In his new memoir, actor Curtis Armstrong excerpts passages from a diary he kept while filming the 1983 film Risky Business.
Tom's an interesting character. Can't really make him out. He would appear to be on the brink of a great career.
The "Tom" mentioned in that section above is, of course, the film's star: Tom Cruise.
Armstrong the young diarist proved insightful about two things: 1. Cruise was indeed about to become a megastar, and 2. He was, and remains ... kinda squirrely.
It turns out Armstrong the middle-aged memoirist is pretty sharp, too. Revenge of the Nerd offers a whistle-stop tour through the actor's IMDB listing, and he's a wry, self-deprecating guide.
Risky Business was Armstrong's first film — he played Miles, the smarmy friend with a memorable catchphrase — but international fame would come a year later. In the gleefully no-brow comedy Revenge of the Nerds, he played a fraternity brother who indulged an unhygienic habit that earned him — well, "earned" him, anyway — the nickname Booger.
It wasn't a role young Armstrong went looking for, by any means. In fact, he warned his agent that should he get offered the role, he wouldn't accept.
Forget it! It's a terrible part! There is nothing there! NOTHING!! I mean, you've read the script!! (I was still new enough to the business to think agents actually read scripts.) All the guy does is pick his nose and belch. No! I won't do it!
He, of course, did it.
He did it, though he'd considered himself a theater actor — a true-blue, classically trained board-trodder. This love of theater manifested early: In a memorable anecdote from his early childhood, he unsuccessfully attempts to corral a group of his fellow eight-year-olds into mounting a full production of The Music Man in his basement — with himself, of course, assaying the role of Harold Hill.
I filled them in on the story of The Music Man and what would be expected of them as my supporting cast. They would clearly not be doing this project for money, I said a little sharply in answer to one boy's question, and we'd probably have to work every day because the musical numbers alone might take weeks to perfect. I played them the complex patter number that opened the show, the 'Rock Island Line.' As it chattered its incomprehensible way through the tiny green speaker of my record player, they stared at each other blankly.
As that excerpt makes clear, Armstrong's a fine, engaging writer (all that diary writing helped, no doubt), able to shape a story and only too happy to emerge from it as the butt of his own joke. He seems to know both himself, and the arc of his career, with a sanguine, shoulder-shrugging sensibility. He understands that his prospective readership may be more interested in behind-the-scenes Hollywood gossip than in the details of his genealogy or childhood, so in his introduction, he warns them that he'll be spending some time on his school days, adding, "If you want to skip ahead to the movies, be my guest."
When it comes to those Hollywood projects, Armstrong seems uninterested in serving up a searing tell-all, but he doesn't shy away from calling people out, either. Sure, the details he supplies about his various projects turn out to be the stuff you probably would have guessed:
On Risky Business, for example: Cruise was nice enough. Bit distant.
On Revenge of the Nerds: A loose, fun shoot. The sequels, not so much.
On Moonlighting: Yes, Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepard hated each other.
On King of the Nerds: A passion project that led to lasting friendships.
On Clan of the Cave Bear: ... Yeah, no, never mind. Bad example. No one remembers Clan of the Cave Bear.
So, big deal: The stories many not shock us, the tea isn't the hottest. Doesn't matter. Not the point. Because Armstrong knows something about the celebrity memoir most celebrities don't: When stories are presented this genially, this garrulously, and with such an offhand flair for nerdy self-parody, we'll happily keep turning those pages.