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When Jamie Lee Curtis learned that she would be receiving the Venice Film Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award, her initial reaction was one of surprise. That sentiment didn’t stem from a lack of self-confidence in her 43-year acting career, which has spanned just about every genre and includes such horror classics as The Fog and Prom Night as well as slick, commercial thrillers like True Lies and Knives Out. The iconic scream queen, the daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, says it simply feels “odd” to be reflecting on a lifetime journey.
“I feel so alive, like I’m this 14-year-old person just beginning their life. That’s how I wake up every day with that sort of joy and purpose,” says the 62-year-old mother of two. “It seems weird to think of myself being old enough and experienced enough to war- rant a lifetime of achievement. I’m just beginning my work.”
Given that the Santa Monica- born actress began her onscreen career with John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic Halloween, there’s an elliptical quality to her filmography as she once again returns to the role where it all began: the post-feminist heroine Laurie Strode. In Halloween Kills, which will have its world premiere Sept. 8 in Venice (Universal will release the David Gordon Green-helmed film Oct. 15), Curtis reprises the role, with at least one more outing planned for Halloween Ends, which begins production in January.
The actress, whose husband is Waiting for Guffman director Christopher Guest, caught up with THR and talked about working with John Cleese and Lindsay Lohan and the sense of gratitude and community she feels every time she walks on a set.
Take me back to the conversation when you relayed the news of your lifetime achievement award to your family.
To be honest, I get so much attention as a public person who is still active in their day job. So, I don’t even think I mentioned it because it’s just more attention. Obviously, they were proud of the acknowledgement from the Venice Film Festival [when they found out].
What was your most memorable moment on Halloween Kills?
When I saw Kyle Richards and Nancy Stephens [from the original Halloween], I realized the passage of time and how long we’ve all been a part of this story. There was a moment where I ran into both of them early on. And it was very emotional because Kyle Richards was little Lindsey, a little girl I’m babysitting in [Halloween]. And she’s now a full-grown woman, living a very wonderful life. The passage of time was extraordinary. In this film, we are telling more of the story of Laurie Strode and Lindsay and Marion, Nancy’s character, and that we’re all survivors. And it was a great moment of survival and pride.
What has been the high point of your career?
When I was making the 2018 Halloween, the last scene of the movie that I had to shoot was a moment where Laurie Strode is sitting alone in a pickup truck, watching Michael Myers headed to a supermax prison where he will spend the rest of his life. And she is seeing this person who has caused her 40 years of trauma being taken away. And the scene was just me alone in a truck. When we went to shoot it, it’s just my little truck with about 14 cameras around it and cranes and lights and a crew. I was in my trailer preparing for my work, which was going to be emotional, cathartic. It was described as a moment where Laurie sort of replays the 40 years since this first occurred. I’m someone who likes name tags because everybody knows my name, but often I don’t know anyone else’s. And so, whenever I start any project, I ask for everybody to wear a name tag. And this was now the end of the movie. This is me shooting my last scene before I was going to fly home to be back with my family. And when I approached the set, the entire crew were standing in silent solidarity with their hands behind their backs. And everyone was wearing a name tag. And the name tag said, “We are Laurie Strode.” What they were saying was, “We are with you, Jamie, in this moment. And we know there’s nothing we can do to help you as you do this moment of work alone in a pickup truck. We believe in you, because we are you.” I gotta tell you, that may be the high point of my career.
Worst moment of your career?
I don’t have one. There are hard days in everybody’s jobs. There’s not a person who works in whatever job they do that shit doesn’t happen. My worst day at work doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of how hard other people really work. For a movie actress to say that there was a worst day at work, there would be nothing that I could offer you that would even come near someone else’s horrible times at work. So I’m declining to answer your question.
How did you land the role of Wanda in A Fish Called Wanda?
That part was actually written for me by John Cleese. I was minding my own business one day, and a mutual friend called me and said that John was looking to talk to me. And, you know, I’m married to a very talented, funny man [Guest]. And I just assumed that John wanted to get in touch with me to get in touch with Chris. So I called him back. And then it turned out that he wanted to write me a part in the movie, which I wasn’t expecting. It was a gift.
Given the box office success of True Lies — $379 million worldwide — did the film open up new career opportunities?
Of course. But the truth is, every job opens the door to another job. Work brings work. It’s the nature of the beast in many professions. I can tell you that A Fish Called Wanda led to True Lies. I know that Jim [Cameron] saw [Wanda] and somehow must have thought something because he ended up writing that wonderful part for me in True Lies, which gave me Freaky Friday.
What do you remember about working with a young Lindsay Lohan on Freaky Friday?
I want to remind you, Lindsay was 15, a young 15-year-old girl, who was really talented. The combination of talent and teen is beautiful and challenging for anybody. She was delightful. At the same time, you’ve put a child in an adult position of working. There were moments that were hard for her. Basically, we had a wonderful time together, and I continue to be a big champion for her because I think she’s remarkable.
Is there a dream project you’ve never been able to get off the ground?
I am just getting a project that I’ve been working on for 10-plus years, which is the story of the birth of the high five, which was born from a closeted, gay, young black baseball player named Glenn Burke, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and invented [that form of celebration] on Oct. 2, 1977, at Dodger Stadium. I’ve been trying to tell his story for a long time. I think we are just now going to be able to do so with Ryan Murphy Television at Netflix. It is something that I have been working on for a long time as a producer. Glenn died in 1995 of AIDS on the streets of Oakland. It’s a very tough story and yet triumphant because what he created is the most ubiquitous gesture of solidarity, joy, community and celebration. It crosses every gender, race, economic and cultural line, and it was born out of someone hiding who they were. And that, to me, is incredibly poignant.
What do you love the most about Hollywood?
Every single day that I walk on a set — when I pull my car up either to a gate or to a checkpoint — and I enter that world. I’m not someone who idol worships. I don’t have specific mentors who have guided my way. It’s the community of moviemaking that said I have a place that I belong, that I have a spot. And when I get out of my car and I’m on that set, be it the backlot at Paramount or a warehouse in Wilmington, North Carolina, there’s a feeling, a kind of gratitude, that this is my life. I love the community of a group of people coming together with a central purpose, every- body doing their assigned jobs, each one as important as the next. Doing something toward the greater good — this creative moment.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Sept. 2 daily issue at the Venice International Film Festival.
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