Jamie Lee Curtis Talks Return to Halloween

Jamie Lee Curtis Talks Return to Halloween

The everlasting scream queen faces down Michael Myers and collective trauma in the latest reboot.

The everlasting scream queen faces down Michael Myers and collective trauma in the latest reboot.

Text: SAMUEL ANDERSON

Characters in horror films tend to die before the credits roll. Laurie Strode, the Halloween franchise’s protagonist, has been kicking for 40 years—which is as long as Jamie Lee Curtis, who originated the role in 1978, has endured as a movie star. Despite an oeuvre spanning comedy (A Fish Called Wanda, Freaky Friday) and action (True Lies), Curtis may be best known as a scream queen, a title she’ll reprise in October’s Halloween, in which escaped psycho-killer Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield four decades after he first peered through Laurie’s window.

Despite the franchise’s endurance, Curtis isn’t exactly a fan. She’s never seen any of the remakes (despite having starred in a handful of them), citing a dislike for the genre. “I’ve seen nothing. I would have no interest in seeing those movies,” she says. “I don’t like horror.” Her aversion is cosmically ironic, as her mother, actress Janet Leigh, was the prototypical horror queen in Psycho, a film that sparked the genre’s pivot from the cartoonish creature flicks of the ‘50s to the graphic verisimilitude of the ‘60s and ‘70s, when a young Curtis was entering the industry.

As a precocious 11-year-old and the product of a Hollywood power couple (her father was playboy actor Tony Curtis), Jamie Lee was offered the role of Regan in The Exorcist. Leigh shooed the producers away, but the offer foreshadowed Curtis’s ambivalent relationship with horror. “The Exorcist scared the absolute shit out of me, so much so that my friends would taunt me in the hall and go, ‘Dimi, Dimi,’ who is the priest’s mother in limbo,” says Curtis. “I gave my first car the personalized license plate ‘Dimi.’”

For Curtis, there’s always more to fear than demonic children or the killer next door. “I’ve scared easily my whole life. I’m just a very vulnerable person,” she says. “If you look at any photographs of me as a child, I looked stunned and concerned, like somebody has said my name sharply and I’ve turned my head like, ‘What did I do?’” These days, it’s the political landscape that does the trick. “The world scares me more than Michael Myers,” she says. “I deal by listening to classical music.” Others deal by seeing horror movies; the genre tends to flourish during states of national anxiety.

Jamie Lee Curtis in 1978's Halloween (Photo: Zuma Press, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo)

Some saw the blockbuster success of films like Night of the Living Dead and Halloween, which had a $300,000 budget and grossed $70 million, as reflections of anti-authority sentiment amid the Vietnam War. So it is perhaps no coincidence that those films are still spawning sequels in 2018’s political climate.

But if you ask Curtis, there’s a simpler, more universal explanation for the endurance of Laurie Strode—as illustrated by a touching episode on her last day of shooting the new sequel. “I arrived at work, and the entire crew wore name tags, ‘We are Laurie Strode.’ What they were saying in that moment was that the trauma that she had was theirs, too. The movie is about trauma, really. It was an acknowledgement of solidarity,” she says. “That was a very powerful movie moment no one will ever see.”

Halloween hits theaters on October 19.

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