LOS ANGELES | When producers were thinking about remaking “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” they knew whoever they put in the leading role would be compared to Tim Curry.
“You lose if you’re comparing to Tim Curry,” says producer Lou Adler. So, he and others put out a blanket call for performers who could sing, dance, move, not someone who could duplicate his work.
Enter: Laverne Cox, the transgender star of “Orange is the New Black.” She was just what they were looking for – “the right actor who could come in here and breathe life and fun into this,” says director Kenny Ortega.
A fan of the original – and Curry – Cox first saw the film when she was in college. “I thought, ‘What is this?’ It felt like me. I had started transitioning and I was in this androgynous phase. I had a shaved head and I wore makeup every day to ballet class.” Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s song, “Don’t Dream It, Be It,” “became a personal mantra.”
Because Curry was also cast in the remake – he’s the film’s narrator – Cox had the opportunity to talk shop.
“She was very cool,” Curry says of their first meeting. “She allowed me to watch rehearsals.”
Curry loved Cox’s work in the floor show (“it was really rather wonderful”) and gave his approval.
That meant a lot to the actress because “I love him so much.”
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To make sure the good doctors were different, Cox quizzed Adler about the production’s inspirations. He pointed her toward ‘50s rock and roll and “old Hollywood divas. Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis. We also looked at Tina Turner, David Bowie and Grace Jones. It was a hodgepodge of a lot of influences.”
Dancers – who Cox calls the “Transylvanians” – gave her plenty of energy to withstand hours of dancing.
“There were many days I was so tired I didn’t know how I was going to do it,” she says. “They had so much energy and so much commitment, it was just magic.”
Curry says the new edition should inspire younger viewers to check out the original. Recently celebrating its 40th anniversary, the first film took eight weeks to shoot, became a cult hit and gave birth to midnight showings that continue to this day.
“I had no idea what was going to happen with the film,” Curry says. “The play was a big deal, but whoever knows with a movie?”
Now in a wheelchair after suffering a stroke more than three years ago, the Emmy-winning actor thought producers wanted him to play Dr. Scott, the character who’s already in a wheelchair. “They thought the narrator was a better fit and I enjoyed it quite a lot.”
While on the set, Curry says, waves of déjà vu swept over him. The film’s themes – give yourself over to absolute pleasure, among them – are still relevant. The songs, too, are infectious.
Although “Rocky Horror” became a calling card for Curry, it wasn’t the only stellar credit on his resume. The 70-year-old played Mozart in the original company of “Amadeus,” starred in “Annie” on film and, most recently, endeared himself to audiences as an award-winning voice-over artist.
As permanent as “Rocky Horror” is on his resume, “I’ve only seen one production of it in New York, with Terrence Mann, who was very, very good.”
Like Hamlet, he says, the character is meant to be played by others. “I don’t need it again. I really don’t. Been there, done that. The T-shirt is worn out.”