The daughter of Psycho icon Janet Leigh and Spartacus legend Tony Curtis, Jamie Lee Curtis was born into Hollywood royalty but had no real desire to follow in her parents' footsteps.
"I don't think I ever had any ambitions," says Curtis, 63, over Zoom. "I don't think I looked at it that way."
Matt Sayles/Invision/AP/Shutterstock Jamie Lee Curtis
That changed after Curtis played beleaguered babysitter Laurie Strode in 1978's hugely successful horror landmark Halloween. The hit set the actress on her way to starring in a dozen or so unforgettable films, including 1983's Trading Places, 1988's A Fish Called Wanda, 2003's Freaky Friday, 2019's Knives Out, and, most recently, this year's Everything Everywhere All at Once. Now, Curtis has returned to her signature role of Laurie — for what she insists is the last time — in Halloween Ends (out Oct. 14 in theaters and on Peacock).
"I need to now cut her loose and let her live in the minds and hearts of the fans that have supported her," says Curtis of Laurie. "I now get to go off and do my own thing."
Below (and in the video above), the actress talks about the original Halloween, Halloween Ends, and her many career highlights in between.
Curtis was still a teenager when director John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill cast her as the Michael Myers-battling Strode in the low-budget proto-slasher.
"I remember how much I loved being part of that group of young filmmakers," she says. "I had previously been in television, where it was all older union crew, and [on Halloween], the oldest person on the crew was John Carpenter, and he was 30. So it was a bunch of young dudes, and me, and they were playing 'Hey Nineteen' by Steely Dan and I was 19. It was just beautiful."
The actress has fond memories of working with Carpenter.
"John is such an interesting guy," she says. "He's sort a gentleman — he says 'darlin'' a lot. My experience with him was that he was quiet and very focused on what he needed. The movie was made very quickly, there wasn't a lot of hanging around, there wasn't a lot of talking. There was a lot of working."
Trading Places (1983)
Typecast as a horror scream queen, Curtis spent the next half decade appearing in 1980's Carpenter-directed The Fog, the same year's Prom Night, and 1981's Halloween II. She eventually broke out of the genre with filmmaker John Landis' Trading Places, playing a sex worker named Ophelia who befriends Dan Aykroyd's suddenly penniless commodities trader.
"John Landis had chosen me against everyone's feelings, advice, whatever," says Curtis. "Danny was amazing, I probably had a little crush on him."
The movie also starred Eddie Murphy in only his second big-screen role after appearing in the previous year's 48 Hrs.
"He was sweet, he was funny," Curtis says of the comedy-icon-in-the-making. "I remember when we were doing the table read in Philadelphia, Eddie was late, and John went out in the hall and explained to him that being late, ever, was not part of the gig. Eddie came in, and apologized to all of us that he was late, and never was late again for John. So, you know, he was young."
A Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Curtis holds her own as con artist Wanda Gershwitz in the John Cleese-penned caper movie, acting with comedy greats Cleese, Michael Palin, and Kevin Kline (who would win an Oscar for his work here, a rare victory for a comedy). Yet when an acquaintance of Cleese first called Curtis, the actress assumed that the he really wanted to collaborate with her husband, This Is Spinal Tap star Christopher Guest.
"I was in Los Angeles and the phone rang and a friend of mine named Ian Gordon said, 'Hey, John Cleese would like to speak to you, can I give him your number?'" says Curtis. "I just made an assumption that John wanted to speak to me so he could meet my husband, because Spinal Tap had just come out, and I thought he of course would be interested in Chris. John called me and said, 'I've written a movie for me and you and Michael Palin and Kevin Kline and we're going to make it next summer.'"
While the result would be hailed as an instant classic, the actress has less-than-fond memories of the shoot.
"I was a young mom, I had a baby, and honestly all I remember is how shitty I felt every day leaving my daughter and going to work," she says. "I just cried on the way to work, cried on the way home, because I felt the conflict of a working mom."
Curtis did give her co-stars gifts, although it could be argued they were really gifts to herself.
"I bought everybody toothbrushes because, you know, the English are famous for a couple of things and one not-so-good thing," she says with a laugh, referring to the Brits' reputation for poor dental hygiene. "I bought toothbrushes because we were going to be swapping spit."
Blue Steel (1990)
In this Kathryn Bigelow-directed thriller, Curtis played an inexperienced New York cop named Megan Turner who starts dating Ron Silver's commodities trader, unaware he is a killer. The actress is full of praise for Bigelow ("I love Kathryn") but recalls having trouble with some of the script's more unlikely turns.
"You know, there are a moments of logic disbelief that actors have to act," Curtis says. "There's a scene with Ron where we're making out in his apartment, like full macking, about to lead to sex, and in the middle of that scene he goes a little wonky and asks me to pull out my gun, and then I realize that he's actually the killer. [Laughs]. That was one of those acting moments where you go, wow, this is so hard, because how do you make that real?"
True Lies (1994)
James Cameron cast Curtis as Helen Tasker, the in-the-dark wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger's spy in the filmmaker's action spectacular.
"Jim gave me the freedom to create something," the actress says of the shoot. "I think he saw what I was doing and just was like, keep going! Go, go, go, go, go. More, more, more. I loved that feeling, because it was really a new feeling for me."
Also? "I got to hang on a wire under a helicopter for the better part of an hour, if not more, in the Florida Keys," says Curtis, laughing. "You know, there are those moments where you go, wow. I mean, I'm having a lot of wow moments, but that was a wow moment."
Freaky Friday (2003)
Curtis and Lindsay Lohan play a mom and daughter who swap bodies in Disney's third, and much-beloved, adaptation of Mary Rodgers' novel.
"Freaky Friday was a fabulous movie, also very freeing creatively," says the actress. "You know, being a teenager again, it was super fun. I had a good time with Lindsay. She was terrific."
The two stars still stay in touch, Curtis having set up a test so she knows it is the genuine article who is contacting her.
"When she texts me, she'll say, 'Hey, Jamie, it's Lindsay,'" explains the actress. "I'll be like, 'Prove it.' Here's our proving it: I say, 'What was the song that we both tried to learn the rap to when sitting in the car for an entire day together?' If she answers correctly, then I know it's Lindsay. If it's somebody fishing, pretending to be Lindsay, they won't know that answer. So, for all you fake Lindsays out there, that's going to be your question!"
Scream Queens (2015-16)
Curtis played Dean Cathy Munsch in the Fox horror-comedy show co-created by Ryan Murphy, about a sorority targeted by a serial killer. With a cast which also included Emma Roberts, Lea Michele, Keke Palmer, and Billie Lourd, the series looked like such a surefire smash that EW granted it cover status when the show premiered (see below). Alas, Fox would cancel Scream Queens after just two seasons.
"It was so inventive, so dark, so well-written, so well-directed, the actors were fantastic, all those girls were great," Curtis says. "What I really remember about Scream Queens was, when it was starting to get seen, and you guys were like, it's really amazing. I'd never been part of something that had that much lift-off. It actually felt like it was going to break television, the way it was teed up. It didn't. It did fine. But the lift of it before it hit was something I've never experienced before or since. I mean, every single news magazine had picked it as its No. 1 show of the year and it was so interesting to be a part of that."
EW Entertainment Weekly/Scream Queens cover
Knives Out (2019)
The actress had no great expectations for the comedy-mystery-thriller despite the presence of Rian Johnson in the director's chair and an all-star cast, from Daniel Craig and Chris Evans to Christopher Plummer as a rich novelist and father of Curtis' character, Linda Drysdale. But the result was an Oscar-nominated critical sensation and box office hit.
"I was actually quite isolated," Curtis says of the shoot in Massachusetts. "I was living in this weird hotel by myself, and a lot of the movie, I'm not in. I was alone for a lot and it was a very tough time. It turned out to be this fantastic movie. I would never have known that the movie we were making was the movie that we made. It wasn't evident to me, because Ryan was so specific in his methodology, and it's not like we're all watching monitors and seeing all the work. We had no idea. We'd just do our little thing and then go home. It was just such a delightful surprise."
Curtis became one of the film's biggest boosters, helping Knives Out to achieve a global gross of more than $300 million.
"I remember when they wanted me to go to CinemaCon with Knives Out, I was like, they want me to go to CinemaCon?" she says. "They don't want all those other people to go to CinemaCon? Because I really felt like I was this tiny, tiny, delicious but tiny little part of the puzzle. It just was so fun to actually become its head cheerleader. I'm a bit of a weapon of mass promotion and I got behind that one in a big way, because it was so fun and great and people loved it."
Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
Another sleeper hit, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert's berserk sci-fi-action-comedy finds Curtis playing IRS agent Deirdre Beaubeirdre who menaces Michelle Yeoh's laundromat-owner in one dimension and gets romantic with her (with hot-dog fingers) in another. Everything All at Once premiered at this year's SXSW Festival and would go on to become the first A24 film to gross $100 million around the world.
"That film had so little expectation," says Curtis. "It was made for so little, so fast, in Simi Valley, California. 95 percent of the dialog I have in that movie was shot in the first two days and then the rest of the movie, I just marauded around. [Laughs] The day the Covid lockdown started was the day we finished shooting, like the Friday before, and for two years the Daniels have been creating, with Paul (Rogers) their editor, this movie. I saw that movie for the first time at South by Southwest and my mind was literally blown open. I was in shock because it's spectacular."
Halloween Ends (2022)
Curtis's Strode will face off against masked maniac Michael Myers one final (girl) time in Halloween Ends, the third in a trilogy of sequels directed by David Gordon Green which began with the 2018 reboot Halloween.
"Halloween Ends is the inevitable conclusion of a 44-year trip that started with this little girl in Haddonfield, Illinois, who had her life interrupted by this incredibly violent act, this incredibly violent human," says Curtis. "The audiences have watched these movies over the years where Laurie and Michael have, in all these various forms, come into contact with each other again. Now we've created the final confrontation, that final battle between the final girl and her monster, and it's incredible."
Watch the full video version of Jamie Lee Curtis' Role Call at the top of this post.
Halloween Ends premieres in theaters and on Peacock Oct. 14.
See an exclusive image of Curtis in the film below.
Ryan Green/Universal Pictures
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