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In this undated file photo provided by Shaffer-Coyle, Ben Curtis, aka "Steven, The Dell Dude," stars as Christian in "JOY," a romantic comedy in New York.
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Jay Greeson

Ben Curtis has reached a level of celebrity success few will know. The 1999 McCallie School graduate became the face of Dell computers as the "Dude, you're getting a Dell" dude in the early 2000s.

He was an international star before fading after Dell voided his contract following a marijuana arrest that was later wiped off his record.

Since then, Curtis has found various roles and will star later this summer in "The Crusade of Connor Stephens." He joined Press Row on ESPN 105.1 the Zone on Wednesday.

Q: All these years later people still call you the Dell dude. You're OK with that, right?

A: I think it's great. It still makes people happy. That's what they remember the most. I've done a lot of things since then, but if it makes people happy, then I'll let them call me whatever they want.

Q: Was there ever a time when you didn't like being called the Dell dude?

A: Probably when I was the Dell dude. I'd be walking down the street and people would be 'DUDE, you're getting a Dell! C'mon man, say it.' It was everywhere no matter what city or country I was in. I'd be on a date or be on the phone and people would just yell at me because they thought I was a walking commercial."

Q: You rose to fame and were supposed to do one or two Dell commercials. You did 26 of them. But you were also living a fast life as a lot of fame and money came to you early. What was that life like?

A: The one thing that comes to mind is rollercoaster. I was 19 going on 20. I lived in New York City and I had only been there two years. I was in acting school full time, and I don't think you can ever be prepared for fame. It didn't surprise me when Britney Spears shaved her head or Justin Bieber wrecked his car. Whatever you are going through it just puts a magnifying glass on it, and it's not always normal. It was very exciting because, even though I didn't really watch TV, everyone had an opinion about me. I was on 'The Tonight Show' and 'Good Morning America' and auditioning for huge movies like 'Terminator III' and Broadway shows like 'Rent,' you name it.

It was very exciting but I don't think anyone could be prepared for all of that.

Q: In 2003 you had a marijuana charge and were terminated from Dell. What was that time in your life like?

A: Yeah, that was kind of a blessing in disguise. Full disclosure, I lost a half-million [dollar] contract with Dell. Honestly, I needed help. I needed some professional help at that point. Unfortunately drugs and alcohol became something I turned to, and that was a really bad choice. Luckily it didn't get too bad and the arrest kind of helped put a stop to that It helped me slow things down so I could get the help I needed. That was really intense. I became known as "Dude, you're getting arrested" and "Dude you're getting a Cell" became the headline on Fox News. That was hard.

Q: In this day and age, the nation has shifted some on marijuana. Do you think if that arrest happened today, you'd be facing that same kind of blacklist?

A: I really don't think so, and that's a a great question. It's tough to say. Michael Phelps even dealt with that. I think it might be different today, but I was representing families and young adults and I was a role model. We can't forget that my face was synonymous with Dell computers, that people saw me and thought of Dell. But I was able to use that money to pay off my student loans at NYU and produce a show in Scotland and [was] able to turn my life around from that experience.

Q: How excited are you for this play and the chance to be anything in the entertainment field other than the Dell dude?

A: I'm really excited because I am Ben Curtis, and I don't think a lot of people realize I have been working nonstop since then. In fact, in the past year I worked more than I ever have since the Dell commercials. This is my third off-Broadway show; I am excited to tell a story and be a part of a piece of art that really talks about our political climate today I try to bring humanity to every role I play.

Q: Who is the actor you most admired growing up?

A: Al Pacino.

Q: If you could give Lily from AT&T and Flo from Progressive one sentence of advice, what would it be?

A: Hang on.

Q: What do you miss about Chattanooga, other than family?

A: Everything. I miss the nature and the community.

Q: Favorite A-list actor you have met in your career?

A: Matt Damon.

Q: Did you use being the Dell dude to get dates?

A: I never used it for anything other than my career. I didn't use it and abuse it in that way.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com and 423-757-6343.

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