Curtis Armstrong is the man that gave, and continues to give, life and character to most of your favourite TV shows and movies. From the nose-picking pothead Booger in "Revenge of the Nerds" to the evil angel Metatron in "Supernatural," Armstrong has portrayed many iconic characters that have become an irreplaceable cult phenomenon.
Soon, the fans can get an insider's perspective into these characters and possibly even learn about how Armstrong created unique backstories for them. His memoir titled "A Nerd's Progress," which is expected to be released in 2017, will cover the veteran actor's professional journey and feature a detailed look into his first film "Risky Business."
Armstrong spoke to International Business Times, India, regarding "A Nerd's Progress" and some of his favourite works, despite his busy schedule. Here are the edited excerpts from the interview:
International Business Times, India: You have been a part of many iconic projects and have portrayed many memorable characters. If you had to choose a few favourite characters what would they be?
Curtis Armstrong: It is difficult to answer because one of the things I have been very lucky with is that I started in the theatre and then went into doing films, and then television. Some of my favourite roles have been on stage and no one has really seen it.
And then, there are roles like Booger from "Revenge of the Nerds," which on the face of it wouldn't seem like anybody's favourite role because he's kind of revolting. But for me, he is very different from who I am as a person. I'll wind up looking back on it with a lot of pride.
The part that I played in "Moonlighting," the TV series with Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd, was also a wonderful one. It [Herbert] was a character that evolved over a period of years and they always wrote wonderful things for that character. So, that was another big one for me.
Also, the role of Ahmet Ertegun, the head of Atlantic Records, from movie "Ray." That was a favourite because that was a dramatic role, and it's one that to this day, most people don't realise it's me in the film, because I look so different.
And the last one would be Metatron, the character from "Supernatural." You know, to play a part like that, that's so well-crafted... He's incredibly evil and yet, intelligent and funny and articulate. Those are roles that usually go to English actors. And I am very fortunate to be have played that one.
IBT: How do you prepare for each role and ensure that not one of them is similar to the other ones you have played?
Armstrong: You have to understand that the difference in time between doing, say, Booger and Metatron is about 35, 40 years. So, I have used different ways to prepare for them. For example, I approached Booger very much like a stage performance, in that I wrote out a biography of the character. It seems ridiculous... I mean, he is a guy that belches and picks his nose. But that was the method that I used in the theatre and it was early in my career.
But when it comes to Metatron, it's completely different things. For Booger, there was a beginning, middle and an end in the movie. So, I had to just keep a track of who he was and why was he motivated to do what he did; which was all in my own head. With Metatron I never knew what my character was. I was doing Metatron blind because they never told me who he was. It wasn't until the third episode that I realised he was evil... that he was going to be supremely evil. All I could do with Metatron was to keep him real, which is what I try to do with all my characters. I try to keep it as real and grounded as I can.
IBT: Are you more of an improv actor or someone that likes to stick to the script?
Armstrong: I am much more a person that sticks to the script. I do some improvisation, but I'm not an improvisational actor really, in a way that a lot of people now are. This, I think, comes out of the difference between a classical training, which is what I had, and the emergence of stand-up and improvisational comedy, which in the last 20 years has been really the definition of comedy.
I have done a few jobs... like "New Girl." They have some improvisation on that show. So, once you get the written scene, Zooey [Deschanel] and I will redo it in different ways. Especially early on, during my tenure on that show, we could just go on and on, which was a lot of fun.
So, it's something I can do if I'm forced to, but in general I prefer sticking to the script. I'm a script person.
IBT: Will you be returning to "New Girl" soon?
Armstrong: You know, they never tell me. This is true for both "New Girl" and "Supernatural," because I am not a regular on either show. So, what happens is I'll be off doing something else, and then, one or the other will call and say can you come in and do an episode. If I can, then I do... believe it or not, after four years or so, I think there has only been one conflict the whole time.
IBT: Did you not land the roles on both "Supernatural" and "New Girl" on the same day?
Amstrong: I couldn't believe it. In fact, because I'm writing this book [A Nerd's Progress], I'm doing all the research for it. I've been trying desperately to figure out what that date was. I mean, it's not common for me to have two auditions in one day anyway... that's pretty rare. The idea that I went in, in the morning to read for "Supernatural" and in the afternoon auditioned for "New Girl," and got both of them at the same time, is just astonishing to me. There was something going in the stars or something for that to happen. And then these shows are running concurrently opposite each other in the US. I mean, just it is very peculiar.
IBT: When you started thinking of acting as a serious career option, what kind of an actor did you want to become?
Armstrong: By the time I was in High School I had committed myself to it personally; that acting is what I wanted to be. But I didn't want to be in movies and I didn't want to be in Television. I wanted to be a stage actor... that was my dream. I wanted to train in London, but I couldn't get into any of the schools there. However, there was an academy near Michigan, which had been founded by English teachers. So that was where I got the English classical training. For probably the first eight years or so after leaving the academy, all I did was stage work.
It wasn't until 1983 that I did my first movie, "Risky Business." And when I did that, I thought it was a fluke. And that became the basis of what the book is about. Because I wound up keeping a journal every day, I was on "Risky Business," as I thought at the time that I would never have another movie. And I still have that journal today and once I started thinking about writing a memoir, that journal came in very handy.
I have all of these things, still. That's the amazing thing. I never set out with the idea that I was going to write a memoir. I kept all this stuff — journals, diaries, documents, letters, pictures... everything going back to the very beginning of my career. I'd kept them all and carried them in this huge trunk around the country for 40 years. There must've been a reason for me to do it. Now that I have committed to writing this book, I just open this thing up and all this history comes pouring out. I clearly had, somewhere in the back of mind, thought that I would write a book.
IBT: What was it that propelled the idea of writing a book?
Armstrong: I think what happened was, my publicist Laura Ackerman had read some blog entries that I had been doing over the years about my career. You know, memories of various things I'd done. And it's she who put me in touch with a literary agent in New York. And, he fortunately was young... he was the right age.. he'd grown up with my movies. He read these pieces and we had a couple of conversations on the phone. He said he wanted to represent me and thought I should work it. It just worked out that way. I've been working on it very hard since last summer. I hope to have it completed by June.
IBT: Getting back to "Supernatural" for a bit, what do you think Metatron is up to now? Is he still chasing the dream of living a human life, still earning a pitiable salary?
Armstrong: He seems to have found a niche for himself... even if that's kind of disgraceful. But I guess that shouldn't surprise us. Obviously Castiel could have killed him, and I found it interesting that he didn't. So Metatron is still live, but I cannot say that he is in an admirable place. He doesn't have any power, and he is living on scarps... doing this video production stuff for tragedies.
As far as whether I think he still has in mind to rule heaven... unless something changes, I don't see how he would retrieve that power that would allow him to have that. Castiel has made him human again and so I don't know that is anywhere for him to go other than to struggle from day to day like a lot of people, which I guess is a great comeuppance story really.
Having been so brutal and so uncaring to wind up having to suffer the difficulties of normal people must be really difficult for him.
IBT: Have you been following the show after you left?
Armstrong: I do try to keep up with the show. Although I don't know whether I'm going back at all, at this point, I like to have an idea about what is happening in the mythology, especially given where they are going this season with Amara and seeing how that's playing out... How it's affecting the Winchesters and Castiel. I did fall pretty deeply in love with Rowena, though. I thought she's just wonderful. I loved that character.
IBT: Congrats on your new show "Highston" getting picked by Amazon. Could you tell a bit about the show and your character uncle Billy?
Armstrong: At 62, I've sort of stopped expecting to get treats like that in my career anymore. It's a very good people... Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris [Little Miss Sunshine] are directors and the writer is Bob Nelson [Bob Nelson]... So it's a set of very good people, a wonderful cast. Really funny, very odd, very peculiar script... and it happened right in the middle of everything I'm doing.
Actually "King of Nerds" had just been cancelled two days before, and I was still mourning the loss of that... and then this came up. It's a very funny, good and different role. We shot it at the end of last year. And it's been picked up by Amazon, but we're not going back into production until November. It's a wonderful show... It's different... it's really different. The tone isn't like anything on television right now.
The character that I'm playing... the uncle... I have been describing him as a combination of Booger at my age and Hunter S Thompson. He is very funny and very articulate.. Just an odd, odd duck.
IBT: How was Shaquille O'Neal on the show?
Armstrong: Well, the story is that this boy, Highston, has imaginary friends, and in the pilot episode, his friends and Flea from Red Hot Chilly Peppers and Shaquille O'Neal, which is the strangest combination. But Shaq and Flea were so wonderful on the show. They're just very funny... very relaxed, playing themselves. I think it's going to be a big surprise for the viewers.
IBT: Are there any other project that we can look forward to seeing you in?
Armstrong: I'm continuing with "American Dad," I have been doing that for about 10 years. That is ongoing. And there are a couple on the horizon. But honestly, now, if I am not doing episodes of "Supernatural" or "New Girl," my focus has been on the book. That's basically all I do. So, that's where I am at the moment.