American films

Jamie Lee Curtis on playing Laurie Strode in Halloween reboot, facing Michael Myers and #MeToo

  • Actress’s debut in John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 slasher horror flick was her defining role, one she has lived with for 40 years
  • Curtis’ character faces Michael Myers again – victim finally confronting her tormentor – making it a perfect film for the #MeToo era
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2018, 2:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 October, 2018, 8:02pm

Jamie Lee Curtis, instantly recognisable with her immaculately cropped silver hair, has just done a double take. Arriving on the backlot of Universal Studios in Los Angeles, with its vast network of celebrity-named streets, the 59-year-old actress had one of those weird jolts that only comes if you’re Hollywood royalty.

“I just drove by the streets that are named after my parents,” she laughs. “It’s wacky.”

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The daughter of actors Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, Curtis is every bit as successful as her mother and father. In the 1980s, she went from hit comedies such as Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda to Kathryn Bigelow’s nervy cop thriller Blue Steel.

In the 1990s, she brought charm to the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle True Lies and in the noughties scored a huge hit with Freaky Friday opposite Lindsay Lohan.

Yet if there’s one film that defined her, it’s Halloween. John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 slasher horror flick that introduced the world to the masked killer Michael Myers was the film in which Curtis made her debut as the terrorised babysitter Laurie Strode. She returned for the 1981 sequel, Halloween II, and reprised the character for 1998’s Halloween: H20, one of several subsequent attempts to capture the power of the original.

Now, 20 years on – and on the 40th anniversary of the original movie – Laurie Strode is back in the simply titled Halloween. Did Curtis ever feel she would return to the character?

“No. And not with any sort of pejorative attachment, really. I just didn’t think about it, to be honest. I was focusing on other things.”

A mother of two and an author of children’s books – including 2018’s Me, Myselfie & I: A Cautionary Tale – Curtis admits it was “the last thing” she was expecting when director David Gordon Green ( Stronger ) called with a chance to reprise Laurie.

The 11th Halloween movie – if you count the Rob Zombie remake and its sequel – Green’s film arrives, unlike most of its predecessors, with the blessing of John Carpenter, who is on board as executive producer. It also sets out to do something different.

“This movie picks up 40 years [on] from the first movie only,” explains Curtis. “So all those other movies that I have been in have no relevance to this movie. They exist and there may be people who love them, but for this movie, David very gently trimmed away all of those other story lines and other interpretations.”

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It’s certainly a smart way to ignore all the failed sequels, with the narrative showing us Laurie Strode, paranoid and still affected by Myers’s attack on her four decades on. “Trauma – if it’s untreated – is like a cancer,” says Curtis. “It just grows in you. And that’s what we really started to explore: what PTSD really looks like.”

Now ensconced in a remote high-security compound, loaded with guns, cameras and barbed wire, Laurie has lived her life fearful that Myers, despite being locked away in a psychiatric institute, will return. With Laurie having endured a strained relationship with her grown-up daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who spent her whole childhood dealing with the notion that the bogeyman was real, Curtis wasn’t afraid to play Laurie as a victim.

“I think if Laurie from the opening of the movie was just some badass bitch, I don’t think it would work. Laurie Strode was vulnerable. That’s why audiences felt close to her, and this Laurie Strode is vulnerable. There are sequences where Laurie is very fragile and very wounded, and it has to show.”

Without giving too much away, Laurie will have to face Myers again – the victim finally confronting her tormentor. Unsurprisingly, Halloween has been dubbed a perfect film for the #MeToo era, the movement formed in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal as legions of women came forward with stories of sexual and physical abuse in the workplace.

“When it was happening they were victims of a power greater than them,” says Curtis. “But women have started to take back the narrative from the perpetrator.”

When Curtis appeared at the San Diego ComicCon in July, she made an impassioned reference to the ESPY Awards, where 141 survivors of sexual misconduct by Larry Nassar – the former USA Gymnastics team doctor, now “rotting in a maximum-security prison”, says Curtis, took to the stage to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

“That image of them taking back their narrative – you no longer control me – is very powerful,” she says.

Yet if this Halloween can be seen in the context of #MeToo, it can also be viewed as a prism on Curtis’s career. Did she ever feel trapped by Laurie, a character she’s lived with for 40 years?

She shakes her head. “I felt honoured that Halloween was and will be the greatest part of my creative life. But I also grew up in show-off business and I recognised very early that a pigeonholing association with one genre only would be limiting. I knew after I did the movie Halloween II that I needed to step away from the horror genre. Within about a year I was in Trading Places.”

Of course, it helps when your mother is Janet Leigh, who starred in arguably the most famous slasher film of all time – Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Known for being the victim in the infamous shower scene, Leigh and her career never quite escaped the shadow that film cast over her. Innately, then, it’s something the California-born Curtis must have known – the power that a horror film can hold over a career.

“Oh no doubt, of course. No doubt,” she says. “And that’s the beauty of being my parents’ daughter.”

Curtis got lucky that John Landis, who had, ironically, just come off horror with An American Werewolf in London, cast her in 1983’s Trading Places, as the prostitute Ophelia. It was a huge blessing for an actress who, according to Curtis, does not “really have any noticeable talents”.

Meaning? “I can dance a little bit, I don’t sing, I can’t really do accents, I’m not a classically trained theatre actress. You’re not going to put me in a period piece very quickly … I’m very contemporary-looking.”

It was a year after Trading Places that Curtis met and married her husband, Christopher Guest, star of that other great comedy of the 1980s, metal band mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap.

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“We’re a funny pair of opposites,” she says. “We don’t listen to the same radio station, we don’t read the same books, we don’t drive the same speed, we don’t walk the same speed.” And they never worked together either? “Because we live together! And we raised two kids. I think that is the work we’ve done together and it’s been good.” She grins. “So why f*** it up?”

Halloween opens on October 25

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