim the
Enchanter. He's no stranger to playing multiple parts. On "The Simpsons" he
does the voices of Moe the bartender, Chief Wiggum, Apu and more. He's also
been seen on the big screen, including roles in "Shattered Glass,"
"Dodgeball," "Mystery Men" and "The Birdcage."

Terry Gross spoke with Azaria late last year.

TERRY GROSS, host:

How did you get to be on "The Simpsons"? And two of the voices you do are
Moe, the bartender, and Apu who runs the convenience store, the Kwik-E-Mart.

Mr. HANK AZARIA: (As Moe) Yes, that's correct. Moe was the first voice I
did. There's a little Moe for you there. (As Apu) And Apu is actually the
third voice that I did.

And I was 22 years old. This was a long time ago. I'm 40 now. I was 22
years old and I hadn't worked much. There was an original voice of Moe, the
bartender, that I guess they weren't too happy with, wanted to replace, and I
had done one other voiceover at the time for a failed FOX kind of Roger
Rabbit-type pilot where I played the voice of this animated dog. And I guess
they'd known me from that so they called which is kind of like not an open
call but there was a lot of people there. And I went in. There was Matt
Groening and a guy named Sam Simon who created the show and I did this voice
and I was doing the play at the time in LA where I was playing a drug dealer
and I was sort of doing a bad Al Pacino impression in the play from "Dog Day
Afternoon." I was sort of talking like this, like kind of Al kind of sounded
in "Dog Day Afternoon." And I said, `Well, what about that voice?' They're,
like, `Well, we want Moe to be gravelly.' (As Moe) So I just made that voice
gravelly and it sounded like that.

And they were just, like, `Listen, that's great. Can you come record that
right now?' literally on the spot and I was, like, `Yeah, sure,' and I walked
over with them on the FOX lot and recorded it. I had no idea. I hadn't read
a script. I didn't--I just recorded these lines that they needed and left and
frankly thought that was the last I'd hear of it and they kept calling me back
week after week. The next week I did Wiggum (as Wiggum) Chief Wiggum, chief
of police talks like this.

And then I did Apu, and then after about midway through the second season,
they made me a--well, they gave me a contract and made me a regular. By that
point, I was doing, like, five or 10 voices.

GROSS: Did you know you could do voices? I know you do that voice on that
animated series that you mentioned, but had you done a lot of work like that
before?

Mr. AZARIA: No, I hadn't done work like that before, but I certainly--my
friends refer to me as the freakish mimic...

GROSS: What does that mean?

Mr. AZARIA: It means I can mimic a lot of people's voices almost exactly
right away and it is a little bit freakish and I've always been able to do it
since I was a child, you know, to the point where I thought everybody--you
know, when you're five, you think everybody can do it. You don't realize it's
a special talent. And it's just fortunate for me that I found, you know, the
ultimate great outlet for that particular weird skill which is like a job like
"The Simpsons" where I must have done, like, 50 voices on that show by now in
the 16 years I've been doing it.

GROSS: How did you come up with the voice of Apu? And he's an Indian in
America who runs the Kwik-E-Mart.

Mr. AZARIA: (As Apu) Correct. He really is just an Indian guy, I mean, in
Los Angeles. Pretty much every 7-Eleven or convenience store worker is either
Indian or Pakistani or from this area. And when I first moved to LA, these
were the people I really interacted with mostly because I didn't know anybody.
I would talk to these guys.

He's also kind of loosely based on Peter Sellers' character from the film "The
Party." I don't know if you know that but Peter Sellers in that movie plays a
character named Hrundi V. Bakshi and he's a very open, sweet, kind, innocent
guy. So sort of Apu's personality is kind of based on that character.

GROSS: Now you've had to sing as Apu?

Mr. AZARIA: (As Apu) I have had to sing as Apu. It's true.

GROSS: Is it hard to sing in character?

Mr. AZARIA: It's much easier for me to sing in character. It's much more
difficult for me to sing in my own voice. It's much easier for me to sing as
Wiggum or as Apu or even as Moe.

GROSS: Why is that?

Mr. AZARIA: I think I'm just more comfortable with, you know, the vocal
mask. (As Wiggum) You know, Chief Wiggum is like this, (singing) it's sort of
easier to sing like this.

Than it is to--I'm not embarrassed to do that, but I'd be embarrassed to do
the same thing in my own singing voice. It's weird.

GROSS: Is it any easier to do voices when you're doing it just as the
soundtrack for animation? Is it harder to do it when your body is there and
your body doesn't necessarily fit the voice?

Mr. AZARIA: No. Yes and no, I guess. I find that--you know, 'cause I'm so
vocally orientated that whenever I have to do a role in a movie or on TV that
it does have a very thick accent or some strange vocal quality. The body
tends to follow naturally from the voice you get. You know, when I did "The
Birdcage" and I played (as Guatemalan gay guy) a Guatemalan gay guy who talked
like this, your body tends to follow the way that voice is.

It's hard to, like, carry yourself in a very macho way when you're speaking
like that.

GROSS: Right. Yeah. Well, yeah, you played the Guatemalan housemaid in "The
Birdcage" and who did you base the character on?

Mr. AZARIA: That was--I just on the one hand just tried to get a Guatemalan
accent as authentically as I could and then sort of find a way to be as
feminine as I could and I sort of had it narrowed down to two voices, one that
was a little tougher than that and then I sort of presented the voice to a
friend of mine who is actually a very beautiful drag queen in LA and he sort
of selected the more fruity voice. He said--you know, I wanted to make sure
it was authentic. I wanted to make sure it wasn't too over the top and he
said I should go with that one. And then I realized, though, after about two,
three weeks of working on it that it really kind of sounded exactly like my
grandmother which sort of--it really did. My grandmother--she's passed away
but I'm Sephardic Jewish which is Spanish Jews and she spoke this Spanish
dialect, you know, (as grandmother) and she was very sweet and loving and
talked kind of like this.

And then sort of realizing that it sounded like her also gave me a good piece
of the character 'cause she was so maternal and mothering and loving that it
was very--if I sort of had her mentality, it was easy to be kind of feminine
thinking that I was just kind of my grandma.

GROSS: Can you tell us something about your childhood, where you grew up,
what your parents did for a living when you were young?

Mr. AZARIA: I grew up in Forest Hills, New York, in Queens. My father is
retired now but he worked in a garment center. He had a couple--at different
times, he had different dress manufacturing businesses. And my mother is a
housewife and raised three kids, me and two sisters. I had two older sisters.
My mother really--she actually--they both loved show business, my parents,
even though they weren't in it. They're tremendous aficionados of theater and
opera and film and TV. They love everything and they exposed me to a lot
growing which is what I guess what gave me some of the bug to do it. My
mother actually was a publicist at Columbia Pictures in New York for a couple
of years before she married my father. She's bilingual. She speaks Spanish,
so she worked for their Latin country foreign distribution. She worked for
publicity with South America and all the Spanish-speaking countries, and she
loved it and, you know, so I grew up really--we were always very, very aware
of favorite actors and favorite movies and TV shows. And to this day, they
see every film that comes out. They live in Miami now, you know, but they
must see three, four films a week, and they know every television show.

GROSS: So what was your first real break acting?

Mr. AZARIA: You know, I've had so many little breaks. I've had such a
gradual career. I've skipped no steps. I mean...

GROSS: How about commercials? Did you skip that step?

Mr. AZARIA: No, not at all. I--my first job was a commercial. When I was 17
years old, the first audition I ever went on I got. It was a commercial for,
like, Italian television. Once I got "The Simpsons" fairly steadily, I
stopped going out on commercial auditions which seemed crazy at the time
'cause I needed the money, but I was making just enough from "The Simpsons" to
live and I didn't--if--I found it so demoralizing, I just couldn't deal with
it anymore. I used to always sound sarcastic when I read commercial copy.
I'd be, like, `Listen, this product is really great.' And they'd be, like,
`Can you say that again? You sounded sarcastic.' I was, like, `Yeah, I can't
help seem to help it.'

GROSS: Right.

Mr. AZARIA: I remember one day--they were doing some ad campaign for Jell-O
where they had this computer-generated animated character called Jell-O Man
that was some Gelatin O(ph) that lived in your refrigerator...

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. AZARIA: ...and they were looking for the voice of Jell-O Man. And, you
know, I'm reading this thing. I'm, like, `Well, he seems like a vagrant. I
mean, he's living in your refrigerator.' (As Jell-O Man) So I did some kind of
voice like this or something, like, `Hey, I'm Jell-O Man. I'm here in your
fridge.'

And, you know, I did the take and this women went, `You know, we do want to
Jell-O Man to have a bit of an edge, but the children should also like him.
He's likeable. He's likeable. He's relatable. So, you know, do it again
and, you know, Jell-O Man's nice. He's a nice guy. You want him there.' And
I was listening to this direction and I realized this was going to be the last
moment of my commercial voiceover career. I really did. I realized I
can't--officially, I can't take it anymore and I just said to this woman, `You
know that Jell-O Man's not real, don't you?' and I left and that was it for
me.

BIANCULLI: Hank Azaria speaking with Terry Gross. He's up for a Tony for his
role in the "Monty Python" Broadway musical "Spamalot." The Tony Awards are
televised live this Sunday.

(Soundbite of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life")

Mr. AZARIA: (Singing) Always look on the bright side of life. Always look
on the bright side of life. Always look on the bright side of life. Side of
life. Side of life.

BIANCULLI: Coming up, David Edelstein reviews "Cinderella Man." This is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: New film starring Russell Crowe, "Cinderella Man"
DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The fighter James J. Braddock had a promising career in the 1920s, but broke
his dominant hand in three places and wound up on relief during the
Depression. The story of his fall and his amazing comeback in the mid-1930s
is the subject of "Cinderella Man," which reunites director Ron Howard with
the star of "A Beautiful Mind," Russell Crowe. Film critic David Edelstein
has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:

Yikes! I can't believe I fell for the schmaltzy "Cinderella Man." It helped
that it's schmaltz with a vein of foie gras. It's directed by Ron Howard and
co-written by a Akiva Goldsman, the team that brought us "A Beautiful Mind."
That movie distorted the facts of its subject's life with tidy borders between
fantasy and reality and a recurring cast of imaginary friends. But it was
structured so ingeniously, and Russell Crowe was so real, that it would have
taken a stronger guy than me to keep the tears from welling up.

"Cinderella Man" is even more manipulative. It's a three-hanky weeper. You
need two for your eyes and one to stanch your sympathetic nosebleed. It's the
story of the loveable hangdog boxer and family man Jim Braddock and his mousey
but rock-hard-when-it-matters wife, Mae. As in life, his family goes from
comfort in the '20s, when Braddock is winning, to near bottom at the peak of
the Depression. Braddock is washed up as a fighter; he can't get even
day-labor jobs. His kids are sick and then their electricity gets turned off.
Down, down, down; it's laid on so thick, it should be laughed off the screen.

But Crowe is such a riveting actor. His physique and posture and rhythms are
different every time. His Braddock is tender with a lopsided grin, appraising
eyes and a head with a slight bobble, from dodging punches maybe, but also
suggestive of a haymaker's jig. They way he stylizes the performance lightens
the bathos.

Mae, played by Renee Zellweger, is frightened by Braddock's fighting. She
thinks, along with a lot of other people, that the blow-hard heavyweight
champ, Max Baer, will kill him in the ring in the title bout, as Baer killed
two other opponents.

(Soundbite of "Cinderella Man")

Ms. RENEE ZELLWEGER: (As Mae Braddock) It's not that I'm not grateful for
all that I have, or proud. I am. I'm so proud of you. But we got off easy
when you broke that hand. We're back to even now.

Mr. RUSSELL CROWE: (As Jim Braddock) Right. And nine months from now, we're
back in the same boat.

Ms. ZELLWEGER: (As Mae Braddock) Baby, please, we just don't have anything
left to risk.

Mr. CROWE: (As Jim Braddock) Mae. Mae. There's still some juice in these
legs and I can still take a few. Baby, please, just let me take him in the
ring. At least I know who's hitting me.

EDELSTEIN: Zellweger isn't as imaginative as Crowe. She has that twittery
voice, a prim mouth and eyes so squinched they almost vanish into her dumpling
cheeks. But I bought her love and dread. She's not a knockout, but she wins
on points.

As Braddock's manager, Joe Gould, Paul Giamatti is a knockout, with a
wonderful fast attack that lets him weave in and out of Crowe's more delicate
cadences. It's a great match-up and both actors triumph.

This Depression-era fable has the plush design that only an A-list cast and
director can justify. But once you get past the lack of grit in Howard's
technique, and all the zillion-dollar antique cars, you're swept along by the
emotions. "Cinderella Man" brings home the scariness of the Depression. You
see the day laborers begging for work and feel the constant nagging fear, not
what FDR called `fear itself,' but the literal shortage of milk for the kids.

After his miracle comeback--and by the way, "Cinderella Man" was a moniker
actually bestowed on him by Damon Runyon--Braddock tells reporters, `I'm
fighting for milk.' That's a man acting on an instinct more primal than the
one to clobber others.

The movie has a weird, anti-welfare tinge, though. The real Braddock was
ashamed of accepting charity and the movie seems to endorse his view.
Desperate to reclaim his kids from better-off relatives, Braddock lines up for
government relief, and the woman at the window looks sickened and says, `I
never thought I'd see you here, Jim.' Why does she feel contempt for the
people she gives aid to in the middle of the Great Depression?

Braddock's Communist organizer friend is a doomed figure. While Braddock
regards any attempt to change the system as, quote, "punching stuff you can't
see," he's not passive in the ring, though, and the fights clinch the movie.
They're spectacular. No, they're not "Raging Bull," they're less fancy and
more emotional. You see them from Braddock's point of view, with white
flashes of pain, and you cringe for his safety. He seems so breakable, that
when he comes up with the punches that flatten his opponents, you're stunned,
even if you already know his story.

At clobbering an audience, Ron Howard is peerless, and yet his clobbering
feels wholesome. Just like good dad Braddock, Howard could be directing for
milk.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate.

(Credits)

BIANCULLI: For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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