Talking to Curtiss Cook is basically like talking to liquid sunshine. He is so full of energy, and laughter, that it’s a bit hard to reconcile him with such serious shows as Showtime’s “The Chi,” the Netflix drama’s “House of Cards” and “Luke Cage.” Now Curtiss is set to take on a new challenge in “Manifest”, the NBC show premiering on Monday, September 24th.
“Manifest” follows the story of Montego Air Flight 828, which after a turbulent flight for a few hours, lands in New York to find five years have passed on the ground. But as they celebrate their return with their loved ones, a mystery starts to unfold that maybe these passengers were saved and sent into the future for a reason.
Curtiss has a long history as an actor, having honed his craft on the Broadway stage in shows like MISS SAIGON, THE LION KING, as well as regional theatre while raising three kids in New York. Now he finds himself playing Radd, a leading musician from the Jamaican Philharmonic who must deal with the consequences of being absent for 5 years, which includes being re-introduced to his son who was just 13 years-old when he disappeared and is now a young adult at the age of 18. In the series, Curtiss’ son is portrayed by his actual real-life son, Curtiss Cook Jr., which still gets him emotional to think about.
“Working with Curtiss Jr, and every time someone says it to me, and know we’ve already shot it and it’s in the can but that whole feeling in my body gets like shivers, and I feel my eyes filling up. It’s like relax dude, it’s done! But it gets me so emotional.”
The father of five, does not take for granted the unexpected opportunity to work with one of his children on the show. However, during his New York days he was a struggling single dad of three, and acting is not the path that he would have thought that they would have chosen.
“It was funny because, we were in Brooklyn and fending for ourselves. I was auditioning all the time, I was working regionally; at the Goodspeed Opera House, and the Gateway Playhouse, so I was going all over the place to work. Their grandmother was helping me watch the kids while I was working, so it wasn’t glamorous or appealing as we were going through it. So I thought they were thinking ‘not this job, any job but this’, because sometimes it was really rough.
Once I got to Broadway, my first Broadway show was MISS SAIGON, and that was rough because I would see them off to school in the morning and then not get home until after they had gone to bed. So I didn’t think any of them would pursue this.”
Curtiss is in some big name shows now, but he says that it has been a lot of work and knowing who you are and what you can do that has helped him craft his career.
“They kind of lock you into a slot and that’s where you stay for better or for worse. I had an agent once who would say ‘You’re a leading man, you’re a leading man.’ But I never felt like a leading man. I always felt like a character actor. I love to be funny, be the friend, be the strong guy, and feel like I can do it all. So there is a lack of fear to try something outside of your comfort zone. So as I became more fortunate to say yes or no to projects I would think ‘I don’t think people see me this way’ or go after a character that people maybe wouldn’t traditionally see as that for me.
It took a lot of no’s to get to this spot. There are so many time you’re sitting on the couch and wondering ‘why am I doing this?’ “
Which leads us back to his newest show “Manifest”, his charter Radd, and the questions of what really happened while they were in the air.
“Radd is a classical violinist and so he had a job with the philharmonic there for a one night event. He leaves his son with the neighbor while he travels, and when he comes back his son is eighteen years old and is in jail. So not only is he grappling with his son being in jail, Radd is also a resident alien as someone of Jamaican descent. Since he has been gone for so long, even though it was supposed to be a day, his visa has expired, so they’re trying to get him out of the country. So it’s even more pressing for him to find his son and connect with him.
There is also the question of the people on the plane coming back, who are they? Are they real? Why did they come back?”
“Manifest” premiers on Monday, September 24th on NBC. Check your local listings or go to www.nbc.com for show times.