By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Jamie Lee Curtis is sitting on the front porch of a Universal Studios backlot house reminiscing about shooting a climactic scene in “Halloween.” Not the classic thriller in which she made her feature film debut 40 years ago but an all-new sequel (with the same title) in which she reprises her now-iconic Laurie Strode character as a middle-aged grandmother still traumatized by an incident that happened to her as a teenager at the hands of serial killer Michael Myers.
Curtis, who points out she turns the big 6-0 this Thanksgiving, is thankful to have another chance to further explore the character that kicked off her acting career back when she was still contemplating a career in law enforcement despite coming from Hollywood royalty. (Her mom was actress Janet Leigh and her dad was actor Tony Curtis.)
The scene she is recalling is one in which her agoraphobic character has ventured from her secured home compound alone in her pickup truck to witness the nighttime transfer of her locked up tormentor from a guarded mental institution to a state prison. Laurie’s rage and fear build to a boil and then she lets out a blood-curdling scream from within the truck’s enclosed cab. It is an unforgettable moment in this highly anticipated sequel. With her signature closely cropped silver hair and black-framed glasses, the tall, blue-eyed Curtis remembers the moments leading up to filming the all-important scene.
She explains that she always asks the crew to wear nametags during the first few days of production so she can get to know each of them by name, and the “Halloween” set was no exception. Nearing the end of production, she was called from her dressing room to shoot the scene at a remote location in an industrial area just outside of Charleston, S.C. (She even recalls the street name.) Though they were nearing the end of the shoot, she noticed the crew once again was wearing badges. As she got closer, Curtis saw that each of badge read, “We are Laurie Strode.” She was touched by the gesture of solidarity.
“It’s as though the entire crew was saying ‘We are with you. We are all in this together and we believe in you,’” she recalls. “It was an incredibly emotional gift for them to give me.”
Curtis says that as she sat in the truck cab waiting for her cue, she relived an experience from 40 years ago.
“It was very cathartic and it’s in the movie as I knew it would be,” she said.
Two days later, she called writer-director David Gordon Green (“George Washington,” “Pineapple Express”) to ask him how the scene turned out, and he told her he thought it would be interesting if that was the only scream she did in the movie, and she agreed.
During the interview, we spot producer Jason Blum (whose Blumhouse Productions is behind this latest “Halloween iteration) and executive producer and “Halloween” creator John Carpenter being escorted by publicists around the backlot.
“I hate it when we’re all separated,” says Curtis, gazing out at her friends and colleagues being hustled from interview to interview on the faux suburban neighborhood street.
“It’s a weird job; it’s just weird,” she says, shaking her head.
“But I’m good,” she adds, smiling.
While some actors try to forget their early, sometimes embarrassing, credits, Curtis is proud of her association with longrunning horror franchise. After filming the 1978 original directed and co-written by Carpenter, she appeared in three sequels (“Halloween II,” “Halloween: H2O” and “Halloween: Resurrection”), which some say didn’t quite live up to the original. Curtis burst beyond the horror genre to star in such popular films as “Trading Places,” “A Fish Called Wanda,” “True Lies,” and the “Freaky Friday” remake co-starring Lindsay Lohan. Most recently, she starred in the offbeat horror comedy series “Scream Queens” as Dean Munsch with Emma Roberts and Billie Lourd. She directed one episode as well. Married to actor-director Christopher Guest (“This is Spinal Tap”) since 1984, she has two adult children.
This newest iteration of “Halloween” picks up 40 years after Laurie Strode’s babysitting gig on the mischievous holiday was horribly interrupted by Myers, a masked serial killer who went on a spree killing other babysitters in her neighborhood. After years of psychological scrutiny, Myers is set to be transported from a mental institution to a prison on Halloween, of course. Haunted by what happened to her years ago, Laurie has rigged her house with cameras and a sizeable cache of weapons. She is estranged from her adult daughter Karen (played by Judy Greer) but surprisingly close with her granddaughter Allyson (played by Andi Matichak making her big screen debut). The film also stars Will Patton as Officer Hawkins who was just a rookie when Myers went on his killing spree and Nick Castle, reprising his role as the masked, mute and menacing Myers. Though secured and guarded in the transport bus, Myers manages to escape, leaving a trail of carnage in his wake. Audiences can guess who he’s coming for but she’s been preparing for this faceoff all her life.
Q: The film’s gotten a lot positive pre-release buzz, following the premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Some critics are saying this is the best in the franchise.
Curtis: We shot in January of this year. It was intense and it was much more emotional and much deeper than I had anticipated. I think that mostly comes from David, because he wants to explore. I’m an actor. I show up. I know what I’m doing. And I’m prepared. He likes to play with it and talk about it. And we really started to understand what happened to Laurie Strode. The practical things, like, what happened to her the next day, November 1, 1978. What happened to her? She woke up in her bedroom and she had a bandage on her arm and some stitches and she went to school because that’s what you did.
So, we started to talk about how nobody talked about (what happened on Halloween) and she was this freak—drugs, alcohol, men—all of the rest of it. We shoot this movie and the whole crew was extraordinary. Everyone felt like we were on a mission to really do something special. It was not a money-making gig for anybody, including myself. We all did it for scale. People wanted to work with David (Gordon Green) because he’s a filmmaker, like John Carpenter was and is a filmmaker. All the film school friends of John Carpenter’s who made (“Halloween”) with him, the same thing is with David Gordon Green. Producers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, the cameraman, his editor, his sound mixer has been on every single movie David’s ever made. They all met in film school. So, that’s the sort of energy the movie had.
Q: The story of Laurie Strode’s journey is timeless, isn’t it?
Curtis: She is a representation of everything we hope a young woman would be. John (Carpenter) and (co-writer) Debra Hill created somebody who was a dreamer. She was an intellectual. She was a virgin but she wanted contact. The song she sang, “I wish I had you all alone. Just the two of us. I would hold you…” This is who we meet, so I think that representation also is why the movie was successful, besides it being beautifully clean. And the filmmaking was just excellent. The main character was this beautiful young girl.
Q: Laurie’s granddaughter is a lot like her.
Q: The daughter, not as much.
Curtis: Yes. It’s because it’s a generational story of trauma. I’m sure you know people whose grandparents were in the Holocaust, Holocaust survivors. It is generational trauma. Imagine Laurie Strode with her first-grade daughter at back-to-school night. She’s asking about exit strategies and sheltering in place—all the things that modern families now have to deal with.
The reason they took her daughter from her was because she perseverated about protection, safety and preparedness, and then people came along and said, “We’ll take care of (your daughter). You just take care of yourself.” That is very evident in the storytelling.
Q: Did you, Judy and Andi have some time to bond beforehand?
Curtis: Yeah. We all did. It’s funny because Andi wasn’t going to be an actress and I wasn’t going to be an actress. She was going to college on a soccer scholarship. I was going to college when I accidentally became an actor. She went on vacation and somebody said to her, “Hey, you’re really pretty. You should be a model.” And then a manager said, like a manager said to me, “You could be an actress.” So, she quit school like I quit school. And both of our first movies were “Halloween.” That’s why her credit is, “And introducing…” as mine was. So, she and I really bonded.
Judy and I—she’s terrific and we had a great time—but I spent more time with Andi. But Judy and I did go out one day and did the history of Charleston tour. I got a car and we had one afternoon free, and I said, “C’mon. Let’s go.” It’s funny. We went sightseeing. But with Andi, we sat face-to-face and sort of downloaded.
Q: What did you learn from working with David Gordon Green?
Curtis: I wasn’t looking for anything when I got the call that David wanted to talk to me. But my friend (actor) Jake Gyllenhaal had said his experience working with David on “Stronger” was wildly creative and the most exciting creative experience he’d ever had. That was the recommendation.
The way David works is that he’s very low key, very loose. He absolutely knows what he wants but he’s also very inventive and he really likes to explore and talk about things. He’s not afraid to throw away pages and say, “Let’s figure out what’s really happening here.”
So, even the dinner party scene went through about 20 versions because we didn’t really know what state Laurie should be in.
The reason I brought it up was because I had such a good time and I could see how much fun he was having and the crew was having working with him that I literally went home and wrote a script. I had an idea for a movie and my husband (Christopher Guest)—I was going to give it to a writer I knew to write it—said to me, “Why don’t you write it?” I said, “I can’t write a script.” And he said, “No, you should write it.” And I did it. I hired somebody who helped me learn how to do it. And it’s all because I realized what a creative experience (filmmaking) can be. It’s not just your job and you show up and you do your work and then go home. My mojo really kicked in and made me anxious to explore other creative ideas. I wrote the script with a specific budget in mind and my hope is that I’ll go direct it.
Q: Will you be in it?
Curtis: No. I didn’t write myself a part. That would be tricky. I directed an episode of “Scream Queens.” I was in the episode I had in a big way, and that’s a lot of juggling around. It’s possible.
What it did is that it just made me realize that you can go off, for a very little amount of money with a creative group of people who are all focused on the same thing you are and have a good time. It reminded me very much of being on the first “Halloween.” Absolutely, which is why it was very reminiscent. The way David worked the crew, the locale— all of it.
Q: Speaking of “Scream Queens,” that series had a small, but devoted following.
Curtis: The writing was great. The people that loved it, loved it but it never found a bigger audience, which was a bummer. But I was very happy with it.
Q: Actors used to go to TV for work after their film career was over.
Curtis: It’s the opposite now. What I like to say is that I’m open for business because I am a freelance actor and I have been for my whole life, except for four years when I had a commercial contract, and I knew that I had an income for two years. But for my entire adult life, I’ve been a freelance actor, which means that you’re virtually unemployed for most of it. So, I don’t need to work. Financially, I’m OK. It’s not as if I’m on the hunt because I need to pay my mortgage but I didn’t know I was going to be doing this a year ago. I did this in January and it was fantastic.
Q: Is the uncertainty part of the excitement of your job?
Curtis: I don’t know. I’m just sort of wide open. I think if you show up with integrity and do what you do and stay out of the way of trying to manipulate something … I really don’t know. Obviously, I’m going to promote the movie now for a while. This will be a focus. I’m going to turn 60 in November. On Thanksgiving. I will have a lot to be thankful for. I have a lot to be thankful for.