Jamie Lee Curtis On How ‘Halloween Kills’ Digs Into Society’s Rage Problem – “There’s So Much Hatred Being Spewed”

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·14 min read
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  • Jamie Lee Curtis
    Jamie Lee Curtis
    American actress
  • David Gordon Green
    American film director and writer

Keep telling yourself, “It’s just a movie.” That is, unless it’s David Gordon Green’s run on the Halloween franchise, according to Jamie Lee Curtis. She says the spark that brought her back to the iconic slasher series was precisely that Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride tapped into a changing world to add new relevance to the rebooted trilogy, reimagining Laurie Strode as a woman who had lived a lifetime with the trauma of Halloween night in 1978 and had been hardened and enraged by it when we met her in 2018’s Halloween. Now, she says, with Halloween Kills, the middle part of the trilogy expands to dig into societal rage, and is relentless in its brutality – both viscerally and figuratively, as it explores the darkest side of groupthink, fake news and anger mobs.

It’s what brought the movie to its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last month, where Curtis and I meet on a banquette overlooking the beaches of the Lido for this interview, and an altogether more auspicious berth than a slasher movie generally receives. And yet, she insists, it’s also just a movie, and one that enthralls and entertains and satisfies the basest desires of horror fans, with a level of brutality designed to shock… and perhaps offer a little catharsis in a complicated world.

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Curtis was also honored by the festival with its Lifetime Achievement Golden Lion, in recognition of a body of work that started by defining her as the ultimate Queen of Scream (1978’s Halloween was her feature debut) but has developed into comedy and drama and everything in between. She says the award feels like it’s designed “to tell me I’m not dead yet,” but it also feels tailormade for an actor who has shaped a career uniquely her own. The next challenge? Directing, she says, with a feature film project she’s currently preparing. There will be no retirement for Jamie Lee Curtis, though we might see her less in front of the camera. Acting, she insists, “is all about what you fucking look like, and the truth is that’s just never been my gig.”

DEADLINE: I saw this movie at 8:30 in the morning.

JAMIE LEE CURTIS: No. I can’t even [laughs].

DEADLINE: I was prepared for brutality because Halloween in 2018 was brutal. But Halloween Kills is on another level entirely.

CURTIS: People are going to lose their minds. This movie is beyond brutal. It doesn’t push the envelope; it doesn’t shred the envelope. The envelope doesn’t even exist. It has pulverized it. It’s graphic in a way these movies have not been, and it’s graphic and brutal in that way because the world right now is graphic and fucking brutal.

David Gordon Green and Danny McBride and the whole company—there are many minds involved—were prescient to the point of absurdity. They understood women’s trauma and rage three years ago, prior to what ended up being an explosion of that. They wrote the first movie in advance of that. And now they’ve made a movie about community: community trauma, community rage and rage against the machine. The system is fucked, and they knew it. They saw it coming. I joked with David that I want to take him for Vegas.

And the third movie, which I read on the plane over to Venice, is just perfect. It makes us all look in the mirror; that’s basically what the third chapter is about. It’s fascinating to me that this weird film nerd had such an understanding of the human psyche and the global zeitgeist that he predicted two humongous moves for social change globally. With two horror movies.

DEADLINE: The idea in this film goes back to the John Carpenter original, and you speak it in the movie: Michael Myers is not really the point; the fear of Michael Myers is more devastating than the man himself.

CURTIS: That’s the point of the movie, absolutely. I remember when David told me that this movie would be an exploration of community trauma, and what fear does to a community. It creates the boogeyman, which as you say was the point of the 1978 movie. It was what John Carpenter understood all those years ago—and I must give credit, too, to Debra Hill, who was really the voice of Laurie Strode and those three female characters in the original movie—and I feel like we’ve come full circle back to the idea of the boogeyman. The next movie will explore that in an even bigger, more profound way. It’s fucking bananas.

David is an extraordinary filmmaker. At the end of this trilogy, we’ll look back on it not only as a history lesson, and as an example of social change. It’s also going to make us look in the mirror at who we are as individuals, as individuals in small groups, and as individuals in a larger society, all under the guise of a horror movie. A trio of horror movies that entertain.

DEADLINE: The sense of community rage you mention, do you think it’s coming from social media?

CURTIS: There’s just so much fucking hatred being spewed in these electronic portals that we all carry around in our pockets. This anonymous force of rage. The same rage that we see on Twitter every day is the town of Haddonfield’s rage. That the system is broken, it isn’t working. And if you don’t trust that the system represents you, it’s anarchy. It’s interesting to me how this became the story David told.

DEADLINE: This new trilogy of films ignores everything that has come before except the 1978 original. As you say, John Carpenter and Debra Hill were interested in saying something thematically. But as the sequels trundled on, it seemed like the series veered towards becoming a product to be exploited for some cheap box office without as much thought. Is that fair to say?

CURTIS: I don’t even think you can say it veered toward it. As it evolved it became a product. But you have to remember that the genesis of the original film was Moustapha Akkad, the financier, saying, “I want to make a babysitter slasher movie.” Irwin Yablans, the producer he hired, thought, What if we set it on Halloween? John and Debra wrote the movie, but we owe Moustapha and Irwin a great debt of gratitude because they created the petri dish that then allowed John and Debra to really create this.

And do you know how the 2018 Halloween began? Jason Blum wrote a one-word email to David Gordon Green that said, “Halloween?” So, then Jason created the petri dish that allowed David to create this. And why David in that moment? Why did he and Ryan Turek, his brand ambassador, know in that moment that David Gordon Green and Danny McBride—the creator of Eastbound and Down and The Righteous Gemstones, which I think is the funniest show on television—could take this story and this character, 40 years on, and make the movie that he made?

And by the way, the last thing I thought I was ever going to be doing again was a Halloween movie, for the reason you said. Not because I didn’t love Halloween, but I just didn’t know that someone was ever going to come up with a good way to tell the story again. And I was happy doing other things. I think I was probably doing Scream Queens at the time with Ryan Murphy, and having a wonderful, wacky time poking fun at the very genre and movie series that has now brought me to the Venice Film Festival. I’ve never had a film here before, or I’ve never been here before; if I’ve had a film here, I wasn’t with it.

Yet, here I am, laying by the pool with you, at the end of the day, about to premiere the movie for the first time. And they’re going to hand me a prize to tell me that I’m not dead yet and I guess they’re happy about that.

DEADLINE: Well, your career stretches far beyond Halloween. You have entirely distinct sets of fans for your work on films like True Lies, Freaky Friday, Knives Out, A Fish Called Wanda, Trading Places, the list goes on. It’s rare for someone to cross so many worlds.

CURTIS: I’m checking a lot of boxes now, I know. It’s good. But you see, this is the crazy part: I am having such a creative time round now that the idea of being a lifetime achievement is such a closed-ended statement. I am now busier and more creative than I’ve been since I was 19. The best drug ever invented is creativity. It turns me on. There was never any drug or any pastime, any recreation, that I loved more than being a creative person.

And I’ve been trying to get to where I am for a long time, but I also raised a family, and I had other things I wanted to do. Now, I’ve raised my children, things are all good with my husband and he’s doing his thing, and I feel like I’m just starting. I feel like this is a participation prize to say, “You’re only beginning.”

Michael Myers (aka The Shape) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green - Credit: Universal
Michael Myers (aka The Shape) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green - Credit: Universal


DEADLINE: In fact, you’re planning to direct your first feature film. Was there a moment of revelation, then, where you realized now was the time?

CURTIS: I’m 62. I’ll be 63 at the end of November, and when I turned 60, there was this moment where I woke up and thought, If not now, when? And if not me, who?

I’ve had this idea in my head since I was 19 years old. And when I was finished shooting the 2018 movie, I came home and said to my husband, “I’m going to try to find somebody to write this movie that I’ve had it my head.” And my sweet husband, he said to me, “Why don’t you write it?” I said, “I’ve never written a screenplay.” He looked at me and said, “Jamie… You know how to write a screenplay.”

So, I called a friend of mine whose son had just graduated from film school and who was looking for a job. I called him and said, “Russell, do you know how to drive Final Draft?” He said yeah, and I said, “OK, because I have a 42-page treatment that I need to input into Final Draft.” It began what is now a co-written project with Russell Goldman.

DEADLINE: Tell me a little about it.

CURTIS: Without giving it away, it’s called Mother Nature and it’s a feminist eco-horror film. We’re already into budgets and I’m hoping to shoot it for Blumhouse next summer. Again, if not now, when? If not me, who? What was I waiting for? I’ve been having such a great, fun time.

DEADLINE: You’ve directed for television before. Is it a different part of your creative brain?

CURTIS: Not really, but the collaboration is different. I think when you’re a director, you can really say, “This is who I am and what I’m about.” I can see that in my goddaughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s movie, The Lost Daughter. She bought the rights to the book and wrote the script and had to shapeshift because of the Covid of it all. She assembled this wonderful group of artists to work with her, went off and made it, and had this tremendous success with it here and in Telluride. That’s a great example to me of, if not now, when? If not me, who? No one else is going to tell this story like I am, and I think that’s really what it comes down to as a director: it’s your story to tell. When you’re an actor you’re the interpreter for someone else’s story.

So, if not now, when? If not me, who?

DEADLINE: It sounds like the sort of philosophy that suggests “retirement” is a dirty word for you.

CURTIS: And then do what? I have two words for you: Norman Lear. He’s 99. He’s producing television and movies. He’s writing books. And he’s not just doing those things, he’s producing tv and movies and writing books with social conscience, with environmental impact. He holds salons for thinkers and idea-makers to bring other idea-makers together.

One of my email addresses is “ideachick”. I’m “ideachick” because all my life I wanted someone to come to me and go, “You know what, Jamie? You have really good ideas,” and put me in a room and let me come up with them. I’ve invented diapers, I hold patents. I’ve written 15 books for children. I do two podcasts now, something I’ve never done before. I think of ideas every single day, sometimes five times a day. I am constantly creating, thinking.

My husband is a recreator. He’s a beautiful fisherman and he loves to play music. He’s a musician first and foremost. He loves to play golf. If I never did any of those things again, but every day I could dream up ideas… that’s my recreation. That’s my pastime. I’d rather do that than anything else. That’s the reason to get up.

And by the way, as for retirement, the last thing I want to do is have a fucking camera pointed at my face when I’m older, because cameras are brutal. High-def is deadly. But ultimately, I can still be a creator and not be in front of the camera. I’ve spent a lot of years in front of the camera. But I’d like to move away from that and let somebody else have a turn.

That doesn’t mean I have to stop creating, and I can’t stop. I shake from it. There’s a book I’m trying to buy right now that I heard about on the radio, and it made me shake with excitement for it.

And it’s not about what I look like. It’s about something bigger than what I look like, which is the problem with being an actor. It’s all about what you fucking look like, and the truth is that’s just never been my gig. These are all my clothes; I own them all. I bought this blouse in Sun Valley, and I bought these pants because they were cute. The blue suit I was wearing earlier, I’ve had it for three years and I wore it to my daughter’s wedding shower. I’m not in fashion magazines. I don’t wear makeup. I don’t wear jewelry beyond a pretty, black ring, which I also bought myself. I wear a necklace with my childrens’ names on it. I can play the game if I have to, but I’m not that person. Period.

DEADLINE: Which brings me back to the start of our discussion, as we talked about the themes of these new Halloween pictures. Do you believe in art as a force for change?

CURTIS: Of course. It’s a change agent, it is. You can’t do something about something until you see it reflected back to you. You can’t change something until you know what’s happening, and the way you know what’s happening is that the cinema will show it to you, in a way that makes it digestible and understandable over two hours. It goes into you and it never leaves you. Nothing changes until something changes, and nothing’s going to change until you understand it and how to deal with it, and I think cinema and art—as brutal and violent and horrific as it can be—once you see it and you’re taken in by it, you can start to imagine a different world. And you can start imagining what you, as an individual can do about it.

Every revolution starts with one person. One student becomes two, becomes 15, becomes 15,000, becomes 15 million. It’s the butterfly flapping its wings. It’s that email: “Halloween?” And we can begin to understand this very complicated question of the other, of evil, of fear. So even though this is a horror movie, and obviously incredibly violent and brutal, I still think it can be a catalyst for self-examination and for our ability to change.

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