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This 'Halloween,' Jamie Lee Curtis Reckons With 40 Years Of Trauma

Oct 19, 2018
Originally published on October 25, 2018 5:45 pm

Forty years ago, horror fans were introduced to the masked killer Michael Myers, stalker of babysitters in a small Illinois town. The film was, of course, Halloween. And it was the debut of Jamie Lee Curtis, who played the bookish babysitter, Laurie Strode — the original "final girl" character who narrowly escapes the slaughter. Curtis appeared in three more sequels and even died in one. She thought she'd left that character behind.

"I had no intention in being another Halloween movie," she says — but that's exactly what she has done, reprising her role as Strode in the new Halloween. Curtis says what convinced her to return was the approach that director David Gordon Green and screenwriter Danny McBride took: Ignore the other seven sequels. Just focus on what has happened to Laurie Strode since Michael Myers first attacked her in 1978. "In this movie, 40 years later, we find really what happens when someone suffers a trauma when they're 17 years old, and doesn't get any help. You know, Laurie Strode, I believe, went back to school on November 1, 1978, with a bandage on her arm, having lost all her best friends, and having survived this attack."


Interview Highlights

On Laurie's trauma

She left school on the 31st of October a dreamer, an intellectual, someone who would have gone on to Brown and changed the world. And instead, on November 1, she went back to school a freak. And that's what happens with trauma, it brands you. People point and go, "Oh my gosh, there's Laurie Strode, she's the one who survived!" And it took away her innocence.

To the extent that she has lost everything — she ended up in a couple relationships that were failed, she ended up having a child, the state came and took the child from her because she was an unfit mother. Unfit because her only goal, every day, was to prepare her daughter for the fact that Michael Myers was coming back.

On people telling Laurie to get over it

Everybody's trying to tell her to get over it. I think that's been the sort of refrain in her ear since she was 17 years old. And in a weird way, you know, that is all of our ways of trying to distance ourself from that person's trauma. Nobody wants to really get into it. And it's much easier to give somebody a painkiller and say, "get over it."

On her closeness to the character

This movie ... it was a role — I had been on a TV series prior where I was one of six women with maybe two lines a week, every week — and here was a script that was completely a character. A full character with a really emotional and dramatic arc. And so for me, honestly, her name was on every part of the script and I was thrilled. I'm a bit of a smart-aleck, I have a trash-talk mouth, I'm not an intellectual, I'm a big, emotional hug-a-lot. And here was a role of a quiet, intellectual, repressed, virginal dreamer, who walked down the street and sang to herself ... You know, there was a romance to her. And so for me, she was the best role, really, I've ever been able to play.

On never thinking she'd be a success in acting despite her Hollywood pedigree

I never thought about it for a second. I wasn't very pretty — I was cute. I had grey teeth from my mother taking tetracycline when I was in utero. I wasn't particularly talented, I couldn't sing and I couldn't do musical theater — I just sort of showed up. My point is, here I sit at the age of 60, talking about a movie that I've been involved with for 40 years. About something, that it's about something, and that all of my life experiences have added up to this moment is not something I had any idea would happen ... I've been going around the world sort of high-fiving people with the astonishment of this moment.

I've worked hard, but I don't expect it — and that's what a gift is, when you don't expect something, and then it's given to you, and you open it and go, "wow, thank you!" That's incredible, and that's what I feel David Gordon Green and Danny McBride gave me when they allowed me to go where we had to go with the movie, Halloween, to explain and honor the courage and tenacity of Laurie Strode, who represents all women who've been aggressed, all women who've had to fight back, all women who've survived, and that's a privilege, and not something I take lightly.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Forty years ago, horror fans were introduced to the masked killer Michael Myers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KELLY: Myers stalked babysitters in a small Illinois town. The film was of course "Halloween." And I'm going to let my co-host Audie Cornish take it from here.

AUDIE CORNISH, BYLINE: Halloween was the film debut of Jamie Lee Curtis. She played the bookish babysitter Laurie Strode, one of those final-girl type characters who narrowly escapes a slaughter. Curtis appeared in three more sequels and even died in one. So she thought she'd left that character behind.

JAMIE LEE CURTIS: I had no intention of being in another "Halloween" movie.

CORNISH: Yet that's exactly what she's done, reprising her role as Strode in the new "Halloween." She told me that what convinced her to return was the approach taken by director David Gordon Green and screenwriter Danny McBride. They chose to ignore the other seven sequels and focus on what's happened to Laurie Strode since 1978.

CURTIS: In this movie, 40 years later, we find really what happens when someone suffers a trauma when they're 17 years old and doesn't get any help. You know, Laurie Strode, she left school on the 31st of October a dreamer, an intellectual, someone who would have gone on to Brown and changed the world. And instead, on November 1, she went back to school a freak. And that's what happens with trauma. It brands you. People point and go, oh, my gosh, there's Laurie Strode. She's the one who survived. And it took away her innocence.

CORNISH: I think one of the characters in the movie, a doctor character, says something along the lines of there are many ways tragedy and violence can change a victim. And it can make people maybe sad and insular. But in this case, it makes her kind of a doomsday prepper, right? I mean, she is now not living in fear but lying in wait.

CURTIS: Yeah, but that's all in response to only one idea that she has perseverated about for her entire life, which is that he will come back for her. And she has lost everything. She ended up in a couple relationships that were failed. She ended up having a child. The state came and took the child from her 'cause she was an unfit mother, unfit because her only goal every day was to prepare her daughter for the fact that Michael Myers was coming back.

CORNISH: I think I have in my notes, why won't her dumb family believe her? (Laughter) Like, you know, and that's - it does this excellent thing that happens in horror movies where you can be in the audience thinking, why aren't you listening? But her family is trying to tell her in not a subtle way to get over it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HALLOWEEN")

ANDI MATICHAK: (As Allyson) All this hiding, all this preparation, it was for nothing. It took priority over your family. It cost you your family.

CURTIS: (As Laurie Strode) If the way I raised your mother means that she hates me but that she's prepared for the horrors of this world, then I can live with that.

MATICHAK: (As Allyson) Say goodbye to Michael, and get over it.

CURTIS: Everybody's trying to tell her to get over it. I think that's been the sort of refrain in her ears since she was 17 years old. And in a weird way, you know, that is all of our ways of trying to distance ourself from that person's trauma. Nobody wants to really get into it. And it's much easier to give somebody a painkiller and say get over it.

CORNISH: You talk about Laurie like she's a real person.

CURTIS: She is a real person.

CORNISH: How long has she - have you felt close to this character? 'Cause we should say that this was kind of your coming-out party for you personally. Can you talk a little bit about that idea?

CURTIS: It was a role - I had been on a TV series prior where I was one of six women with maybe two lines a week. And here was a script that was completely a character, a full character with a really emotional and dramatic arc. And so for me, honestly, her name is on every page of the script, and I was thrilled. I'm a bit of a smart aleck. I have a trash-talk mouth. I'm not an intellectual. I'm a big emotional. I hug a lot. And here was a role of a quiet, intellectual, repressed, virginal dreamer who walked down the street and sang to herself, (singing) I wish I had you all alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "HALLOWEEN")

CURTIS: (As Laurie Strode, singing) Just the two of us.

You know, there was a romance to her. And so for me, she was the best role really I've ever been able to play.

CORNISH: One thing that's interesting is I'm thinking of how John Carpenter, who along with the co-writer, Deborah Hill, created the franchise - you're listed along with him as an executive producer. And that must be incredible to think, like, you started out a 19-year-old (laughter) doing this movie, and now you're executive producer of it.

CURTIS: I never thought I'd have any of this, Audie.

CORNISH: Really, though? I mean, I think listening...

CURTIS: Not a...

CORNISH: ...To this people are like, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh - like, you don't think acting's somewhere on the horizon (laughter)?

CURTIS: I never thought about it for a second. I wasn't very pretty. I was cute. I had gray teeth from my mother taking tetracycline when I was, you know, in utero. I wasn't particularly talented. I couldn't sing, and I couldn't do musical theater. I just sort of showed up. My point is here I sit talking about a movie that I've been involved with for 40 years about something. That it's about something and that all of my life experiences have added up to this moment is not something I had any idea would happen.

CORNISH: It's kind of incredible. Sorry, I don't have better thoughts than that (laughter). I'm happy for you, Jamie Lee Curtis.

CURTIS: Yeah, far out. I - and by the way, I'm happy. Don't get me wrong. I did an interview for New York Magazine with David Edelstein. And in a communication with me when we were sort of signing off an email exchange where he was doing some background information, he said, enjoy your victory lap.

CORNISH: Oh.

CURTIS: And I started - of course just started bawling my eyes out because that's how it feels. I've been going around the world sort of high-fiving people with the astonishment of this moment. I've worked hard, but I'm - I don't expect it. And that's what a gift is, when you don't expect something and then it's given to you. And you open it and go, wow, thank you. That's incredible. And that's what I feel David Gordon Green and Danny McBride gave me when they allowed me to go where we had to go to explain and honor the courage and tenacity of Laurie Strode, who represents all women who've been aggressed, all women who've had to fight back, all women who've survived. And that's a privilege and not something I take lightly.

CORNISH: Well, it has been an incredible journey. It was a real honor to speak to you.

CURTIS: Well, thank you, Audie. It's been a great privilege. And happy Halloween, everyone.

CORNISH: Jamie Lee Curtis stars again in the film "Halloween."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.