Dayton native featured in Spielberg’s ‘West Side Story’ remake

Muse Machine alum Curtiss Cook continues to shine.

Dayton native Curtiss Cook, a 1987 graduate of Belmont High School whose acting career spans Broadway and Hollywood, is featured as Abe in Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed remake of “West Side Story.”

In an attempt to better diversify the musical’s historic landscape, Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner added a Black role to broaden neighborhood interactions, particularly between the Jets and the Sharks.

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Credit: CONTRIBUTED

“We all know that in the late 1940s and 50s, there were a lot of Black people walking around New York and I’m sure some of the Jets and the Sharks intermingled with some of them,” Cook said in a July 2020 “Forbes” interview. “I’m so grateful that Mr. Spielberg and Mr. Kushner allowed me to create this dude with them. What he does in the movie – and how it affects the terms of the movie – is special.”

Growing up in Dayton, Cook danced with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company as a teenager, but notably caught the acting bug with the Muse Machine, starring as Billy Bigelow in the 1987 production of “Carousel” at the Victoria Theatre. After graduation, he studied at the Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in London, England, where he participated in acting sessions with British legends Vanessa Redgrave, Michael Caine and Judi Dench. He eventually pursued a career in musical theater, performing on Broadway in “Miss Saigon” and “The Lion King” and touring the country in “Five Guys Named Moe.”

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Over the past 16 years, he has devoted himself to work as a character actor on the big and small screens. In addition to films such as Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” and TV shows such as “Mayans M.C.” and “Narcos,” here are five roles you might have seen him in.

The Interpreter

Cook got his big break in this political thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn directed by the late Sydney Pollack (“Out of Africa”). He played Ajene Xola, rebel leader of the African Freedom Party.

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House of Cards

In this Emmy-winning Netflix hit about presidential politics starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, Cook played Terry Womack, the House Minority Whip and leader of the Black Caucus.

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Luke Cage

In this Marvel series for Netflix, Cook portrayed Mariah Dillard’s seedy Uncle Pete (a.k.a. Pistol Pete), a Harlem mobster.

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Manifest

In this NBC drama about airline passengers discovering the world has moved forward yet no time has passed for them, Cook played Montego Air Flight 828 passenger Radd, a concert violinist with the Jamaican Philharmonic. He also appeared on the show opposite his real-life son, Curtiss Cook Jr.

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Credit: CONTRIBUTED

The Chi

In Lena Waithe’s hit Showtime series, Cook delivers one of his finest, darkest roles as ruthless Otis “Douda” Perry, a Chicago crime boss with political aspirations. Season Four ended last summer with a cliffhanger surrounding Douda’s fate.

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