The “Time Warp” is marking a spectacular milestone this year — if that is even possible. “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is celebrating its 45th anniversary, and Barry Bostwick, who played Brad Majors in the original production, is taking a look back at the film’s impact.
When Bostwick was recruited to play Brad, he had already received a Tony nomination for originating the role of bad boy heartthrob Danny Zuko in the Broadway musical “Grease.” Bostwick also nabbed a Tony Award in 1977 for his performance in “The Robber Bridegroom,” and has enjoyed a successful career as a television actor, most famously for New York mayor Randall Winston in the political sitcom “Spin City,” with recurring roles on shows from “Cougar Town” to the “Law & Order” franchise.
We sat down with Bostwick to learn more about his life as an actor and icon.
District Fray: What was your first encounter with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show?” What did you think when you first came across this script?
Barry Bostwick: I first came across it on stage with Tim [Curry playing Dr. Frank-N-Furter] in Los Angeles. It was like a happening. It was so exciting. It was the Tim Curry show. He fills wherever he is with such charisma and energy. After that, I saw it several times. I had several friends playing different roles. I was so attracted to the piece because it was just pure rock and roll — wild, colorful, energetic.
How were you cast? You were already a hit on Broadway and the play already had a full cast before the film.
I was quite aware of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” when the casting director Joel Thurm, a good friend of my manager’s, proposed it to me. He thought Susan Sarandon and I would be a good combination. So, we met them at the theater one afternoon. Joel, in the back of his mind, had this whole thing cast with us in it already. I don’t know how long it took after that for us to actually get presented with contracts.
What is it about this movie that endears itself to generation after generation?
It’s fun and audiences have absconded the whole event and turned it into a party. Thematically, I think it’s about accepting who you are, who you’d like to be, who your friends are, and accepting their uniqueness. It’s about the loss of innocence: Everybody in the movie loses their innocence in some way. Also, it’s just rude and naughty enough that a younger audience thinks they’re getting away with something by watching it privately in their bedroom, dancing around and singing “Sweet Transvestite.” They’re declaring: “This is my life. This is how I’m going to live my life in a bustier and fishnet stockings.”
The movie is also pretty one-of-a-kind. What makes it relatable to audiences?
The characters are archetypal. People always relate to one character or another. The movie doesn’t challenge you beyond that, and entertains you with its naughtiness. The songs are easy to sing. It’s catchy and colorful and it’s a well put together film. Basically, it’s about the audience. We are there as fodder for their creativity. If there was a party going on in the house next door, we’re the musical soundtrack on in the background – but all the fun is going on in the party itself
Name something that sets “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” apart, which people don’t typically consider.
Years ago somebody asked, “Did you make the film so slow so we can talk in between the lines?” But that was just the style of moviemaking in 1975; the pace was different back then in movies. Now, there’s probably twice as many edits and the attention span is so much shorter. It’s worked out great for the audience, though, because they’re able to yell nasty things at us between our lines. And there’s a certain structure to the lines. Over the years, people want to engage in that kind of predictable fun.
Rocky Horror fans formed a tradition called “shadow cast,” where ensembles act out the movie while it’s playing. What makes the Rocky Horror shadow cast important?
The shadow cast is like a weird club in college. It has a leader or a director and they make their own props. Once you join the shadow cast community, it’s worldwide. If you’re in a cast in New Jersey and you go to Germany, you know you’ll be sleeping on the couch of a Riff Raff. It is such a mutually loved, adored, obsessive experience for these people. I’ve met people who’ve been playing Dr. Frank-N-Furter for over 25 years, and it’s a linchpin of their social life. It’s also like a community theater. A lot of kids who are in these casts go on to be actors. This is their first attempt at getting over their shyness or stage fright. It’s a forum for self-discovery.
What do you think Richard O’Brien, who wrote Rocky Horror, envisioned for the movie?
I think O’Brien was just speaking from his own sense of obsession with old movies and cross-dressing. I think he wrote something that amused him. I’ve never talked to him about whether or not he thought it was going to go anywhere – other than a little theater in London. It started out as a fluke, a whim, and grew to a bigger theatre, then the movie, and now it’s around the world. I’m hoping the shadow casts will reassemble around the world with fresh energy.
“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” is progressive in its views on sexuality and gender: very gender fluid, pansexual, nobody’s judging. How do you think this continues to impact our culture?
After watching it, I think you’ll walk away being a little more tolerant of people’s differences, and accepting differences in humanity. I love hearing the stories, so many wonderful stories of how fans got involved, what it means to them, and how it changed their lives. When I hear those stories, I know it was all for good. The movie was put together out of a sense of fun and kitsch – but not something which would be socially [subversive] and influence a whole subculture. I’m looking forward to this tour. It’s time for people to get back together, isn’t it? And what a wonderful way to do it.
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