Thirty years have passed since Lewis, Gilbert, Poindexter, Lamar, Wormser, Takashi, and Booger banded together as Lambda Lambda Lambda and emerged victorious over their Panhellenic douche-donis tormentors from Alpha Beta.
Somewhere amid the panty raids, electric-violin pyrotechnics, drunk tricycle riding, and moon-bounce hanky-panky, Revenge of the Nerds became a rallying point for anyone who’d ever felt “laughed at and made to feel inferior,” for anyone who’d ever felt “stepped on, left out, picked on, put down.” It seems fitting that Nerds didn’t sweep any awards shows or top the annual box office (it settled in a respectable 16th place). Nonetheless, after several sequels, a short-lived sitcom, and the advent of at-home entertainment, the film has taken on iconic status in the past three decades. Booger himself, a.k.a. Curtis Armstrong, admits that the cult hit “has never gone away.”
Armstrong — a prolific actor who’s been on everything from Moonlighting to Supernatural, and who’s now celebrating nerds as co-producer of reality TV’s King of the Nerds — talked to EW about his experiences shooting the film, the Booger-ography he wrote to get himself into character, and his experiences with real-life nerds (Tri-Lambs and beyond).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It seems like the 30 years since Revenge of the Nerds has passed incredibly quickly.
CURTIS ARMSTRONG: In a way, yeah. The number hadn’t really dawned on me — partially because, unlike most of the movies and TV stuff that I’ve done, Revenge of the Nerds really has never gone away. It’s always been a part of me. The character of Booger has always been a part of me because people responded to it so much over the years. The fact that it was always there made me sort of forget how much time had passed.
Revenge of the Nerds was your second film role after Risky Business. That’s a pretty strong start!
It really was. Of course, as usual when you’re young, you don’t really appreciate that kind of a start. With Risky Business, I knew that it was a really strong script. I had a really strong sense of the movie and how it was going to turn out. Revenge of the Nerds I was less certain about. I was living in New York then, and I’d been out of work for almost a year, and then this happened. You have to realize the character of Booger in the original script was non-existent almost. What was there was just, “We’ve got bush!” and “Mother’s little douchebag” — those kinds of lines. I was looking at it and thinking, “How do I take this and even begin to make it likeable or accessible?”
It was clear we had a terrific cast, and the writers were working incredibly hard at rewriting the script when we first got there, and the director [Jeff Kanew] was incredibly gifted and sensitive to what we were trying to do as actors. By the end of it, I thought, “It has to be a good movie.” But I wasn’t sure how it was going to be taken as opposed to Risky Business, which was sort of an art-house-type movie. This was very much broader and very much cruder, but it had a message that went beyond sex jokes.
Since Booger wasn’t fully formed, as you say, in the script, did you do a lot of improv?
Take, for instance, the lunch line scene in the gym. Was that written into the script?
Some of it was improv, and some of it was stuff that was added by the writers during script meetings we had with the director. I think, “Are you gonna eat this?” was improv’ed. The whole run of [interactions between] Booger and Takashi, though, was improvised on the set. That all started out of necessity. We were shooting on the first day in the gym. We ran and got our cots, and Brian [Tochi] and I were next to each other. It wasn’t planned that we would be next to each other. It just happened that way. They were going over to shoot Robert [Carradine, who played Lewis] and Anthony [Edwards, who played Gilbert] doing scenes and, on the way, the director stopped at our bunk and said, “You guys come up with something, and I’ll come over and shoot it after I’m done with Tony and Robert.” We had nothing at all! We went to the prop people, and they had a deck of cards. And that’s where that scene [and Booger's whole bit about taking money from Takashi] came from. And they liked it so much that, every time Takashi and I were in the room together, we would have to come up with something else [like when Booger gets Takashi so stoned he falls over].
Before filming, how did you prepare to play Booger? Were you very Method?
I’m not a Method actor, but I did go to a traditional English theater school — it wasn’t intended for people who wanted to go into movies — so there were certain things that I had been using in the theater for years which I naturally just started bringing into movies, and it worked with Booger as well. In fact, I came across my notebook from those days. It’s from 1984, so it has all of these notes about Revenge of the Nerds, including the biography that I felt compelled to write for Booger. [Looking back] I can’t believe I did this — I mean, the guy belches and picks his nose — and yet I still felt compelled to write a biography about him. So I wrote [about a page and a half] where I was talking about who he was and what his childhood had been like. This is what I’d been told you do as an actor.
When I found it again last year in this trunk, I was reading it, and it made me laugh because it was me. I’d basically retold my life as Booger without even being aware of it. I was looking at it, thinking at the time in 1984, I was so proud of myself coming up with this interesting biography of this character that I could use in my development of him. It’s so ridiculous now. [One detail] was that [Booger] used nose-picking and belching as a defense mechanism because [he's] insecure. Now, mind you, I did not pick my nose and belch because I was insecure. However, I was insecure growing up. I didn’t have dates or anything like that; I was not good around girls. But I had other ways of defending myself other than being crude and picking my nose. When I look at it now with some distance, I realize all I was doing was writing about myself.
You and Robert Carradine began producing the reality show King of the Nerds, which premiered in 2013. Is that the most unexpected thing to come out of this whole experience?
[That project was] completely out of left field. As an actor, I have it in my DNA to hate reality shows. The last thing I thought about was getting involved in a reality show — until Robert and I started talking one day about the fact that [in between] going from job to job, wouldn’t it be nice if we could produce something? Since everything seemed to be reality shows at that point, Robert came up with idea that we should do a nerd reality show. The fact that it actually happened was just unbelievable. I still can’t believe it. One of the greatest moments of my career — even though I wasn’t acting — was that first day that Robert and I were standing there, waiting for the nerds to be brought in for the very first shot. I just looked at him and smiled. I mean, no one gets their first pitch bought, let alone here we are after all these years about to start on a new adventure. It was really amazing.
The thing that’s interesting about Revenge of the Nerds is that, unlike how most franchises’ fans can only go to Comic-Con for a weekend, there are actually real-world Lambda Lambda Lambda chapters. Have you ever visited one?
We [met] the one at UConn, which I think was the first one. Robert and I were doing an interview on a live radio show on the Internet. Justin Kanew, who is Jeff Kanew’s son, had arranged it. Robert and Jeff and I were there, and then they brought in Larry B. [Scott], who played Lamar, as a surprise. We were just chatting away and then they suddenly put us on the line with the Lambda Lambda Lambda chapter there. It did my heart especial good, because it’s men and women.
The Omega Mus have been merged!
Yeah! This was always the thing about King of the Nerds. Robert and I have always felt it was important that there be gender parity on the show in addition to every other sort of parity because we felt like, “Women are nerds too.” We shouldn’t be focused on “nerds” as being men — it’s kind of lazy and untrue. And there they were. These were people who did it naturally, it just came out of circumstance that, they hadn’t gotten in anywhere, so they formed their own chapter. Can you imagine how great that made us feel? It was so nice talking to them. I really loved that.
The 30th anniversary Blu-ray edition of Revenge of the Nerds is available now.