Jamie Lee Curtis
‘Blood, Sweat & Tears: The Life of Jamie Lee Curtis’
Jamie Lee Curtis was born November 22, 1958 to Hollywood legends Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Curtis has always been known for his long and varied acting career, but it was Leigh who etched her way into movie history in the now famous shower-scene in Alfred Hitchcock's ’Psycho.’ After her parents’ divorce, Jamie Lee came into the custody of her mother where she was raised away from the "business". Jamie was a less than exceptional student while attending Beverly Hills High School. Her mother, in an attempt to stimulate her scholarly ambitions, moved her to an eastern prep school when she was sixteen. After high school, Jamie attended the University of Pacific at Stockton. Three months later, she dropped out because she wanted to act.
At first, she only got some small television roles, but then came ’Halloween.’ She was paid only $8,000 for her performance in the classic film, but it launched her career literally overnight. She followed up ’Halloween’ with a series of similar horror movies including ’Prom Night,’ ‘Terror Train’ and ’The Fog.’ During this time, she became quite active in the Hollywood party scene, freely admitting to having experimented with cocaine, among other things. Worried that she was becoming type-cast, Jamie changed her image with a series of sexy vixen roles. The movies, such as ’Trading Places,’ ‘Dominic and Eugene,’ and ‘Grandview, USA’ allowed the actress to stretch her range - but they were box-office flops.
But, finally the ‘90s saw the thirty-something actress break through with a series of hits. ’A Fish Called Wanda,’ ‘My Girl,’ and finally ’True Lies’ put her firmly on the A-List of Hollywood talent. Today, she is married to Christopher Guest who also works in Hollywood, but mostly behind the scenes. They have adopted two children named Annie and Tommy.
It was only fitting that, at the height of her career, she should return to her roots. ’Halloween’ was the foundation of the slasher/horror genre twenty years ago and now that interest in the genre has been re-awakened by movies like ’Scream’ and ’I Know What You Did Last Summer,’ it was about time that the original "scream-queen" came back to do it all over again. ’Halloween H20’ had Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her most famous role for a whole new generation and then again in more of a cameo in the relatively ill-fated 2002, ’Halloween: Resurrection.’
Taking some time out with the lady herself, we chatted about all things movie; including the brand new first-time-on-DVD release of ’The Fog’ and all things family. First off though, I wondered what her memories of those early acting days were. ”I was never overly driven,” she smiles. ”When I started out, I was an ambitious actress because I wanted to work. Even then I never fought as hard as most of my contemporaries. I was a 19-year-old actress who'd just been fired from a TV show (‘Petticoat Junction’) when John Carpenter and Debra Hill called me in to read for Halloween," she recalls further. "At the time, Jane Fonda, Meryl Streep, Goldie Hawn and Sally Field were at the zenith of their careers. The studios were making movies for women. They weren't making movies for teenage girls like ‘Scream.’ But, like ‘Scream,’ ‘Halloween’ struck a chord with teenage girls and it gave me a very lucrative career," she smiles broadly once again.
Movie speaking, when did Jamie Lee Curtis first come of age ? "I can trace my entire career back to my ’Halloween’ movies. John Landis, who cast me in ’Trading Places,’ discovered me when he was making a little schlock movie called ’Coming Soon’ in which he used footage from my horror films. John Cleese saw ’Trading Places’ and gave me ’A Fish Called Wanda,’ which turned out to be one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's favorite comedies, which is why he gave me ’True Lies.’ But, I have never felt the success of my other movies as much as I did ’Halloween.’ The horror fan base has supported me for all these years."
How important are your family to you these days ? ”My family and my writing are far more important to me these days and making movies is no longer a priority in my life. I grew up in show business and for 23 of those years, I've been on my own making films. For too long, it was my life."
OK, now for a little behind-the-scenes memories from these films of yours. Firstly, ‘The Fog’
”That it was one of the most terrifying experiences shot-wise that I've ever been through," she laughs. ”I mean, man, all that fog and all those zombies was just hilarious,” she again laughs. ”There were times you just couldn’t even see your own hand in front of your face and yet you still had to act. By the end of the shoot each day, it was in your hair and on your clothes and just everywhere. Even up your nose ! But it was a great chance at making a real movie and I’ll always be thankful to John (Carpenter) for that.”
”Now THAT was the most grueling shoot that I have EVER been through,” she quickly replies, her hand coming to her mouth. "There were a lot of special effects in the movie including puppets and robots that refused to operate as we'd been promised they would. We were also working on a real ship and some days the waters were very choppy. It was a nightmare shoot for seven months."
’The Tailor of Panama’?
”I did ‘Tailor’ as a favor to John Boorman (Director) who has been a close personal friend since we worked together as jury members at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival."
And, of course, the now infamous ’Halloween’ series ?
Amazingly, you were only nineteen when you made ’Halloween’ and it’s almost been twenty five years since that film came out ? ”I’ve been alive longer since ‘Halloween’ than I was when I made the film, if that makes sense. It’s a part of my life that I’ll never escape from. It’s the best film I’ve ever made which is why I always talk about the film in interviews and stuff. You’re lucky as an actor if you can touch the audience in a way that they know you for a character. To a lot of fans I’m Laurie from ‘Halloween.’ ‘True Lies’ would probably be the other film for which I’m really well known for.”
Were you ever offered ’Halloween III’ or ’Halloween IV’ ? ”Yes, I was offered ‘Halloween III’ as a matter of fact, shortly after ‘Halloween II’ came out, but I found the new story weird and I felt that by doing ‘Halloween II’ I’d paid my debt to John Carpenter and Debra Hill. It was time to move on. It wasn’t time to do another ‘Halloween’ movie back then. Twenty years later, that was the time. ‘Halloween III’ had no connection to Laurie or Michael so I didn’t feel like I was obligated to do it.”
Why do these last two ‘Halloween’ sequels ? "’Halloween: H20’ was meant as a big scary thank you note to the fans who made my life what it is today," she admits gently nodding. "Horror was hip again and the silver anniversary of ’Halloween’ was approaching. I knew if we made the right movie, the audiences would come. This is my ’Field of Dreams.’"
You kind of promised that ’Halloween: H20’ would be the end for you, so why did you reappear in ’Halloween: Resurrection’ ? ”’Halloween: H20’ was such a success and I had it in my contract that I could appear in another one so I was happy to do it. Originally, I was only going to be in ‘Halloween: Resurrection’ for thirty seconds but they had something longer in mind, so I just went with it. I spent four days on the set. I felt that I wanted to do justice to the fans and the series and if they needed me here in Vancouver four days to end my character, then I was going to do it. It’s a beautiful city too, but it rains a lot !”
Do you see yourself as still the original ‘scream queen’ ?! "No," she replies sarcastically yet adamantly, "I'm no dowager scream queen ! My mother is the dowager scream queen," she then adds Curtis referring to her mother, Janet Leigh. "I think she would accept that. But I'm not giving up my scream queen crown of knives until I decide to though.”
Did you think ’Halloween’ would be such an important film, artistically and commercially ? ”No, I didn’t really think that it would be “the one” for me. I was told it was a straight horror film with a young director who was hot in Europe. The budget was three hundred grand. That’s all I knew.”
What was the toughest part of filming the ’Halloween’ films for you ? ”I always found the running and screaming pretty routine but hitting the marks is tough, keeping pace with the camera and the director. I don’t like it when people are watching me, like when I’m filming on the street, if I’m doing a scene when I’m running along and screaming “help” over and over. It’s nice when the set’s empty when you do stuff like that. Also, on the first two there were lots of panaglides and that was tricky as far as keeping track of your marks.”
Aside from ‘Halloween,’ what’s your favorite of the other scary movies you’ve done ? ”They were all important to me at the time. ‘Prom Night’ was probably the worst, but getting that film and the amount of money I was paid, it made me feel very independent. I liked ‘Terror Train.’ It was fun and it kept you guessing. Ben Johnson, my co-star, he was great and John Alcott photographed it. He did ‘The Shining’ and he was just a genius. It was beautiful. It was all shot on a train, at night. That film kept you guessing right until the very end. And ‘The Fog’ will always be a favorite of mine because it really was about then that I began to feel comfortable in that horror kind of role. Everything points back to horror movies, because they gave me everything I have. I started in horror movies, they gave me a platform to stand on, and it’s my way of saying thank you to that audience, that fan-base. It's like, ‘This blood's for you ! Here, have this one on me !’”
All these years later are you even scared of movie blood ? ”No. It smells weird for one thing and it’s really sticky and it gets dry really fast. It breaks on your skin very easily. But, I am a complete chicken ! I've been saying this for 20 years, and nobody ever takes me seriously. I can't see a horror movie. I hate them. I don't like looking at them. I don't like to be frightened. I don't like to have that scary music, and know that something scary is going to jump out. Obviously, I can see the movies I'm in, because I know it's coming. But all the stuff in this movie, all the kids in the school...I couldn't watch that. I fast-forwarded through that. I watched ‘Scream’ by fast-forward with the lights on.”
Any behind-the-scenes secrets about any of your movies ? ”Well, I think ‘Halloween II’ was a film that John (Carpenter) wasn’t crazy about making. There was nothing special about it like with ‘Halloween’ which was such a great film. I was rushed on ‘Halloween II’ because I’d been doing another film. That’s why my hair in ‘Halloween II’ looks bad ! In the end though I wasn’t in ‘Halloween II’ that much, but John shoots a movie faster than anyone I’ve ever seen and he had a team that knew all of their roles. In ‘Halloween II’ there was a new lineup. Everything was bigger on ‘Halloween II.’ There was more of everything !”
Finally, on Halloween, do you go out trick-or-treating with the kids wearing any form of ’Halloween’ mask ? "I've never had to wear a mask for the past 19 years. People see me and scream because they assume Michael Myers isn't far behind, !” she laughs one final time.
To read our DVD Review of 'The Fog: Special Edition' just click here and be whisked away !
Interviewed by Mort Wilde for Exclusive Magazine
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