There are two themes that emerge as the magnetic Jamie Lee Curtis offers a career retrospective conversation. One, Curtis — who in January scored her first Oscar nomination of her career for her memorable turn as a cranky IRS inspector in Everything Everywhere All At Once — has constantly proven her doubters (be it other actors, directors or studio execs) wrong. And two, each major success the actress had early on in her career led directly to her next big score.
Curtis was not director John Carpenter’s first choice to play the lead Laurie Strode in 1978’s Halloween, the seminal indie horror flick that introduced knife-wielding slasher Michael Myers to the pantheon of iconic screen slayers and transformed the genre. Even after that film — for which Curtis was only paid $8,000 — became a sensation, the actress could hardly get any work. So Carpenter, now convinced of Curtis’ command of the craft, wrote her a role in The Fog (1980), a film that also memorably co-starred Curtis’s famous mother, Psycho star Janet Leigh. After roles in 1980’s Prom Night swear Terror TrainCurtis was desperate to break away from the scream-queen fare when she took a job narrating the John Landis-directed documentary on the genre called Coming soon.
Landis was so taken by Curtis’s sense of humor on set, he cast her in the 1983 comedy favorite Trading Places despite Paramount not wanting her. John Cleese was so amused by her performance alongside Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy Trading Places that he wrote the role of Wanda Gershwitz specifically for Curtis in the 1988 razor-sharp laugher A Fish Called Wanda. And James Cameron was so enamored with her role Wanda that he enlisted her for the 1994 action hit True Liesover the initial protests of leading man Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Although Curtis has contributed so many favorites to the cinematic zeitgeist over the past 45 years, there was one title that eluded her for a long time: Oscar nominee. Consistent with the scrappy nature of her career, it finally arrived from the unlikeliest of projects: a deliciously odd, multiverse-jumping indie action comedy involving kung-fu, dildo fighting, hot dog fingers and talking rocks.
In addition to providing juicy roles for Michelle Yeoh and Comeback King of the Year Ke Huy Quan (The Goonies, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), directing duo Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (aka The Daniels) lured Curtis for the nearly unrecognizable, decidedly unglamorous role of tax policing office drone Deirdre Beaubeirdre (as well as some other villainous versions of Deirdre in alternate universes). According to Scheinert, Curtis was closely based on Deirdre’s physical appearance a stock photo of an actual IRS worker Kwan had found online.
Curtis, who’s credited fellow first-time nominee Yeoh for drawing her into the EEAAO multiverse, has been outright thrilled by her Best Supporting Actress nom. She called it the “highlight of her professional life” in a social media post the morning of the nominations. “I’m 64 years old. I’ve been an actor since I was 19. I made horror films and sold yogurt that makes you s***,” she later told AP Entertainment, referencing endorsements she’s done in Activia commercials. “I never thought I would hear my name at the Oscars.”
In a Role Recall interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above), the ever-candid actress talked about her most iconic roles leading up to Everything Everywhere. Read on for some highlights below.
On why she wasn’t scared of Michael Myers on the set Halloween (1978)
A player on the television show Operation Petticoat at the time, the 19-year-old Curtis made her film debut in John Carpenter’s gnarly future horror classic. But there was nothing scary to her about the man in a mask chasing her around the set.
“Here’s the problem: He’s played by Nick Castle, who was one of John’s best friends. He had two little kids. His wife was around,” Curtis explains. “And he’s this funny guy. And he’s also a very talented director and he’s a musician. So I cannot lie to you and tell you I was so frightened.” (Watch our interview with Castle here.)
On why Arnold Schwarzenegger didn’t want her to play his wife True Lies
Curtis has called James Cameron’s 1994 blockbuster her all-time favorite filming experience, which included her famous striptease (fun fact: a YouTube upload of the scene comes with a climate change warning) and some stunt work as she dangles from a helicopter. But her famous co-star didn’t originally love the idea of her playing wife to his spy drawn into some high-stakes action.
“Arnold knew me as Tony’s daughter,” she said, referencing the one film Schwarzenegger ever directed, the 1992 TV movie Christmas in Connecticut, which starred her father, Tony Curtis, and Diane Cannon. “He only knew me as Tony’s daughter. He loved Tony Curtis. So I’m sure Arnold just looked at me like it’d be like kissing your niece or something … I guarantee, in fact, he did not want me to be in that movie. I think he just thought it would be weird. We knew each other a little bit socially. I just don’t think he thought of me as his leading lady. I think he thought of me as Tony’s little girl. And it was Jim who said, ‘No, I’ve written this for her. She’s the one to do this with you.'”
Curtis says Schwarzenegger ultimately made up for his resistance to her casting with “the greatest gift.” He supported her name going (along with his) before the title in the film’s opening credits.
On the secret code she uses (or at least used) to make sure it’s actually Lindsay Lohan texting her
Curtis loved working with Lohan on the 2003 body-swapping comedy Freaky Friday, a project on which Curtis replaced Annette Bening at the 11th hour. The pair are still in touch, and to prove it, Curtis shared how she tests would-be phishers who text claiming to be Lohan, which is something that apparently happens.
“There’s a song called ‘Like I Love You’ by Justin Timberlake,” she says. “And Lindsay and I were doing a scene in a car and there was a lot of time in between takes. And there’s a rap in the middle of that song by Clipse. She and I were trying to learn the words. And we were like sitting there with a pad. … We were writing them down and then we would do the scene and then we’d play the song and try to lip-sync the few words that we knew. I’m telling you, we laughed. And that is my secret code with her. ‘What was the song we were lip-syncing to in the car?’
“Now I’ve given it away. But I have another one.”
This story was originally published on Oct. 15, 2021 at 11:00 am ET.
— Video produced by Anne Lilburn and edited by John Santo