Jamie Lee Curtis did not expect to reach the busiest point in her four-decade career now. In fact, there was a time in the mid-aughts when she talked repeatedly about retiring. “I wanted to leave the party before the party asked me to leave,” she explains, having watched her actor parents, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, “deal with the fact that people weren’t hiring them anymore, and it’s heartbreaking.” She ventured into TV work, podcasting, and starting a social enterprise, but then her godson, Jake Gyllenhaal, called, wanting to introduce her to director David Gordon Green, who had an idea for a Halloween movie. When she realized that “the script was about generational trauma and showed women surviving trauma and how they deal with it,” Curtis was ready not only to reprise the role she made famous with the 1978 original, but to executive produce it. 2018’s Halloween went on to become the biggest opener ever with a woman over 55 as the lead. Here, Curtis talks about this month’s Halloween Kills; her new production company, Comet Pictures; and the benefits of being the kind of person people trust.
Did you ever expect to be so busy at 62?
No! It’s a total surprise, and I’m thrilled about it. I mean, look at this face! When I came back after filming the 2018 Halloween movie, which was a lot of fun, I thought: The tragedy of my death will be the unexpressed creativity that lives in me that I have not brought out into the world. That was the catalyst. When I went home, I wrote a screenplay [for a climate-change-themed horror movie called Mother Nature] that had been in my head since I was 19 years old. I had written an outline for it, but I was going to give it to somebody else to write it. And my husband [actor and filmmaker Christopher Guest] said to me, “Why don’t you write it?” [That script, which Curtis will direct, led to her forming a company called Comet Pictures, which nabbed a first-look deal with Halloween production firm Blumhouse.] We just sold four TV shows, a movie, and two podcasts. My creative work is happening and it’s all because of that time running out. My motto is, “If not now, when? If not me, who?” And so now I just go for everything, and I keep going for it.
After a long career in front of the camera, you became a producer on the 2018 Halloween revival. What was behind this decision?
I should have been a producer on the 2002 movie. [That film] was my idea, but at that moment I didn’t have enough personal integrity to go, “Wait a minute, we’re making this because I just called everyone—let me produce.” I didn’t do that.
What are you like as a manager?
Conflict resolution has always been tough for me. I’m the product of nine marriages in my direct family, and they involved a lot of conflict, so I avoid it. I’m a really good cheerleader. I’m a very good delegator. I’m firm and clear. Show-off business [aka show business] moves like molasses and I don’t understand it. On Monday morning, I ask for updates . . . I don’t hold meetings where I’m like, “Hi, everybody! How’s it going?” I want to get things done.
Many fans know you from your early films, including Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda. Younger audiences know you through Freaky Friday and Knives Out. What is your relationship with these different generations?
I have no relationship because I am a private person. I live a very private life. I do not court attention. When you’re as old as I am, you end up doing a broad range of work, if you’re lucky enough. When Halloween comes out, I’m going to be the AARP cover girl, and [at the same time], I continue to write books for young children—a new one will be out in 2023. I’ve definitely checked some demographic boxes, but there hasn’t been a plan.
You’ve also been in some memorable ad campaigns, starring in commercials for Hertz, L’eggs, and Activia. What do you think makes you such a sought-after spokesperson?
I am a marketing and advertising exec’s dream girl. I have created a [personal] brand with some integrity—people know me for truth-telling. I didn’t necessarily plan it, but my brand started to become clearer to me when I began to get hired by companies to sell their products. Audiences trust me.
How do you pick which brands to represent?
Almost every job I’ve ever taken [is] because it’s the job that came my way. I’ve never been someone who sits there staring at a series of offers.
You’ve spoken about the fact that you don’t want to get any more plastic surgery. Do you think Hollywood beauty standards are changing?
I tried plastic surgery and it didn’t work. It got me addicted to Vicodin. I’m 22 years sober now. The current trend of fillers and procedures, and this obsession with filtering, and the things that we do to adjust our appearance on Zoom are wiping out generations of beauty. Once you mess with your face, you can’t get it back.
You’re very active on Instagram, and one of your children’s books is titled Me, Myselfie & I. What is your relationship like with social media?
I use social media to sell things and amplify things I care about. Period. The rest is cancer. I never read one comment. I believe I can do my job and have a private life. I believe in the separation of church and state. I believe that I do not owe anybody anything once I’ve done my work. I am by nature a super-friendly person, but I also have a very clear boundary of what is appropriate and inappropriate for me to share. There’s some remarkable good that has come from social media: I love the exposure to amazing people doing amazing things, to activism. The best example is Greta Thunberg. I’ve been inspired watching the movement she created. It’s also very dangerous. It’s like giving a chain saw to a toddler. We just don’t know the longitudinal effect, mentally, spiritually, and physically, on a generation of young people who are in agony because of social media, because of the comparisons to others. All of us who are old enough know that it’s all a lie. It’s a real danger to young people.
Are there any accounts you like to follow?
I do love watching wedding proposals on TikTok, like flash mob proposals. I was in Hungary filming a movie, alone and far away from home, and I would just go back to my room and watch wedding proposals.
You clearly like doing new things. You were an early proponent of hydrogen-fueled cars, and you have a patent on a diaper design and a philanthropic e-commerce store [see sidebar]. What drives these explorations?
One of my favorite phrases is “Be where your feet are,” which kind of gets me out of my head and puts me into action. I believe my secret sauce is my antenna. I’m an autodidact, and I think I can pick up what’s going on. I’m open to new experiences, and my antenna has kept me prescient.
Jamie Lee Curtis, Innovator
“I’m an ideas person,” Curtis says. “I wish someone would just give me an office and let me generate ideas because that’s what I’m doing all the time.” These are some of her best.
A Quicker Change
Curtis patented a diaper design in 1987 featuring a pocket containing wipes, so they can be taken out with one hand. She refused to let the diaper be put to market until companies sell biodegradable diapers, and refiled the patent in 2017.
A Cleaner Ride
Curtis didn’t invent the technology, but she was an early evangelist for hydrogen fuel cell energy and successfully lobbied to receive one of the first 200 Honda Clarity sedans, which run on the fuel, when they were released in 2008.
Keepsakes for a Cause
During the pandemic, Curtis launched My Hand in Yours, a marketplace for wellness products, art, and accessories, with all proceeds going to Children’sHospital Los Angeles.
Insight for Kids … and Grown-ups
Curtis is the author of 13 children’s books with illustrator Laura Connell. Older audiences can tune into her iHeartRadio podcast, Good Friend, where she talks to pals, including Robin Wright and Michelle Williams, about friendship.