Grant Curtis is one marvel-ous mule

Alumnus Producer Brings Comics to Life

By Kathy Strickland

Grant Curtis Stan Lee

From left, Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee, co-producer Grant Curtis and director Sam Raimi on the set of SPIDER-MAN. ©2002 Columbia Pictures Industries Inc. All rights reserved. Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

A man sits at a table and carefully smoothes out a cloth placemat. He pours himself a glass of water, dips his finger in and encircles the rim. A barely audible tone briefly interrupts Bob Dylan crooning “Every Grain of Sand” in the background. The man empties the glass, then lightly sets it upside down on the mat, gently folding one corner then another over the glass until it is covered.

Then SMASH, down comes the crocodile-shaped cast-steel head of his walking cane, shattering the glass, which he proceeds to empty into his braided leather sandals. He slides one foot in, then the other, and slowly stands to walk with the cane out of frame.

The opening scene of “Moon Knight” wasn’t written like this, says executive producer Grant Curtis, a 1997 UCM alumnus and Warrensburg native. Actor Ethan Hawke thought up this strange ritual for his character, Arthur Harrow, and the decision was made to move the scene to the very beginning of the Disney+ streaming series after Curtis and the rest of the Marvel Studios production crew reviewed all the footage.

Ethan Hawke Moon Knight

Ethan Hawke plays Arthur Harrow, the archrival of Oscar Isaac's Moon Knight in a series where it's not always clear who's the hero and who's the villain. ©MARVEL

“Just like we don’t shoot everything in order, the final presentation isn’t always what it was on the page,” Curtis explains. “Ethan and Oscar [Isaac] suggested putting that scene upfront so you realize from the beginning that guy is a little off center.”

A little off center is putting it mildly in the scope of the six-part series that delves into mental health issues ranging from obsessive compulsive disorder to dissociative identity disorder, which can develop as a reaction to trauma as a way to keep painful memories at bay. The producers brought in expert consultants to ensure they were authentically and respectfully portraying how Oscar Isaac’s characters, Steven Grant, a museum gift shop clerk, and Marc Spector, a former mercenary, coexisted in the same body.

While much of the world was in quarantine, Curtis was filming in Budapest, the mountains of Slovania and the deserts of Jordan. Isaac had filmed before in Jordan’s famous Wadi Rum desert reserve while playing X-wing pilot Poe Dameron in “Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker.” This other-worldly landscape features petroglyphs and archaeological remains dating back to prehistoric times. A favorite set for Hollywood films, including “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The Martian,” its nickname, “Valley of the Moon,” was especially appropriate for bringing themes of Egyptology to life in “Moon Knight.”

The extraterrestrial aspects of the series extend beyond this landscape to a cluster of human characters and Egyptian deities like the moon god, Khonshu, who chooses Isaac’s character as an avatar. Taweret, the goddess of fertility and childbirth, was not in the comic books but appears in the form of a hippo in Episode 5. Curtis says the inspiration for this incarnation came from a poster in the writers room featuring all the Egyptian gods.

“We blew up the picture of Taweret because we all thought she was so cuddly and beautiful and fun,” he says. When Chief Creative Officer and Studio President Kevin Feige walked into the writers room, he looked around at all the art from ancient Egypt, decades of comic books and new art from the film’s designers — then said, “That hippo is going to be in the show!”

Hippo Moon Knight

The inspiration for Tawaret, Egyptian goddess of fertility and childbirth, came from a poster in the writers room depicting her as a hippopotamus. ©MARVEL

“Moon Knight” was not the first Marvel project Curtis has worked on. His film credits include the “Spider-Man” trilogy directed by Sam Raimi. Curtis points out that, unlike Spider-Man, whom most people were familiar with from either the comic books or the TV show that aired in the late 1970s, this was many people’s introduction to the Moon Knight character.

“One thing I was really excited about from the beginning was the fact that Moon Knight is a Marvel superhero that is not on the tip of everyone’s tongue,” he says. “It’s exciting to bring this character to the forefront for the first time in many people’s entertainment experience.”

The Moon Knight character first appeared in a Marvel comic, “Werewolf by Night,” in 1975 and became its own series of books in 1980. Curtis and the writers of the new streaming series pored over the comic books to gain insight into the characters and ideas for reimagining them. When looking for underlying themes in those stories, the team gravitated toward what Curtis describes as “Indiana Jonesesque globetrotting adventure.”

Curtis remembers standing in line at the Campus Twin movie theater in Warrensburg for the first “Indiana Jones” film in 1981. At the time he never imagined being behind the scenes in exotic locations.

“When I was growing up I didn’t even know it was possible to do what I do for a living,” Curtis says. “So any time I can give a little snapshot of that, I do.”

Curtis got the opportunity to do just that when he was asked to teach an online History of American Film class at his alma mater in 2016. He says he was inspired by the example of his father, Professor Emeritus Dan Curtis, ’64, ’66, a two-time UCM alumnus who taught Communications at the university for nearly three decades, retiring as the department chair.

“I wanted to tell students if you have an interest in this at all, give it a run,” Curtis says. “If they’re filmmakers, if they’re storytellers, if they’re actors, writers … the skills and techniques that we practice and implement every day in Hollywood can be learned and practiced in Warrensburg. I try to take away a little bit of the myth of Hollywood.”

Grant and Dan Curtis

Grant Curtis, left, was honored with the UCM Outstanding Recent Alumni Award in 2002. His father, Dan Curtis, received the Byler Distinguished Faculty Award in 1985, the top honor given to faculty at UCM. 

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