Catherine Curtin is one busy lady – and with good reason. When I met her at the Woodstock Film Festival in October, she was at the premiere of the independent flick Beauty Mark, a movie starring Curtin as Ruth Ann, the dysfunctional mother of her grown daughter, Angie, who was sexually abused as a child. When Angie finds out that the house they are sharing is being condemned, she decides to find a new home by confronting the one person she felt who owed her – her abuser (her mother’s ex).
The movie is haunting and uncomfortable, and Catherine Curtin does an amazing job portraying Angie’s mother.
In between appearances at the film festival, Curtin continues her role as Wanda Bell on the extremely popular drama Orange is the New Black, has a role on Stranger Things as Claudia Henderson, and played Joanne on Insecure. She also went on multiple auditions during the Film Festival and has completed her roles in several upcoming films, including Breaking Brooklyn and For Entertainment Purposes Only.
Read on for Curtin’s thoughts on Beauty Mark, her spiritual journey into acting, and whether she’d be in a Marvel movie.
The topic of Beauty Mark is a sensitive one, and the movie can be unsettling. You were put in uncomfortable situations as an actor, so what made you decide that you were going to pursue this role?
What I really loved about it was that it doesn’t say, “Oh, PTSD is this.” It’s really about the fallout and how people just don’t move forward, that people just get stuck in these lives that they wouldn’t really have chosen if they had more facilities in terms of being highly functioning. That really speaks to me and I thought the script was just brilliantly written. It was definitely an ‘out there,’ challenging experience.
Your only had 12 days to shoot this. What are the challenges for you to join an indie film that only has 12 days and a low budget, when you can pursue things like a more secure TV spot or a different kind of a film role?
I was at the SAG Awards years ago with Orange, and a very well-known actress walked up to me and we started talking because we had a mutual friend. She said that she felt like some of her best work has been on an indie film and no one will ever see it. I think what happens with an indie film is that just because it’s such a small intimate set and because everybody there is doing it for the love of it, there’s something that happens on that set that doesn’t happen on other sets. Sometimes an indie film can be an incredibly artistically amazing experience.
I get to do TV and I get to do film, so I’m always really excited when I get to do something that is really art for art’s sake. Just for the love of it. And I think there’s great value in that for your soul. I believe in telling stories about injustice and about truth. I didn’t get into acting to be famous. Instead, it was more of a spiritual adventure.
Tell me about that spiritual journey.
I grew up very comfortably and when that happens, you either go towards more comfort or you go towards the existential journey of, “What’s it all about?” And I have always been drawn to the existential questions. I got into this field because I was searching. I wanted to know the meaning of and I wanted to find out more from a philosophical, psychological, emotional point-of-view. I feel like acting was my way to go after those questions. I’m not an academic. I’m not a philosopher. Theater, TV and film are my church, if that makes sense. I feel like so much of the work that’s being done today really touches on a profound spiritual level for so many people. And it’s really important and has great consciousness and there’s a great conscience in the work, a lot of the work that’s happening today.
Orange Is the New Black is examining the privatization of the prison system, and it’s an honor to work on a show that’s examining this horrible prison system that we are all involved in and all a party to. To be able to be a part of that dialogue and show people what people are like in prison, to humanize who these prisoners are, give them stories, give them backgrounds, give them needs, give them wants, give them very human desires, tell their story, is such an amazing, humbling, phenomenal opportunity from a spiritual point-of-view.
With Insecure with HBO, I think what Issa Rae is doing is absolute genius. She’s opening up the conversation on race.
With a lot of the roles you picked, you are definitely pursuing that journey, but let me ask you a fun question. If you woke up to a phone call that said, “I want you to be in the next Marvel movie,” would you do it?
Yeah, sure. My son is 11 and he loves Marvel movies. We watch them when he’s done his homework and we get to have family movie time, and I think that’s a treat. Absolutely I believe in entertainment for the sake of entertainment, and I think Marvel movies are actually wonderful. They’re very allegorical. They’re a little violent, but they’re very allegorical in terms of, there’s good and there’s evil, and there’s the struggle to be on the side of good and to fight the good fight and to give people a second chance and to really look at someone and not judge a book by its cover. They’ve got a lot of basic lessons in all of those movies, and I do love to work so there’s a joy in just working that is really fun.
How does a show like Orange is the New Black change your career?
I just went to shoot for a day and I had no idea that I was going be there four seasons later. I was stunned and so excited that it was so successful and that it was really in the Zeitgeist of who we are and what we are. The fact that it has become such an icon, an iconographic show for people’s sense of justice and people’s sense of what’s going on in the world and what’s going on with us in this country is fantastic.
It helped me to feel like I’m on the right side of right, and that there’s a path forward to a career that wants to have meaning, and that I don’t just have to do silly jobs that are just silly jobs, which are great and wonderful and fun, but then I will be able to do work that is meaningful and important. That’s such a gift, that’s such a blessing. I don’t really know what to make of any of it, and I hope to be able to continue to take real risks with my work, and real risks with roles like Ruth Anne (Beauty Mark).