I would be as unwelcome as a skunk at a dinner party if I provided any details on season three of Showtime and Lena Waithe’s hit series “THE CHI” which returns with a bang on Sunday, June 21.
And stepping back into his breakout role is Curtiss Cook who plays the highly motivated hustler Otis “Douda” Perry.
How best to describe my first impression of Curtiss Cook? I have to ponder for a moment. In reviewing our phone interview a few times, I realized that my face hurt — because — I could not stop smiling and laughing. The first impression is that Curtiss Cook is a grateful man. A grateful father, of three. A grateful actor and I stand on this description, not just based on his sharing about his early struggles (which were many), but more on the sound of his voice. He sounds like an honest many and in Hollywood, that’s as rare as finding a Black unicorn stomping around in stiletto high heels.
Where 2020 has been knocking down people, industries, and expectations for Cook, this year, is one filled with bounty and promise. Along with season three of “THE CHI” hitting the airwaves (Sunday, June 21) he will next be seen in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story,” which is now scheduled to open, wide, on Friday, December 18, bringing to life a new character ‘Abe,’ a mysterious NYC man who has his hands in everything happening in the streets. Based on the adaptation of the 1957 musical, West Side Story explores forbidden love and the rivalry between the Jets and the Sharks, two teenage street gangs, one white and one Latino, Puerto Rican to be specific. Other cast members include living legend Rita Moreno, Ansel Elgort, Maddie Ziegler, and Corey Stoll, to name a few.
Now, back to Showtime’s “THE CHI” which is best described as an invigorating series about a group of African-American’s holding it down in their Chicago, Southside neighborhood. Curtiss as ‘Douda,’ is an example of a man who used what was left for him pouring himself into his career as a Southside businessman and hustler with ties to Reg (Barton Fitzpatrick) and willfully sticking his broad hands into different pots throughout his community citing that it’s for the good of “his” people.
Cook got the acting bug while in High School in Dayton, Ohio and so impressed his theater teacher who passionately encouraged him to seriously apply himself and he did, becoming the first American to receive a full-ride scholarship to London’s prestigious Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Later he relocated to New York and began performing on Broadway, including productions of “The Lion King” and “Miss Saigon.”
As a single father of three children, Cook experienced financial challenges but was assisted by family and loyal friends and finally the auditions and roles in television and films began to happen. Some of those projects include “Arbitrage,” “The Interpreter,” and “Shutter Island,” and on television he secured roles in FX’s “Mayans MC,” NBC’s “Manifest” as Netflix’s “House of Cards,” “Luke Cage” and “Narcos” to name a few.
Here is what actor and father Curtiss Cook had to share about his role in Showtime’s “THE CHI” and following his dreams.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL: Thank you, Curtiss Cook, for chatting with me about your role Otis “Douda” Perry in Showtime’s “THE CHI.” Can you describe him for me?
CURTISS COOK: Sure. He’s a guy who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and like a lot of guys, he didn’t feel like he had a lot of options.
LAS: Sadly, that’s true to life.
CC: Right. In season three, this year, we will get to see some of Otis’ backstory.
LAS: That’s exciting.
CC: It is because despite having goals he thought he was just going to be another little Black boy from the South Side of Chicago, not going anyplace but because he was different — enough — he was able to move through the oppression, his anger, the gangs and make himself strong.
LAS: That’s a lot of things to build from, I think.
CC: It is. It is. I always say that Otis “Douda” Perry is a smart, caring businessman who for whatever was stopped from being truly successful and so he realized early on that ‘they’ weren’t going to give him a seat at the table, but he decided I will create my own table. He decided he will do whatever was needed to get ahead.
LAS: Do you like Otis?
CC: Do I like Otis “Douda” Perry. Yes, I do and I admire him, but he’s not the kind of man that I would want to sit down and have dinner with.
LAS: Understood. Can you share with us about your early days? I understand that you struggled and it was not a joke.
CC: I did struggle. It was rough. But I stuck it out. I was doing small auditions here and there while I was eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Kraft macaroni and cheese with some tuna fish in it, and calling it tuna casserole.
LAS: Tuna fish? You were rich. Just kidding. Please continue because I know that the struggle is real.
CC: (laughing) Let me say this, there were plenty of times that I could not make ends meet.
LAS: Amen. But now, things have looked up. I understand that you met your wife while you both were performing in Disney’s “The Lion King”, is that correct?
CC: It is correct and we did. I played [the character] Banzai, on Broadway, for two years.
LAS: That’s what’s up. Broadway actors are amazing demonstrating solid discipline, creativity, and the stamina of an athlete. I take my hat off to you, and your wife, sir.
CC: (laughing) Thank you, my wife, is a dancer and she came from that level of discipline and talk about athletes —they are the quintessential athlete in my opinion.
LAS: So. What’s next?
CC: You know what’s great is that when I started in this industry, people who say that Broadway actors would never be cast for television.
LAS: Or movies.
CC: Or movies. Exactly, exactly I mean I could not even get an audition.
LAS: Preach and a little birdy told me that you just finished working with “the” Steven Spielberg in “the” “West Side Story” — am I right?
CC: (laughing) You are right.
LAS: Can we talk again, in November, so you can spill all the beans on working with Steven Spielberg?
LAS: I’d also like to interview your wife especially since Broadway has halted because of the worldwide pandemic. Will you share that with her, please?
CC: Thank you. I will. Thank you.
LAS: No. Thank you, Curtiss Cook. Thank you.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Showtime’s “THE CHI” back for season three – June 21.