A Deep-Dive with Jamie Lee Curtis on ‘Halloween’ & Her Legacy as a Horror Icon

     June 8, 2018

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“How fucking crazy is this?” Jamie Lee Curtis asks, dressed and wigged in full Laurie Strode costume, as she walks in for an interview with a group of diehard Halloween fans. And it is fucking crazy. Forty years after she introduced horror icon Laurie Strode to the world in Halloween, twenty years after she intended to say goodbye to the character in Halloween: H20, and sixteen years after her ultimate “final” appearance in Halloween: Resurrection, Jamie Lee Curtis is facing down Michael Myers once again. Fucking crazy.

We didn’t get to see a lot of filming during the day I spent on set for Blumhouse and Universal’s new Halloween movie, but what we did see felt needle-tapped into the vein of the horrorscape John Carpenter envisioned in his definitive 1978 slasher pic. So, it’s perfect that this would be the film to convince Curtis to come back to the fold and revive Laure Strode for one last showdown with The Shape. 

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Image via Universal Pictures

As the press group on set for a day of filming, we were lucky, wildly lucky — Curtis gave us an incredible amount of time to talk with her; she even showed up early to get into Laurie’s hair, makeup and costume, just to make sure we got the full experience. But you get the sense you’d have to be a real pain in the ass to not hold Curtis’ attention. The actress, an unequivocal icon to everyone in the room, treated us like old friends and spent nearly an hour sharing her thoughts on the evolution of the Halloween franchise and her varying levels of engagement with it over the decades.  She even passed around her phone to the room (something so trusting I’ve never seen talent do it in my near ten years in the industry), because she was just that stoked to show us a photo of her impeccable aim with a rifle, and tell us the story of the lucky Halloween fan who put his collectible on the other side of her gun. Honestly, who doesn’t want a Halloween vinyl shot dead center by Jamie Lee Curtis?

You get jaded when you do this long enough. If you were ever someone who got starstruck, that dies off real quick, but Curtis is the type of horror icon who embraces her status and has learned to love her fans for how much they love her. That makes her genuinely exciting to be around. You love her, and unless you give you a reason not to, it seems she loves you too.  It was, to be perfectly honest, one of the most rewarding experiences of my career so far. This isn’t a horror actress who begrudges her roots as the patron saint of Final Girls. This is an incredibly accomplished actress who built her roots and horror, and has nothing but respect for the fan base helped make her a legend.

Witty, verbose, and eager to talk, Curtis indulged in a longform chat on the set of Halloween, tapping into her memories from the original film, why she wanted to do Halloween: H20 — and why she agreed to do Resurrection in the aftermath — and what ultimately drew her back to the character forty years later. If you’re a fan of the franchise it’s not a conversation to be missed, and I’ve included the full transcript below because that’s exactly what I would want to read if I wasn’t luck enough to be there. Let me just say, Jamie Lee Curtis is a real one and you should read the whole damn thing.

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Image via Universal Pictures / Blumhouse

So, does this suggest how Laurie deals with Michael Myers in this film? 

CURTIS: It suggests she is prepared to deal with Michael Myers to the degree that she can. You know, we have to be in realism, she is not going to pick up a semi-automatic weapon. We have to go with the lore and the lore is A, that you can’t kill him and B, that you take advantage of the skill sets that you have. I’m not going to bring a tactical nuke in when I know he is somewhere in a field, do you know what I mean, we have to go with the reality of, we’re in Haddonfield, Illinois, what can she do? What she can do is prepare herself everyday of her life for the absolute eventual reconnection with him. She is convinced, she tries to convince everybody and the reason that her daughter was taken from her is because she was so mono-focused on this, perseverating about this eventual conclusion, that he would come back. You can imagine, a very paranoid woman, who is only talking about exits, like Laurie would never sit where I’m sitting, ever. 

Oh, with your back to the window like that? 

CURTIS: With her back to the window and door, never. She’d be in the back corner, pivoting. She’s like a rain bird. That’s who she is and so if you’re trying to raise a child, can you imagine having a parent/teacher conference? I’m only going to be asking about protection and exit strategies and they’re all talking about numbers and phonics, and even though she is very smart she is only interested in protection. 

After Resurrection, you probably thought this chapter of your life was over, about being in these films. Can you talk about the moment when you got that call and what convinced you to come back? 

CURTIS:Absolutely. So here’s what you need to know. The truth of the matter is, I did Halloween and Halloween 2 because Halloween 2 picked up exactly where Halloween left off, in that version of the storytelling, and I felt I owed it to the people who loved the original movie, that it picks up the second the last one ends. Even though other people didn’t join in, I felt as the face of the movie, it was my responsibility. But I also recognized by then, I had already done Prom NightTerror Train, kind of a bad thriller called Road Games in Australia, and then I did Halloween 2. I knew, if I knew anything, that it was time to say no more because if I hadn’t I would never have been able to do anything more and I knew that. It must be because I was raised in show business, I had some understanding, even though I’m walking away from a bona fide career, I was willing to say I’m done, and it had nothing to do with the genre. It had nothing to do with the pejorative attached. It literally had to do with if I wanted to do anything else I won’t get the opportunity to because the pigeon hole will be cemented closed and I felt that Halloween 2 was the way to end that.  

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Image via Univesal

So all those years later, the reason I have never returned to it is because I was doing lots of other things. It had nothing to do with lack of respect for the genre. I mean very soon after I was in Trading Places, now I’m in A Fish Called Wanda, now I’m doing work in comedy, a TV series. So I kind of never went back to it, never paid attention to it because it’s not a genre I’m a fan of. With all due respect, I scare easily. I have a friend of mine who just produced a documentary and she said, “Oh Jamie, you can’t see this movie.” I scare easily. I’m emotional, so if something is super sad or violent I react, so it’s not a genre I’m attracted to. I don’t look forward to it, I don’t understand the thrill of it, I respect it, but not my gig.  

So I forgot about it for a long time until H20, and H20 came about purely because I was still in show business, John was still in show business and Debra Hill was still in show business and I called them to have lunch and said, “Hey guys, next year will be twenty years later and how crazy is that? How often does that happen?” So the movie was conceived and there was a moment where John was going to direct it but then he had other commitments and I ended up, kind of again, being the only representative but the idea of that movie was to kind of complete the story. But of course, with the Halloween movies there’s a completion and there’s a ‘completion’. You know, the word completion has many interpretations and so what became clear was that the way I wanted to end that movie was the way we ended the movie. I wanted a concrete ending. I wanted for Laurie at that point to, when she turns he back at that gate with that axe in her hand, she is saying “It’s you or me because I’m not running anymore, I’ve been running my whole life, I’m not running, so it’s you or me, it’s us.” For Jamie, that was a very important moment and a very important completion to that movie. But of course what we learn, which by the way was not the original intention, was that it was not Michael, that it was an innocent man that Lori had killed. So what I said to them was, “If this is in fact how we are going to conclude the movie, without the audience knowing, then I have to come back for one more movie, for a very short moment to conclude Laurie’s story.” I’m not going to make H20 and make it ambiguous, I said I will come in and finish my version of Laurie’s story, whatever year that was, that was for me, the reason I was in Resurrection. 

So for me, I thought H20 was the correct thing to do at the time, I liked it, then I had to be in that other thing just to conclude the story and then I truly thought I would not return to this. But life is sweet, I’m doing many things, kids are raised and I was on vacation in June when I got this phone call that David wanted to speak to me. They started to pitch me and I said, “No, no, just send it to me,” and I read it and I thought that’s a very clever, modern way of referencing Halloween. I’m sure everyone is coming up with the word, it is not a reboot, it is a re-telling. It’s a very interesting take on the movie because it references Halloween 1 in every way it can; stylistically, characterologically, visually, emotionally, it follows very similar themes but it’s its own movie. So it’s a very clever mash-up, to use young peoples’ word, of the first movie in a re-telling like a direct sequel, but it’s fascinating. When you see what they’ve come up with you’ll be, “Wow”, because it’s a very modern and yet very true movie. 

I love your performance in H20 where you got to write Laurie’s history, over the course of twenty years where we didn’t see her but now you’re writing a very different history for what happened to that character that entire time. What is that like? Is that an exciting challenge to you, is it sort of wistful? 

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Image via Universal Pictures / Blumhouse

CURTIS: It’s always a little wistful because we’re talking about the passage of time and we are all human beings. I don’t know about any of you but nobody here is under the age of twenty, so we have all felt the passage of time in our own lives, we look in the mirror and the passage of time is happening, we can’t stop it. So it’s wistful, simply because the passage of time. But also by a franchise, it’s also this beautiful root. Halloween is like this old growth and it can branch off into a new way, and as far as I’m concerned, the past doesn’t exist, it has to. It’s a new generation for this movie so there will be eons of young people who will only know Halloween and this movie, they may not have followed the whole franchise. So for me, it’s like a pallet cleanser and now you’re telling this and how Laurie has progressed is similar in some ways and dissimilar in some ways. 

Is she constantly trying to re-assimilate into society or has she kind of given up on that and just existing, where is she? 

CURTIS: What is society? I think for Laurie Strode, society has not been kind to her, because the thing I really wanted to talk about in H20, that theme that we went for in that movie, is going to be at play here in a big way, which is trauma. I have a friend of mine who is a doctor, a neuropsychologist, and they are studying stress and trauma now in children — I mean if you go on the New York Times and write stress and children and trauma, there was an article two days ago about the effects of that kind of trauma on a child, whatever the trauma, be it abuse, physical or emotional violence, whatever it is, the effect changes your brain chemistry. For me what’s crucial is that level of trauma had an effect on this woman who is now fifty-eight years old, and that trauma for her is this perseverating sense of eventuality that he will come back and that every day of her life has been in preparation for that meeting. She lives alone, she has tried to live in society but society has not been welcoming. There were not a lot of mental health professionals helping this young woman, she banged her way into her life, she slammed into people, institutions, law enforcement, and they hate her because she calls the police every day, says, “Do you have somebody patrolling Smith’s Grove? I was out there, I actually sat in my car all day outside of Smith’s Grove and I didn’t see one cop car. Why is that? Why aren’t you treating him with the respect that you should treat him?” That’s the level of perseverating she has done. 

How far do they live away from each other? 

CURTIS:In Smith’s Grove? It’s all in Haddonfield. That’s what I’m saying, my point being that’s where we find her, a woman who is still daily obsessed. 

So if Laurie has been living her life like this for the past forty years, how did she find a way to find the time or the place in her own emotions to potentially fall in love, have a child and find someone who can deal with who she is as a person? 

CURTIS:I make no assumptions about people’s sexual orientation or whatever, but have you ever had a sexual encounter that was brief, somewhat fast and furious and then you never saw that person again? I can’t imagine one of us in this room has not had one of those…well, for you to assume that Laurie has a satisfying relationship with somebody is an assumption. Laurie Strode I believe, doesn’t even know who the father of her daughter is. We believe the man who raised her, my ex-husband adopted Karen when she was a year and a half or two, when I met him, then we made a relationship and that ended very quickly but he adopted her legally. So I don’t think Lori’s had… nobody could have a satisfying emotional relationship with a woman who is looking over their shoulder every moment they’re together. It’s that assumption that she’s had some sort of relationship; she hasn’t, and that’s why we find her in this isolated place that she’s living, in this sort of militaristic mindset. 

You mentioned she does have a relationship a little bit with her granddaughter, so where does she find it in herself to attach to her granddaughter? 

CURTIS: Yes, well, I mean she’s human. She’s Laurie, Laurie loved kids. Laurie was fantastic with children, probably better with children than adults. You know, when trauma happens you freeze, we can look at it through history, when something really bad happens you calcify emotionally. Laurie Strode is seventeen years old, the Laurie we’re going to meet is fifty-nine, is in a weird way seventeen so I think she actually responded much better with a granddaughter than her own daughter. I think with her own daughter she was dysfunctional in her raising of her because of this obsession of safety, but because her granddaughter wasn’t raised by her, she can connect to the granddaughter. I mean, you know and I know, what did Laurie give her daughter when she found out she was going to have a child? A car seat. Laurie is going to buy the safety item. That is who Laurie is going to be as a grandma but she is still Laurie Strode and Laurie, we see from the opening scene of the girls walking — she’s walking and the little boy comes up — that’s who she really is, and so that is still there so I think her connection to Allison is actually deeper than Karen because with Karen it’s the pejorative about what a terrible mother she was. 

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Image via Universal Pictures

Is the reason she hasn’t moved away because she feels this need to protect this town? 

CURTIS: Absolutely. Leave? I don’t think she’s left. I don’t think she has left Haddonfield in forty years. This is a woman who knows exactly where he is and she knows, even though they all are convinced that he’s somebody who they can maybe manage, work with drugs, rehabilitate, all the rest of it. She is the only one who knows exactly who he is, and that’s who we find. 

Has she ever been tempted to go in there and take him out? 

CURTIS: She can’t, he’s been in there for forty years. 

What about visiting him? 

CURTIS: You know guys, I can’t imagine she’d visit him, why would she visit him? As you said, she would put a bullet between his eyes. 

Hopping onto that, the relationship has changed in that in this storyline he is no longer Laurie’s brother. How has that changed Laurie’s relationship with him? It makes it more terrifying because there is no reason now. 

CURTIS: There is nothing more frightening to me than an unrelated attack you relate into, do you know what I mean? I promise you, in 1978 in March, not one of those thirty people, who were all your age — the oldest person on Halloween was John and he was thirty or thirty-one. Debra was thirty, Dean Cundey was twenty-nine, every guy on the crew was twenty-four or twenty-five, we were a band of rebels, guerilla filmmaking. We had three trucks, art department, camera and Winnebago that was makeup, hair, wardrobe and special effects. Each actor had a cabinet with their name on it, that’s where you put your purse, we all changed in the same area. That’s what the movie was. It was made in seventeen days, superfast. Not one of those people can claim today that they knew that this movie would be a wild success and would spawn generations of sequels. So what happened in the telling of those stories, forty years of storytelling, it’s like a tree, one of those branches started telling a story, that was an invention by the filmmakers, to tell that story, that branch of the Halloween roots. But you see that isn’t what we’re telling and I agree with you, I think it makes it much more terrifying, that what happened was random and pointed at her and that’s why she has not let up for one second, like it has nothing to do with it’s not her brother. 

Laurie has spent forty years preparing for Michael’s return, when he does show up again is her top priority her family or taking him down? 

CURTIS: That is the question, what do you do? It’s Sophie’s Choice and I’m with you, I protect my family and in protecting them you take him down, but you can imagine the harping about protection. When it comes to our children, we are all safety oriented and Laurie Strode, she is the OG safety person. So therefore, it’s a really tough question. You will see in the movie, she does both, she will go after him but at the same time protect her family. 

Does she believe there’s a solution to him or does she believe she’ll be fighting him forever? Does she believe she’ll be able to kill him? 

CURTIS: I think so, honestly. I think it’s probably the driving force of her life. 

How was it going onto the set again and seeing Michael in the mask coming after you? 

CURTIS: The truth of the matter is, the moment that completely slayed me was seeing Malek Akkad, who was a kid, because I knew his dad. It brings tears to your eyes that he was carrying on the tradition of his father. That got me, when I saw him standing there, because I remember him as a little kid and then the horrible story of what happened to his dad, and that did it. You know, I’ve worked with charities, I’ve had masks signed for charities, for children’s hospitals, I’ve done that so the mask doesn’t evoke that in me. I’ve raised two children to adulthood, can you imagine how many Halloween’s I’ve gone out? Can you imagine how many Michael Myers I’ve seen? So that didn’t do it but seeing Malek, his father’s son, carrying on this great tradition from a movie that was conceived by his dad in 1977, because if any of us have lost people — that connection was very moving to me. I’m sure I’ll feel that way when I see John. I saw Nick Castle, that was kind of whack. It’s awesome, but the real emotional moment for me was seeing Malek Akkad. 

Malek told me right when this thing was about to go, he got a text from you that he said was really emotionally charging to him, a real simple text. 

CURTIS: I’m not going to share it. You know what, it has to do with honor. We all at the end of the day want to have some honor, about what we do, what we say, how we present ourselves. And he is the keeper of that flame, and he was working really hard to protect his father’s legacy and the way that Moustapha Akkad did business. You know it’s a modern world, a different world forty years later, a whole different business and I just communicated to him that no matter what, that’s the thing he has to hold onto because that’s the only thing that matters. Money, all the fun we might have together making this movie, none of it matters. The only thing that matters is his keeping the integrity of his father’s vision and that he has done, but he had to fight for it. 

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Image via Universal Pictures

One of things I loved about the first films was Debra Hill’s influence and how together, you and her kind of started the strong, badass females in horror and you coming back to do this, it means a lot to me as a woman and working in this industry and how much I love this. Can you talk about her legacy? 

CURTIS: Well with Debra, here’s what’s interesting. The part of this that’s tricky for me is you see, Laurie Strode is a survivor. She survived by her wits, even though she made stupid errors, like throwing the knife away twice, because you have… because there’s no movie if you don’t. So there are these moments where you have to go, “OK, make it real.” But Laurie wasn’t a badass, Laurie was a nerd. Laurie read sweet romances, and it was interesting because she fought back, and whatever the lore is then sucked out of that storytelling, the good strong and smart girls survive, the girls who are promiscuous don’t, you know all of the tropes that have then been mined and sucked dry by the myriad of sequels and other types of movies, other horror movies that have taken the same formula, that trope, and then applied it to their movie.  

Laurie isn’t a badass, she’s smart and she survived, and in that she’s badass, but you know, her poking the guy with the thing was just an instinct and in this movie, I also don’t want her to be a badass, I want her to be prepared. I want her to still be who she is but prepared, because she’s not Linda Hamilton, I don’t have those arms. She was strong because she was smart, education I think gives you strength, it’s not muscles, it’s brains. Brainpower is the strongest message, so I’ve tried not to become some badass bitch because I don’t think that’s correct. She’s pedantic, she’s mono focused, she’s annoying as hell and in her living, she has become proficient with weapons. It’s tricky because we’ve turned strong women into superhero women and that isn’t what makes a woman strong, we’re not talking about physical strength, we’re talking about intelligence and wile and all the beautiful things that make a smart woman so dynamic, so I’m hoping to fight against becoming too much badass and keep the integrity of her intelligence that I have brought into this piece. I fought for that. 

Spielberg said ninety percent of having a successful performance is in the casting and you brought so much to that movie, so much depth. With this, you’re not retreading territory at all but we’re still coming to the closure of the Strode story. 

CURTIS: I appreciate that. You know, I’m a smart ass, vulgarian cheerleader. I was a cheerleader in high school, I’m very energetic and I’m a total smart ass because I’m not that intelligent and the quickest way around some actual legitimate answers to something is to quip it. When I met John, I had done Operation Petticoat, a TV series where I was just a girl in a tight shirt and I’d done a few TV episodes. That’s what I had done, prior to meeting John. So when John met me and cast me as Laurie, it may have been the only time in my life that someone had hired me to be an actor. Now people hire me to be me. They hire me to sell you yogurt that makes you poop but they hire me to sell you yogurt to make you poop as me, meaning whatever my gig is, you believe me. Like when I tell you if you eat this yogurt your poop will be good and I’m being honest. That’s why they hired me for seven years, that’s why they hired me to do voice stream wireless commercials. That’s why people hire me to do commercials for them because people go, “Oh, I believe her,” and that’s because I’ve established a Jamie life. But you see, this was in 1978 and John hired me to be Laurie, he didn’t hire me to be P.J., he didn’t hire me to be Nancy, either one of those roles he could have easily cast me in, he cast me as Laurie and that integrity of Laurie really gave me the confidence to continue being an actor, because it really made me understand that I was an actor. So for me, the great pleasure is returning to Laurie because it was my real understanding that I was an actor and that I wasn’t just a cute girl that was going to make you crack up. 

What was the biggest thing he saw inside of you that he knew you were Laurie? 

CURTIS: He said vulnerability and I think that’s that intangible thing. You could say I looked cute, but true vulnerability is what you want in a horror film, what you want your lead character to have, which is some sort of sense that you want to help her, that you as an audience believe in her and want to protect her a little bit. That’s what true vulnerability does and that’s, again, why the badass thing — you see badass is a shield. It’s like Wonder Woman. It’s like anything with a shield, and the thing that was beautiful, and what I tried to achieve in H20 even, was the depth of someone’s pain, of a trauma, rather than just the result of it being some shield, so in this movie we are returning a bit to that so we will I hope have a beautiful conclusion to Laurie Strode’s story. 

You’ve spoken a lot about how she has prepared for this moment but in the context of this film, has Laurie shown any reverence for her friends that died? Does she visit their graves every year on Halloween because of that, or is she solely focused on the preparedness aspect? 

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