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Thursday, September 30,2010

‘It’s a profession that rotates in your brain’

Uncensored talk from Hollywood legend Tony Curtis

by Lawrence Cosentino

The diction of a thug, the soul of a poet and a complete
lack of inhibition were three of the most charming things about actor Tony
Curtis, who died Thursday. Back in 2002, Curtis came to East Lansing to perform
in a musical version of his classic film, “Some Like it Hot.” The extrovert’s
extrovert, Curtis said way more in a phone interview than we could fit into the story at the time,
but now, with his passing Thursday at 85, it seems like a good time to uncork some
heady Hollywood hooch.


On positive notices for the stage version of “Some Like it
Hot”:


It's a little bit of a pleasure to be getting, heh heh heh,
accolations now. It is hard work,
but it's a profession unto itself. It's unique and different. It's a profession
that only rotates in your brain. It's your attitude, and your intensity, that
makes it. It's not acting as much as it is being.


On his looks:


A woman wrote in the paper the other day, "Tony Curtis —
Head-Turning Handsome." It's like an Indian name. I like that.


On starting out in Hollywood:


I didn’t let anything stand in my way, man. I knew I wanted
to be an actor. I knew I had no training whatsoever, and I was gonna learn in
the movies. Jack Lemmon, my dear friend, always was amazed by me. He was in New
York, worked television for a couple of years, got an idea what that work is
like. [imitates Lemmon] ‘But you, you just showed up in the studio.’


On competing with “serious” actors in major movies:


These guys were not from New York City, and I had to fight
that New York stamp of gangsterism — that New York accent that was almost
Yiddish and almost English. All these other guys spoke like Hamlet. I brought
to my parts a certain imperfect background. I sensed it when I first got into
movies.


On taking unorthodox roles, like the prisoner chained to
Sidney Poitier in the 1957 drama “The Defiant Ones”:


That is the purpose of the exercise. To not forget, and
allow yourself to just smoothly walk through it all. We all have a little edge
to ourselves. In a comedy, in a drama, in a sci-fi movie, in a werewolf movie,
everybody should have a little edge. There should be a little something that
makes everybody nervous, either by your looks, your attitude.


On playing the on-the-make hustler in "Sweet Smell of
Success":


A lot of guys would see that movie and say, 'I know what
he's going through. I don't want to hang around here and break my ass doing
this, I want to go and do bigger and better things in my life.’ That's the
drive that drives us all. That's why we like actors so much -- because they
play the parts we would like to be.


On playing with Laurence Olivier and Kirk Douglas in "Spartacus":


Now, I don't know how the fuck that happened — excuse my
language. All of the sudden I'm in these excellent scenes, playing these
scenes, and nobody's stopping me. Hah!


On the bath scene with Olivier in "Spartacus":


It was alluding to two men making love, alluding to
homosexuality, which everybody seemed to be shy of, and run away from, you
know? And now, it's not so anymore. But what's to run away from? What is this
big bullshit we make out of these — these madnesses? There's nothing wrong,
it's the human condition. It's been going on ever since the since the first
time men looked at each other. Why turn it into such a peculiar kind of
alienation? We live in an ignorant world where you hate someone because he
wears a yarmulke, or you hate somebody because they eat potatoes, or you hate
somebody because of their color, or hate somebody because she's got big knockers
and you don't. The combinations are amazing, just amazing.


On doing the musical “Some Like it Hot”:


I'm 77, I skip around in the show, I sing and dance, I roll
on my belly like a reptile. And I think it's infectious. A lot of guys come up
to me, they look twenty years older than me, and they say 'Gee whiz, when I
grow up, I want to be you.' I said, 'Well, you better start doing it now.' Oh,
it's too funny.


On why the 1959 film "Some Like it Hot" holds up:


There's nothing to hold up. It's so human, and so amusing at
any time in our lives. Some of those early Chaplin films were so human, you
can't date them. You can't say that people were different then. That's not so.


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