Published 2:04 PM EDT Oct 17, 2018
HOLLYWOOD – It’s not Michael that haunts her.
Sit with Jamie Lee Curtis and she will try to forge a connection. She will relate, she will pound her fist on the table, she will declare herself. She turns 60 next month, and the real bone chiller is leaving this earth with ideas left on the table.
“I want to die having said something,” she says firmly.
It’s a beautiful, weird, emotional time for her. “Halloween” arrives in theaters Friday, a sequel that critics have hailed as the best installment of the horror franchise since the 1978 original, with an 86% fresh rating on review site Rotten Tomatoes. This is the franchise that made her famous at age 20. Her first real job.
The new “Halloween” finds Laurie Strode as a grandmother who stockpiles weapons (and, yes, that includes guns) and escape plans, knowing that one day the murderous, masked Michael Myers will return. (The new film basically ignores the plot structures of all sequels that came before it.) She has pushed away her daughter (Judy Greer), who considers her paranoid and unstable. She is close only to her granddaughter (Andi Matichak).
In one scene, Laurie waits in her car as Michael is transferred by bus from his asylum to a new prison. Rage courses through her like the booze in her cup; a gun waits by her side. It was Curtis' last day of shooting, and to honor her, the crew donned name tags that read, "I am Laurie Strode."
"They didn’t say a word," Curtis says. "And what they were saying was: 'We love you. We love Laurie. We are all traumatized. And we are all together with you.'"
"Halloween" is also a film that pulses with the repercussions of trauma. It's a horror movie, sure, but the film's timeliness is arresting; Curtis reminds that this interview is taking place on the exact one-year anniversary of when Harvey Weinstein’s world imploded and just after Bill Cosby went to jail. A week after Christine Blasey Ford testified on Capitol Hill.
In the original "Halloween," Laurie, 17, once a promising, curious, college-bound teen, "became a freak," Curtis says, after Michael's killing spree. The latest film bookends the causal effect of Laurie's nightmare, offering a very 2018 twist in its bloody finale. "It was beautiful to watch what happened with Laurie Strode and her daughter and her granddaughter and watch three women take back the power from a perpetrator," she says.
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Curtis knows she’s talking about fictional suffering as she makes the rounds for "Halloween." “But do you really think it’s fiction for me?” she asks.
“I’ve never been a soldier. I’ve never had to put my life on the line like a police officer or a fireman. … I’m an actor," she says. "But I’ve had pain. I’ve been oppressed. I’ve been a woman in the movie business. I’ve been a woman who's known for her figure in the movie business, and I’ve had to navigate my version of that. And so I can relate. I think that’s the goal for all of it. I want to relate.”
Curtis will go down in history as a legendary scream queen; she knows it's inevitable. “All I hear is the grading, the rank ordering in my industry. A-list. A-listers. I’m in B-movies. That’s how I’ve buttered my bread. And horror movies are like at the bottom end of the scale.”
Breakout films like "True Lies," "A Fish Called Wanda" and "Trading Places" were hard-won. She’s grateful, says Curtis, who is married to filmmaker Christopher Guest ("This Is Spinal Tap," "Mascots"). “But I’m saying there are many directors I admire. I am a film lover, I am a reader, I was born and raised here, I married a film director, we have friends, we are in circles, we know people – none of them have ever hired me."
Her gaze is unwavering. "And at some point you have to be OK with it. Because if not, it will make you crazy. I have accepted long ago to go where the love is. Be with people who love you, meaning be with people who want to work with you."
Curtis, who personally can't bear to watch horror films (Jafar in "Aladdin" terrified her), gives an almost imperceptible shrug, the blue velvet of her tailored suit rising slightly: It's a living. “And yet I have navigated 40 years. I sold yogurt that made you poop for five years because it was a gig that allowed me to stay home and be a mom the way I needed to be a mom."
Over the past 20 years, her sober years, Curtis – the daughter of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh – confronted a new normal. She recalls being a new mom on a "hamster wheel" of work, marriage and motherhood: "I think I was replicating my mom and really trying to just make everybody happy," says the actress, mother of Annie, 31, and Thomas, 22.
Take 1987, the summer she shot "A Fish Called Wanda," the John Cleese comedy that showcased her talents inside a brainy comedy.
"My memory of 'A Fish Called Wanda' is that I cried every day to and from work. Not that I laughed, not that it was super-fun, nothing," she says. "My memory of 'A Fish Called Wanda' was leaving my sleeping 6-month-old daughter, going to work an hour away and then working 12 hours, sometimes more, and then an hour back, often to a child asleep again. And that was like the beginning of it all for me."
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A brutal alcohol and opioid addiction followed. “As soon as I got sober, which is 20 years coming up in February, everything changed," she says. "Because it was a big, big acknowledgment that I could not do all of the things I was trying to do."
Curtis calls herself lucky. To have hit bottom while she was still employed and loved. To have had access to help. "I have made shifts along the way," she says, but acknowledging and honoring her personal bandwidth: "That’s the single greatest accomplishment of my life.”