The 62-year-old was just 19 when she first starred in Halloween. Eight movies and 43 years later, she talks about her emotional connection to Laurie Strode and one last hurrah planned for Ireland
In Halloween Kills, Jamie Lee Curtis reprises one of the most iconic and resilient characters in movie history, the babysitter who took on a monster — Laurie Strode.
She’s played her in eight films over 43 years, and was just 19 the first time she did.
When I suggest that she must have a deep emotional connection with the character at this stage, Jamie gets up, approaches the Zoom screen and shows me a photo on her phone. It’s a recent cover of Entertainment Weekly magazine in which Curtis, as Strode, is kissed fondly on the forehead by Curtis, the actor. Then she gets upset.
Curtis is a warm and witty person with a wonderful sense of humour, especially when it comes to herself. When I tell her she’s one of the least Hollywoody people I’ve met, she throws up her thumbs.
This is clearly a compliment and yet she’s Hollywood royalty through and through, the daughter of 1950s heartthrob Tony Curtis, and Janet Leigh, the luminous star of everything from Touch Of Evil to Psycho.
Halloween Kills begins where the 2018 reboot Halloween left off, with Michael Myers left for dead inside the safe room of a burning house, while a gravely injured Laurie is ferried off to hospital in the back of a pick-up. Franchise over, one might have thought.
“Unfortunately, we all painted ourselves into a very bloody corner at the end of the 2018 film, which I believe you could have ended with Laurie dying in the back of that truck,” she says. “She would have been happy that her daughter and her granddaughter are now united with her, and Michael’s dead. A perfect ending, you know, very neat, but of course, oh no!
“In this movie, when we hear the fire engine coming, we find out that things are not so neat. But meanwhile, Laurie comes out of her surgery, she thinks Michael’s dead and Frank Hawkins, her old crush, happens to be lying next to her. It’s a lovely scene — she’s back with her family, here’s this guy, it feels like for one second there’s almost hope. Then she finds out Michael’s not dead.”
Poor old Laurie has been battling the nihilistic monster Myers ever since she got trapped in a suburban house with him as a teenage babysitter in the original 1978 Halloween. I tell Jamie I can think of very few actors who’ve played a character through almost the entire arc of their lives.
“Mark Hamill,” she says. “He’s the only other one I think, and there are those wonderful Before Sunrise films of Richard Linklater’s, where characters age over time, but it’s a very small group that gets these opportunities to explore a character so deeply over the course of their lives.
“And when you say it’s emotional for me playing her, it is. This is a wounded, brilliant girl, who’s been rendered into this warrior woman, but she’s like a pinball in a pinball machine, banging around life with no contact, no love.
“So to me, that photograph I showed you of me and her, it slays me, if you’ll excuse the pun, it renders me weepy because that, to me, is who Laurie is, through my connection with her all these years.”
Curtis looks a good decade younger than her 62 years. Born in Santa Monica in 1958, she was perhaps cured of Hollywood notions by watching the effect stardom had on her parents. They separated when she was four, and she grew up with no notion of following in their footsteps. “I never ever thought I was going to be an actress,” she says.
Before Halloween, she was studying law, wasn’t she? Curtis laughs. “Law — are you kidding me! I got 840 combined on my SATs, I was a functional illiterate. I barely crawled my way out of high school. I went to a college where my mother was the most famous woman to have ever graduated, and they wanted me with my D average.
“So no, I didn’t study law, I studied criminology because I thought I might be a social worker. I really thought I’d be a cop. I thought I’d be a really good cop. So no, it wasn’t like my mom or anyone else said don’t go into acting. I was studying in college, I was a little sister in a frat house, so I was majoring in that, partying with boys and minoring in nothing, you know.
“I was not a scholar and when I was discovered, it was by accident: I had no premeditation like, oh someday it’s going to be me up there.”
Curtis tells a story about her father, but interestingly refers to him not as dad, but by his full name. He was absent through much of her childhood, and though there was rapprochement in Tony’s later years, he famously cut her and all his other children out of his will.
“You know, Tony Curtis says that when he was in the Navy, he was on a submarine tender in Tokyo Bay during the surrender of Japanese forces, and he used to work the big semaphore lights on the ships.
“They were made of metal, and they would reflect his face in a big curve across this reflective surface, and from that, he knew he would be good in the movies, because he could see that he looked good from every angle.
“And he was super handsome. I looked good, man, but I was not that girl — I could not look in the mirror and go, damn! I was kind of awkward, so I never thought I’d be an actress in my life.”
And yet she’s carved out quite a career, starring in everything from Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda to Blue Steel, Freaky Friday and Rian Johnson’s critically acclaimed recent thriller, Knives Out (“a wonderful filmmaker,” she says).
She’s written a series of bestselling children’s books, patented an invention, campaigned for Hillary Clinton, written a blog for the Huffington Post and raised funds for worthy charities.
She and film-maker Christopher Guest have been married for 37 years. Not bad for a “functional illiterate”. But the thing Jamie remains best known for is undoubtedly the Halloween films. Did she have any idea when she started that it was going to be so long-lived?
“No, I had no clue, none of us did — young filmmakers, friends from film school, Dean Cundey, John Carpenter, Tommy Wallace, Nick Castle. Young, under 30s all, two trucks and a tiny Winnebago, that was our entire crew. Seventeen days, $300,000, fast. So nobody knew anything, nobody had a clue.”
Curtis, and John Carpenter, will return next year with the 13th and — we are promised — last instalment, Halloween Ends. Over the years, the films have become synonymous with Halloween night itself, which is now seen globally as a quintessentially American celebration. However, we know different, and so, it turns out, does Jamie.
“Yes, you people invented it! Apparently we’re gonna come to Ireland there next year for the last film and do a whole thing. I’m looking forward to that.”
Halloween Kills is in cinemas from today.