[INTERVIEW] Jamie Lee Curtis’ career comes full circle in ‘HALLOWEEN’

Jamie Lee Curtis in HALLOWEEN. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

I don’t think I was an actress before. I think I was just a performer. I became an actress on HALLOWEEN.

You’ll probably never meet someone with as much comforting candor as Jamie Lee Curtis.

Forty years ago, she became a star thanks to her performance in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. Though it was not her first acting gig (she had been on episodes of COLUMBO and QUNICY M.E.), it was on this project where she was gifted her first major role as Laurie Strode, a suburban high schooler who finds herself caught up in serial killer Michael Meyers’ murderous rampage on the titular evening. And now, decades later in director David Gordon Green’s HALLOWEEN, she’s fulfilling a kind of cinematic prophesy reprising that same role, but with a twist.

Our beloved heroine has been preparing all these years for a rematch. However, she’s baring deep-seated emotional scars that have been passed down to her adult daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). It’s that trauma that’s unearthed once again when Laurie’s demented, dangerous pursuer escapes on – you guessed it –Halloween night.

At the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, the affable actress, sporting a “Slay all day” pin on the collar of her silk black shirt, shared with a few reporters that it’s Jake Gyllenhaal we partially have to thank for her return.

He said, “My friend David, who I loved and had a great experience with, wants to talk to you about a thing.”

But what really sealed the deal for her was a scene in the original script – one that, incidentally, failed to make the final cut.

There was a scene where Allyson went on a run in the neighborhood and went into her house to get ready for school and she opened the louvered closet door and pulled the bare bulb. Right away – it was like page 2 – I went, “That’s beautiful!” 40 years ago, I ended in that closet and now, here was my granddaughter opening the closet to get ready for school to go do her day.

A wildly popular shorthand in production design, reflecting the character’s mental state through their surroundings, blessedly failed to make the cut. Curtis was able to adjust what it said about the Laurie we meet now.

The first script had her compound messy – dishes in the sink, clothes strewn around. And I said, “A woman who sleeps with a knife and a gun wouldn’t have an El Pollo Loco box on the bed.” I think they thought they were going to show her mental state through that and I said, “That’s a cheap way to do it.”

Green’s direct follow-up to Carpenter’s original film dives deep into how trauma affects the female psyche – not just with Laurie, but also with her relationship with her direct descendants. Curtis said that was one of the fascinating things to explore in her now mature character.

Trauma is generational. Trauma is passed on unless it’s helped. Of course, there’s now a lot of people who spend their lives helping people through traumas. There are a lot of trauma and recovery centers. But in 1978, there was nothing.

I believe Laurie Strode went to school November 1. I think she went to school with a bandage on her arm, maybe some stitches from the emergency room, but I think her parents sent her back to school. Two days before, she was an intellectual honor student, heading off to be the valedictorian – no doubt – of her class. She was gonna get out of Haddonfield – she was going to expand her mind. And two days later, she was a freak. Two days later, she walks down the hall and everyone [whispers]. That’s the trauma that violence does to people. It took 40 years to work through it – and obviously she had no help. Nothing.

The thing I took away from the movie is depth. How does trauma manifest in you, in a family? How does it isolate you? How does it distance you from people? To me, it’s not just a grandma [role].

Jamie Lee Curtis and Judy Greer in HALLOWEEN. Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Both then and now, playing Laurie offered Curtis a chance to create a fully-fleshed out character.

Laurie Strode was the best part I had ever played, because it was a full character. Here was a part that actually had character, when I was 19 years old, when the only thing a director or costume designer would say to me was, “What size jeans do you wear,” because I was a young, nubile girl.

40 years later, is f*cking whack, that I get a role that has this complexity and depth when I don’t get that. Here’s a job that has real depth. I couldn’t stop crying for a month [after I came home from shooting] and I couldn’t stop crying from the moment I walked on his set. All of it came back. It was very powerful.

Curtis credited Carpenter and co-writer/ producer Debra Hill for writing such a rich character originally – and Green for letting her plunge back into a role with further dimension.

It wasn’t any collaborating with them because they had done the work. The creation was I got to go out with the costume woman, we had $200, and went to JC Penney and basically bought Laurie her back to school clothes like you would with your mom. That’s when I knew it was a character.

The beauty of it for me was that John cast me as Laurie Strode – the most rounded character I will for sure ever get to play. I mean, TRUE LIES was great – a great part, beautifully written. FREAKY FRIDAY was a great part, beautifully written, fun.

But Laurie Strode was a full character and very different from me. I, quite frankly, should’ve been cast as the smart ass one – or P.J. Soles’. I was a cheerleader in high school. So the fact that he cast me as the intellectual, thinking, quiet girl at a time people asked me what size jean I wore made me understand that I was an actress. And really what it is, is that I became an actress. I don’t think I was an actress before. I think I was just a performer. I became an actress on HALLOWEEN.

And David, I’ll start to sob, but I really believe that David gave me a chance to be an actress again, because I sold yogurt that makes you sh*t for seven years. It’s really beautiful to bring something with depth.

Though Hill and ’78 version executive producer Moustapha Akkad are no longer with us, their fingerprints are all over the latest iteration.

The movie is dedicated to Moustapha Akkad, who died in a suicide bombing with his daughter. And Malek, his son, is carrying on the tradition. At one point there was a conversation whether we can dedicate this movie to Debra.

HALLOWEEN wouldn’t be HALLOWEEN without Debra Hill. The voice of those girls is all Debra Hill. John is a talented man, but he’s a guy from Kentucky. He doesn’t speak teenage girl like Debra Hill. I think those three women are Debra Hill. That intellectual side, the snarky, smart aleck side and the frisky side [laughs]. Therefore, she’s responsible for the Laurie we meet today.

Curtis further elucidated on Hill’s extended influence on her life outside of film sets.

By the way, it was Debra who became one of my best girlfriends after the movie – and she was 30 and I was 19. Not only am I directly connected through her through Laurie Strode, I wouldn’t be married to my husband if not for Debra Hill. I was sitting on my couch in my apartment in West Hollywood when I turned the page on Rolling Stone magazine. Sitting there on the couch with her and there was a picture of Chris [Guest], Michael [McKean] and Harry [Shearer]. I turn the page and said, “Oh. I’m gonna marry that guy.” She said, “Oh! He’s an actor I tried to put him in a movie. His name is Chris Guest.” I said, “I’m gonna marry him.” She said, “He’s with your agency.”

The next day I called his agent at my agency and the guy, David Hoberman, picked up the phone and he said, “Yeah. I know all about it. Debra Hill called me.” I left my number with David. Chris didn’t call me. I ran into him at a restaurant – we didn’t speak at the restaurant. He called me the next day and we married four months later. That’s Debra Hill.

HALLOWEEN opens on October 19.

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