Jamie Lee Curtis: All Hail the Queen
Updated: Apr 13
Remember magazines? No? Good, because we totally hopped inside of a time machine and traveled to 1981, where we beat up Fangoria's Bob Martin, tossed him in a broom closet, and stole his interview with the Queen of all screams, Jamie Lee Curtis. It's our interview now. It's not plagiarism because we changed history. Did we mention this all happened in a parallel timeline? The Attic of the all-seeing Eye Cult can do anything it wants to, good thing we're harmless nerds with extremely niche interests, huh?
Lastly, we understand that reading can suck, so we've included the greatest retro-glam shots of Jamie Lee that the Attic has to offer (including the best damn cat shot you'll ever see). Shut off your data thieving numbskull feeds and challenge your brain to some word soup, it's a difficult task, we believe in you!
Le cinéma est plein de merde, prions tous le cul géant.
EYE CULT ATTIC: Since you've done both television and theatrical film, can you tell us how the two differ?
JAMIE LEE CURTIS: Not much, actually. The acting doesn't differ, though you may be able to get away with something a little bit broader on the small screen. But any serious work for TV...for instance, I made a movie on Dorothy Stratten, I didn't make a television movie. The only difference would be the cameraman, who has to remember he's shooting a differently shaped frame. You may have less time with television, but, except for Road Games, I have not worked on a film for over 23, 25 days-most of them 20 days. Road Games, because of the difficulties of shooting a road picture, took considerably longer.
ATTIC: How did you come to be involved in Halloween?
CURTIS: I simply auditioned for John Carpenter and Debra Hill.
ATTIC: Was there any discussion of the role, or the movie?
CURTIS: No, I just met 'em, shook hands-
"What have you done?"
"Operation Petticoat for a year."
"Would you like to read the scene?"
"Yes, please" -
read the scene—
"Thank you, thank you for coming in."
ATTIC: You knew Halloween was a low-budget film, to be shot rather quickly;
what were your expectations?
CURTIS: I was told that this was a horror film, that it did have a go-ahead, that the budget was $300,000. And it was a director that was very hot in Europe, but nobody knew him here. That was my information. I personally never felt that the movie was going to be "it." I mean, how could anybody have had any idea? So many people are now saying, "I knew," a lot of people taking credit for John's success. But how could anyone know? But I was thrilled to have the movie, thrilled to have all those words, and thrilled to play a character like that. I mean, I wouldn't have cast myself as Laurie-I wear tight jeans, have a low voice, and big tits. Of course, when I went in for that audition, I wore an old-fashioned dress and no makeup.
ATTIC: In Halloween, virtually all the other characters played pretty much a single note, while your role called for some range. Was Carpenter's attention particularly focused on your performance?
CURTIS: John doesn't laboriously work with actors; he hires you for a part he thinks you can do and lets you do. We talked about her vulnerability, and he told me that he wanted the audience to speak to her out loud during the movie, which I thought was completely weird, but sure enough, they did. So we talked about it. But it was never a matter of daily hammering it out.
ATTIC: Were there any scenes in Halloween that were particularly tough for you--that you had to push to get?
CURTIS: The running and the screams are fairly easy, though there's one Panaglide shot where I run out into the city street, and I couldn't go completely wild because I had to hit my marks, keeping pace with the camera, and there were people watching me. There are always people watching you, but in the city street at 10 o'clock, running out screaming, "help, help, help," you can't help but feel like an asshole, and I couldn't ask, "Can you clear the streets for me?", though I could now. I have asked for sets to be cleared. It's not a prima donna-ish thing, it's not to be rude. It's only to make the performance better. Also, there was the scene where I saw Annie (Nancy Loomis) dead. John said to me, "Jamie, I don't know exactly what to do with this scene. I've got to get you opening the door, walking over here, and seeing her there. Then I need you to somehow get from here to that door ..." where I turn around and the guy swings down. I figured that, when a shock hits you, it hits you sort of like a wave, pushing you. Like, if you walked into a room on fire, the waves of the heat and flame pushing you back. So we decided that if it would push me back, that, with the shock, I'd be pushed into the corner. It was also tough because there was nobody, no bed there, just a camera. I had to walk to X, look, imagine my best friend with her throat slit, not realize it for a second, then see it, and have that shock throw me into a corner, quiver there for a minute, turn on cue, and then be confronted by this maniac.
ATTIC: In that instance, would you think of a particular best friend of yours?
CURTIS: Yeah. My momma.
ATTIC: This may strike you as a weird question...
ATTIC: ... but there are times that I've spilled red ink on my hands and felt a sense of panic ...
CURTIS: Marnie! A great movie.
ATTIC: Yes, Marnie. Anyway, I know it's red ink, but there's a part of me that believes in appearances, believes its blood. When you're wearing a makeup wound, do you ever have to remind yourself that it's makeup?
CURTIS: No, never. It stinks, it smells like molasses, it's sticky, it dries and gets brittle. You move a muscle, and it pulls on your skin.
ATTIC: There's such an undercurrent of humor in Carpenter's films, people suppose there's a lot of playfulness on the set.
CURTIS: Yes, there is. And I must tell you the truth, sometimes it drives me crazy. John Carpenter shoots a movie faster than anyone I've ever seen. And he's now got a group of people who all know what their jobs are, and get things done so quickly. Everybody's called into work at 7a.m., you don't rehearse, you go straight into makeup. John walks onto the set and says, "Let's set the camera up over here," and he just shoots it-he doesn't do any extra coverage. He really knows his movie; he'll stop you in the middle of a closeup, saying "OK, that's enough.” I like to slow down sometimes, which means I would just like to stop. For other people, it's a playfulness, and some of that gets annoying. But I'd rather have a playfulness that's annoying than have people walking around very somberly all the time.
ATTIC: Your second feature film was your second with Carpenter, The Fog. Liz Solley was a much tougher person than Laurie.
CURTIS: I hated my performance in The Fog.
CURTIS: I just hated it. I thought it was terrible.
ATTIC: I did think that you did a very similar character a lot better in Road
CURTIS: I agree 100%. The thing is, I tend to put myself down all the time, and my friends point out to me that you can only be a little bit better than what you're given. You can't turn shit into gold. Maybe gold plate ...
MICK GARRIS: Chocolate.
CURTIS: Right, Chocolate ... maybe chocolate, but not gold. The only lines about my character were put in at my insistence-"Pasadena, a lot of money, and not knowing what I want to do”-that line was my entire character.
ATTIC: Working with the chemical fog must have made that pretty unpleasant at times.
CURTIS: The fog machines were great-the mechanical ones that look like a big tube-they shoot it out. But the petroleum ones and the ones that burn charcoal and incense—those are just incredible. I'm just waiting for them to come out and declare them carcinogenic. There was one great scene in there where we're driving in a truck, and the fog comes at us... you know about that one?
ATTIC: Where they reversed the film?
Yeah, Carpenter talked about that
CURTIS: Right-that was all my driving.
ATTIC: I didn't realize that.
CURTIS: At first they were going to do it the real way, but it just wouldn't work. It was too windy, and the fog would blow away. So they decided to reverse it, so the wall of fog just sort of materializes out of nowhere-the reverse of the wind blowing it away. They weren't going to let me do it, but they did let me. First, they filled the whole area with fog, and then started blowing it away. When it had reached about 20 feet I had to drive up sort of crooked, as if I was backing away from this wall of fog, catch the fog as it's going away, stop ... wait for it to move away another 20, then back straight out, so it would look like I was driving in. And I did it; “Stunt" Curtis.
ATTIC: Tell me, “Stunt,” how did you come to be involved in Prom Night?
CURTIS: Disco Death-Ho! Hunh!
ATTIC: That was an alternate title?
CURTIS: That's my title for it. But, y'see-I'm doing it again. At times, when I talk about my horror movies, I start getting a little negative about them.
ATTIC: That's OK.
CURTIS: No, it's not, because I don't want people to think I don't like 'em, or make it sound like I didn't like doing them, or that it was an awful experience all the time. I owe them all a lot, and I'm very proud to have participated in them. But there are some problems that I find interesting, that I think other people will find interesting, about certain movies, so I wind up talking about them.
ATTIC: Well, if it makes you feel any better, Prom Night was the only one of your movies that I actively disliked.
CURTIS: Well, I hated Prom Night. I shouldn't say that.
ATTIC: How did you get involved?
CURTIS: It was a role that was offered to me; the first role that I was ever offered.
ATTIC: Did they know what an asset you were at the time?
CURTIS: I think they probably did, but I didn't think they did at the time. I didn't think I was an asset at the time. The Fog I considered a gift; Halloween, I never understood why I got that, until later. When you doubt yourself as I did, you never understand why people hire you. I practically would have paid to make that movie. I had only made two movies up to that time, they offered me three times the money I was paid on The Fog, and it was the first role that was actually offered to me; I didn't even have to read for it. And they said, "How would you like to spend six weeks in Toronto?" To me, little insecure Jamie, the idea of making a movie was so exciting, I just went, "*sigh*" And, I'll let you know something, all that
psychopathic killer stuff was not in the original script, not in the script I agreed to do. They added that after they cut the movie. I'm very angry about that, and I'll always be angry about that because I feel I wouldn't have made the movie had it been a remake of Halloween-which is exactly
what they were trying to do.
ATTIC: On the other hand, I thought Terror Train handled the "returned killer" thing pretty well—they kept you guessing.
CURTIS: Terror Train was OK ...
ATTIC: They did Dressed To Kill a lot better than Brian de Palma ever did.
CURTIS: That female thing was real good, and they did keep you waiting until the very end.
ATTIC: And it had Ben Johnson--need we say more?
CURTIS: Oh, I love Ben Johnson. And that set was beautiful; that train. It was a hard movie to make.
ATTIC: I can imagine-all those narrow sets. How much of it was shot on a train?
CURTIS: All of it. It was all shot on a practical train, a lot of night shooting, and (cinematographer) John Alcott used all the practical lights, rewired all the lighting in the train; because there was no way we could bring in big globes. Every light on the train was rigged on a dimmer-Alcott had a guy sitting at the controls all night, and when the set-up changed, he'd look at his grid, see which lights were involved, and talk through the radio, " 'ey, Eve, Eve, 'ello darlin'- Alroit-bring up numbah fawteen through 20, bring 'em up to 50." And, magically, the lights would come up, Instant lighting. I called it radio lighting.
ATTIC: It was a beautifully shot picture. Now, Road Games. A very interesting movie. Why so long before it's released?
CURTIS: It's been out.
ATTIC: Not in New York.
GARRIS: It opened in L.A. six months ago.
ATTIC: Six months ago? Didn't do much, eh?
CURTIS: It did nothin'. Neither did Terror Train; it wasn't at all a big money
ATTIC: And yet Prom Night, which was garbage, did well. That's weird ... Anyway, in Road Games, you didn't scream once.
CURTIS: Hold on ...
ATTIC: You didn't ... when the guy grabbed you in the van, you just sort of caught your breath...
CURTIS: Hold on you're right, I didn't scream.
ATTIC: That must have been refreshing. How was working with Stacey Keach?
CURTIS: I learned a lot about location living from Stacey. Stacey Keach has been on the road for about three years he hadn't been at his home for more than three weeks in more than a year at the time. He was in London doing a play, then in New York doing a play, then to Australia, then to Cannes, then Australia again, then to Hungary and now he's touring the play, Barnum, all across the country. He and his new wife Jill have clothes for every climate you can imagine, 'cause when you travel around, you never know what you're going to hit. They have rugs, candles, pictures, ashtrays ... and it's not so hard to pack that stuff into a couple of trunks. The first thing Jill does when she gets to a place is to go and buy fresh flowers. You go into their place five minutes after they've arrived, and they've unpacked that stuff and made it look like home.
ATTIC: I'd read, shortly after Road Games, that you were to be married in June. Then you didn't; why not?
CURTIS: Because I didn't think I was ready to.
ATTIC: It can take a lot of nerve to cancel a wedding like that, given people's expectations.
CURTIS: Exactly. People were amazed that I did it. I still have talks with some of my friends where they'll say, “I can't believe it-I could never do that..."What I can't believe is that someone would go through with a marriage that they weren't ready for, just so they wouldn't have a hassle. Life is full of hassles-so you call people, "I'm sorry, I decided not to get married."
ATTIC: You should have done the reasonable thing-gotten married and had a divorce.
CURTIS: Right, like everybody else.
DIVORCEE GARRIS: Like me!
ATTIC: Right, like Mick. Anyway, how did you feel about becoming involved in Halloween II?
CURTIS: I didn't necessarily want to make the movie. Not necessarily because it was Halloween II, but because I didn't want to make another horror movie. I had said after Road Games that it was the beginning of my non-horror future. But then I realized that I have a terrible loyalty to John and Debra-who am I to say no to them when they gave me a career? And
also to the audience; most of all to the audience. Since it takes up directly from where the first one ends, the audience has the right to see the same person in the same role. If a new girl played Laurie, you'd feel real funny, and that was the biggest bond-to the audience. And I am happy I did it; don't get me wrong. I was a little disappointed in my lack of participation, after agreeing to do it.
ATTIC: Laurie is drugged or injured through most of the film, which would
really limit the role.
CURTIS: Uh-huh. I have about 10 lines in the entire film. I really wish I could have been in the film more. I don't like being drugged for half the movie-I think it's just a waste of a wonderful character. In the first movie, she talked. And, for Halloween II, I even got them to move back the drugging halfway; I used to get drugged as soon as I got to the hospital. But it's very difficult for me to talk about before you've seen it. Once it's out, and the reviews are out, I'd be able to talk about it more.
ATTIC: The Stratten film is your first non-horror film and your first movie with a death scene.
CURTIS: Well, Road Games was really not a horror film, She's In The Army Now was not a horror film- played a streetwise army recruit-- a Saturday Night Live wasn't horror.
ATTIC: Still, it's your major break from horror. This is the one that will get press attention.
CURTIS: It already has.
ATTIC: Now, you've gotten a lot of flack from the press about your horror films-and joined in on that yourself to some extent...
CURTIS: Not at all. I'm not at all upset about having been in any of them, I feel my work has been good in them. It's just that I'm an actor-I want to be able to do different things.
ATTIC: The press, then, has given you a certain amount of trouble on them; how has the press dealt with your involvement in the Stratten film, which some might say is a sensational exploitation film?
CURTIS: They've dealt with it very well—they haven't brought it up to me
ATTIC: ... then we're the first. What are your feelings on that?
CURTIS: I don't write these movies. I am an actor; and I was given a role that I thought was a very tragic role, in a film that was going to be made, and I thought it was a wonderful opportunity to show some different sides of my ability in a tragic love story.
ATTIC: I know you're anxious to be getting out to Long Island to enjoy the sun, so we've got just one more question for you. Why do you suppose it's so hard for Hollywood to detect talent when it is displayed in a horror film?
CURTIS: Life ... in the fast lane. The price you pay when you want to sing the blues.