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Eclectic Performer

Curtiss Cook

THE DISTINCTIVE CHARACTER OF
MULTIDIMENSIONAL ACTOR AND DIRECTOR
CURTISS COOK

Curtiss Cook first caught the bug for acting early in life in his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. Following his passion, he put everything he had into solidifying his future career as an actor. Cook became the first American to receive a full-ride scholarship to London’s prestigious Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. He then moved to New York City and began performing on Broadway, including in productions of “The Lion King” and “Miss Saigon.” Despite being a single father of three children, Cook received encouragement and help from his family and was able to audition for television and film jobs. He’s now best known for projects including “Arbitrage,” “The Interpreter” and “Shutter Island,” along with roles in series such as FX’s “Mayans M.C.,” NBC’s “Manifest”, Netflix’s “House of Cards,” “Luke Cage” and “Narcos.”

Cook will next be seen in the new “West Side Story” adaptation, bringing to life the new character ‘Abe,’ a mysterious New York City man who has his hands in everything happening in the streets. Being released in December, the Steven Spielberg film is an adaptation of the 1957 musical. “West Side Story” explores forbidden love and the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs of different ethnic backgrounds. Other cast members in the star studded film include Ansel Elgort, Rita Moreno, Maddie Ziegler and Corey Stoll, to name a few.

Photographer James Washington

MONARCH: Curtis you are an Ohioan, right? That’s a long, long way from Hollywood. What made you think you could become an actor?
CURTISS COOK: I had great public school teachers as well as parents who saw the love I had for performing and natured it to the best of their ability. One teacher, in particular, was my drama teacher Ms. Patricia Copland[BJ1] . She literally told me that if I studied and worked hard the entertainment world would be my oyster. I believed her, and I’m working toward that goal.

MONARCH: What do you consider your big break? How did it happen?
CURTISS COOK: To be honest, I don’t know if it has… and really what that means. But in the same breath, I can tell you, the moment I received my scholarship to drama conservatory in London the trajectory of my life changed forever.

MONARCH: Being an actor navigating through Hollywood, appearing in projects with starring African Americans and even fewer African Americans leading things behind the cameras. How did it feel to become involved with Lena Waithe’s uber successful series “The Chi” which is made by an African American cast and creatives?
CURTISS COOK: Overwhelmingly grateful, not only for the impressive Black talent and creatives on the show, but also for the beauty we create when we tell the stories of our culture, stories that has been ignored for far too long.

Photographer James Washington

MONARCH: On “The Chi,” your character Douda could be described as a predator. Where do you pull from to get into that character, and how do you find your way out of that space?
CURTISS COOK: I don’t know if I would call him a predator. I’d say a self-made man who doesn’t take “no” for an answer. The getting into character is real, a lot of music is involved, slight meditation at the beginning of my workday and staying as present as possible. Getting out requires alone time until Otis “Douda” Perry is fully purged.

MONARCH: Although you may be most known for your role on “The Chi,” your resume is very diverse. Many Black actors get pigeonholed. How have you managed to avoid this?
CURTISS COOK: I don’t know. I mean, I take offers as they come and as they speak to me. I try to surround myself with a team that understands the kind of work I’m willing and wanting to do, and I hold them and myself accountable. I’ve been very fortunate and saying “no” to something has never been a problem I’ve had.

MONARCH: There seems to be a big push for diversity inside and outside of Hollywood. Do you believe this is the time for Black creatives to thrive?
CURTISS COOK: Yes.

Photographer James Washington

MONARCH: What experience do you hope the audience takes away after watching you perform?
CURTISS COOK: I hope that they are entertained first and foremost, that they have been given the opportunity to escape to wherever the characters take them.

MONARCH: Tell us what’s next for the uber-talented Mr. Cook?
CURTISS COOK: Finishing “The Chi” season four and then the premiere of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” which I am really excited about.