Jamie Lee Curtis beckons me over to a circular day-bed on the terrace of the Excelsior Hotel on Venice’s Lido. She’s lying down – her back is hurting a little – and invites me to lie with her. If my 15-year-old self could see me now. Curtis is here for two reasons: to collect the Golden Lion Honorary Award, a well-deserved lifetime achievement prize, and for the premiere of Halloween Kills, the latest in the horror franchise that kickstarted her career 43 years ago.
“I’m laying here with you at the Venice Film Festival, a festival I’ve never been to, a festival I’ve never been invited to, a festival I’ve never had a film at,” she says. “And here I am with you because of the movie Halloween in 1978.” John Carpenter’s low-budget horror cast Curtis as Laurie Strode, the babysitter hunted by the mask-wearing killer Michael Myers.
Inspiring a generation of slasher movies, this taut suburban tale flirted with the supernatural and saw Curtis deliver an ice-cold evocation of pure fear. It became a word-of-mouth hit, and suddenly Curtis – the daughter of Hollywood icons Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh – had a career.
While Curtis returned for 1981’s Halloween II, she then wisely stepped away from the franchise, which spun off numerous cash-cow sequels. Instead, she enjoyed a stellar career across the Eighties, Nineties and beyond in comedies like Trading Places and Freaky Friday, Kathryn Bigelow’s arthouse thriller Blue Steel, James Cameron’s action spectacular True Lies, and, recently, Rian Johnson’s smash-hit murder mystery Knives Out.
In 1998, Curtis revisited Laurie Strode with Halloween: H20, despite having been killed off a few films earlier. The filmmakers got around that by revealing that she had faked her own death and was working as a headteacher in a California school. The film took a so-so $55m. When the franchise was rebooted yet again, in 2007, Curtis didn’t return.
It was only when she met with director David Gordon Green (Stronger) that she was convinced to play Strode once again – an older version, who has barricaded herself away, permanently scarred by her teen entanglements with Myers. The resulting film, 2018’s Halloween, largely ignored the by-now skewed continuity of the earlier films. It became the biggest hit of the series, grossing $159m.
Dealing with female trauma, it felt particularly timely, arriving after allegations of sexual abuse in Hollywood that had led to the MeToo movement. Laurie was vulnerable, fragile, abused. “Every woman involved in the MeToo movement was a victim of abuse, whatever it was – sexual abuse, physical abuse, professional abuse,” says Curtis. “They were victims of a power greater than them. With the courage of a few, women started to take back the narrative from the perpetrator and have been able to stand up.”
Curtis and Judy Greer in ‘Halloween Kills’
Halloween Kills, which picks up directly from the end of Green’s 2018 movie, sees an injured Strode hospitalised as the townsfolk go on the rampage looking for Myers. The film was shot before the Black Lives Matter gatherings and climate-change protests that have dominated the headlines these past 18 months. Curtis believes this trilogy – the third part, Halloween Ends, is due next year – reflects social change. “We are seeing, all over the world, collective community rage against the machine, against the system. There’s a line in Halloween Kills: ‘The system is broken.’ And people are rising up all over the world, saying ‘The system is broken.’ It’s fascinating to me.”
Born in Santa Monica, Curtis was largely raised by her mother after her parents split when she was young. While her father was in famed Fifties classics such as Some Like It Hot and Sweet Smell of Success, her mother remains best known for playing the victim in the shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho. Was this ever in her mind during all those years running from Laurie Strode? “Oh no doubt, of course. No doubt.”
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Curtis talks rapidly, with a wicked sense of humour. Take her name. “I hated Jamie as a child – I wanted to be called Jane,” she says. “For, like, a week, I think I said to my parents, ‘I want to be Janey.’ They were like, ‘OK.’ And I think they called me Janey for, like, a day. And then it got stupid. The only good news about that is that my husband calls me Janey, in intimate moments. Which is his specific brand of brilliant humour. That moment when you don’t want to be laughing, he’ll say, ‘Oh, Janey’, and he’ll make me laugh.”
Curtis as Laurie Strode in ‘Halloween II’ (1981)
Her husband is Christopher Guest, co-creator of fictional heavy metal band Spinal Tap, who could lay claim to being one of the funniest men on the planet. Life in their household must be quite something. “This is me on maybe three hours’ sleep in 48 hours,” beams Curtis. “Can you imagine being married to me? Can you imagine being my child? I am this person 90 per cent of the time. I have this much energy, I have this much focus and drive. You know why? My motto is, ‘If not now, when? If not me, who?’ I want to manifest my destiny, creatively, while I’m here.”
As honest as they get, she says she tried plastic surgery in the past, but it wasn’t for her. “It got me addicted to Vicodin,” she later revealed. Now she’s like a dynamo. “More because I’m sober,” she says now. “I’m 23 years sober. I’m married 37 years. I’m solid in my marriage. I have two kids [Annie and Ruby]. I’ve raised them. They’re both adults. They’re amazing.” Loyalty is huge to her. “I work with the same people for years.” She’s been with the same publicist, hairdresser, and lawyer for decades.
Curtis, who has just shot Eli Roth’s Borderlands, an adaptation of the hit videogame, is utterly enthused by life right now. “I’m freed. I am liberated from any artifice. I am in full acceptance of who I am, what I can and what I cannot do. I know who I am. And I know who I am not. And I think that liberation of self-acceptance, which comes with age and experience, has freed me to now be more creative today than I have been since I was 19.”
She proceeds to reel off her current projects. She’s writing a script that she wants to direct, and is working with Blumhouse, the hugely successful company behind Get Out and Paranormal Activity. “I’ve made a deal with Patricia Cornwell to produce the Scarpetta series, based on her 25 books with Kay Scarpetta as the lead character. I can’t sleep at night, I’m so excited. And I’m 62. I’ll be 63 in November.”
Our time’s up. I feel exhausted, dazed, but Curtis rises to her feet, slips on her shoes, and heads towards her anxious handler. I wish her a good premiere. “Oh f*** you, I hate it all!” she laughs. “I could do this all day long,” she says, gesturing to where we sat. “The part that I hate is about what I look like, what I’m wearing... I hate it! All these other women who are standing there, they love it! It’s the part of this that I… hate.”
‘Halloween Kills’ is in cinemas now