PEABODY — Brian Hayes Currie may not have a big online celebrity profile, but that could change now that “Green Book” is in movie theaters nationwide this week.
The 57-year-old Lynn native, who moved to Peabody as an adolescent, is co-author of the film that is getting lots of Oscar buzz.
Based on a true story critics have called a mix of “Driving Miss Daisy,” “The Odd Couple,” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” it’s the tale of Dr. Don Shirley, a classically-trained African-American pianist played by Mahershala Ali. He tours the South in the 1960s with chauffeur-bodyguard, Frank Anthony Vallelonga, an Italian New York City bouncer, portrayed by Viggo Mortensen.
Given the turbulent racial times, the eight-week road trip concert tour of the Jim Crow south is filled with danger.
The chance to co-write the story was an accident, Currie said.
“One of the guys I met years ago when I worked in nightclubs was Nick Vallelonga, my buddy, a co-writer of the film and whose father this is about,” said Currie, a St. John’s Prep (Danvers) graduate. “Nick kept this story close to the vest because he wanted to make it himself. When he finally told me, I offered to write and produce it with him, and he agreed.”
Currie pitched the idea to director Peter Farrelly, best known for “Dumb & Dumber” and “Something About Mary,” with brother, Bobby Farrelly.
Peter Farrelly liked the idea and a film was born.
Up to now, Currie has had a few small roles in movies, including Armageddon and Con Air. He was a screaming fan in “Fever Pitch,” the Farrelly brothers’ romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon filmed at Fenway Park.
But it’s a new world now. So far, the film has captured more than a dozen film festival awards. The latest is the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“It’s amazing how things can change,” he said. “All of a sudden agents are chasing me down. After a friend wrote Con Air and tasted success, he told me that if your apartment catches fire, make sure you get all your old scripts before they burn. Suddenly, there’s a new interest.”
While the story alone is compelling, Currie said the casting of Mortensen and Ali was brilliant and could have made all the difference.
“Peter Farrelly came up with genius idea of Viggo Mortensen and Ali,” he said. “As a writer, when you have actors that can make it look that easy, it makes we, as writers, look smart.”
The film title is taken from “The Negro Motorist Green-Book,” a travel guide published from 1936 to 1966 to advise black travelers on where to stay and what to avoid in the South.
Amid the tension and hostility of the times, the film also offers glimpses of humor.
There’s a scene where Tony teaches Don about fried chicken and can’t believe the African-American man never had it before.
Mortensen, who gained 40 pounds for the film, and had standout performances in “Captain Fantastic” and “A History of Violence,” ate 13 chicken breasts in one scene, Currie said.
There are laughs, too when the musician helps his driver write letters to his wife, Dolores, played by Linda Cardellini.
Currie said he doesn’t object to the comparison of “Green Book” to other road trip and buddy films.
“‘Driving Miss Daisy’ won an Academy Award and that doesn’t hurt, and the ‘Odd Couple’ is an all-time great,” he said.
USA Today says Mortensen and Ali are spot-on with their character quirks, from Tony’s thick “Sopranos”-ready accent and street smarts to Doc’s upper-crust demeanor that belies his insecurities. They grow closer, the reviewer wrote, as Doc helps his driver write love letters, and Tony witnesses up close how southerners treat black men.
Rolling Stone magazine loved it too.
“In a time when our nation is more divided than ever, the movie offers the possibility of redemption,” the magazine reads. “Thanks to the dream team of Mortensen and Ali, audiences will be cheering. And they’ll be right.”