Curtis Armstrong, the film and TV actor best known for playing Booger in Revenge of the Nerds, has an upcoming new memoir called…Revenge of the Nerd.
Armstrong is billed in the publicity release materials as “nerd elder statesman” and “a legendary comedic second banana to a litany of major stars”. One such instance was playing Tom Cruise’s best friend Miles in the acerbic 1983 teen movie Risky Business which became Cruise’s first big hit.
Cruise would embark on a two-year love affair with his real-life Risky Business co-star Rebecca De Mornay.
Unsurprisingly Armstrong devotes a detailed chapter in the book-which Heat Street has read- to the making of Risky Business, that was shot in Chicago in 1982 As part of his account Armstrong recounts a memorable breakfast he had in a hotel restaurant together with Cruise and his friend Sean Penn. Cruise and Penn had become close friends while making the 1980 movie Taps.
Armstrong recalls that Cruise said to him and Penn about his co-star De Mornay (at a time before the pair hooked up): “She directs me. Constantly. How I should deliver lines, character stuff…”
“Sean hated that. He stubbed out his cigarette as if he were doing it on somebody’s hand; it was then I noticed that he had been gathering all the placemats and paper napkins from the table into a crumpled pile in front of him.”
According to Armstrong, Penn replied:
“Character stuff? She’s giving you notes? Tell her to f**k off.” With a quick shrug and flick of his cigarette, he was on his feet, snatching the napkins from the adjoining table settings and crumbling them into the paper mound. I was now becoming less interested in Rebecca’s alleged ignoring of on-set protocol and wondering more what Sean was up to with the napkins.
“Tom was still smiling. “Yeah…” his voice trailed off. Then, “I’d love to f**k her though.
“So?” Sean said, now moving to nearby tables, taking those placemats and with focused deliberation, adding them to the pile. “F**k her.”
Tom laughed. “I can’t f**k her,” he said, and I could swear he was blushing. “I’d like to, though.”
After getting more napkins, Penn “took up his cigarette lighter, snapped back his thumb and revealed the small flame.
“I watched in dumb amazement, as Sean moved the lighter toward the pile in the center of the table and set fire to a napkin squarely in the center. It smoldered for a minute and then went up.
“Hey!” I yelped. “Sean!” But it was like I wasn’t there. He pointed across the table at Tom, grinning wickedly.
“Just tell her either she f**ks you or she’s off the picture.”
It’s an outrageous ultimatum which Penn reportedly suggested to Cruise, but Armstrong doesn’t record Cruise’s response.
Penn however is adamant it never happened. His publicist said: “Sean Penn vehemently denies ever saying such a thing.”
At the time Armstrong seems more concerned the restaurant will be set on fire:
“There were shouts as the waitresses saw the flames rising on the table. I jumped to my feet, looking around witlessly for something to douse the flames while Sean and Tom, laughing, bolted from the restaurant. The busboys descended on the table with damp cloths to throw on the flames. I just stood there, smiling weakly.”
Well, now he’s got his revenge and Cruise presumably seduced De Mornay in more sophisticated fashion than per Penn’s suggestion.
Appropriately, given Penn’s suggestion, the catchphrase of Cruise’s character Joel Goodson in Risky Business is,”Sometimes you gotta say “What the f*ck! Make your move.”
Armstrong subsequently notes in a diary entry in his new memoir:
“Tom and Rebecca are having it off in grand style. In my naïveté I thought it wasn’t all that serious, but last night Shera [a Risky Business co-star] and I interrupted them and threw ice over the bed.
“We had, the four of us, a party in the bar tonight, during which we danced and stripped. It was the best floorshow in that bar since I’ve been there…”
Probably a good thing that Penn- now renowned for being a hard-left activist as much as an actor- wasn’t present on that occasion to start another fire or say mean things about De Mornay.
Cruise and Penn drifted apart when Penn married Madonna (and later Robin Wright). Cruise moved on and married Mimi Rogers, Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes. Both men are now divorced and single.
Turns out however that the Penn is not mightier than the Booger!
Revenge of the Nerd: Or…The Singular Adventures of the Man Who Would Be Booger is published July 11.