Jamie Lee Curtis knows exactly how to work a crowd.
Talking about her current children’s book, This Is Me, before a diverse collection of devoted fans at Barnes and Noble in Bethesda, Maryland, the author/actress comes across as a blithe spirit; spunky, funny—there is a certain stand-up quality about her—and, above all, candid.
She honks like a goose, prances about despite a painful broken toe, and regales her audience ranging from wide-eyed toddlers to grandparents with just the right amount of snippets culled from her private life and varied career.
“People don’t know this,” says the 57-year-old horror film veteran, ”but I’m a homebody, super quiet, and private. I like to be alone and read.”
Her favorite pastime? Netflix. “My husband [actor/filmmaker Christopher Guest] and I are very different. We don’t have a lot in common, but we both love the golden age of movies. Netflix was invented for our marriage.”
The A Fish Called Wanda star’s favorite possessions include a small gold box given to her by her mother, actress Janet Leigh, and by her father, actor Tony Curtis, before their messy, tabloid-fodder divorce; and a framed photo of her entire fractured family taken at her wedding. “The only time we have all been together,” she notes.
Her books, she explains, are serendipitous. Ideas pop into her head from abstract observations from conversations with children, and she spins a tale. “It was an accident. I had no plan ever to write a children’s book and I’ve written twelve coming up on thirteen.”
Some have made it onto the bestseller list.
After a brief Q&A, she stands behind a podium flanked by security for selfies and signings. For more than an hour she laughs, hugs, and continues to answer questions without flagging or altering her smile.
In an interview in the stairwell of the store—she apologizes for the setting, saying she would have preferred the Four Seasons—we chat.
She is, believe it or not, a gamer (game of choice: World of Warcraft), having attended both BlizzCon in disguise. Her campy appearance in an outrageous costume at the premiere of the film Warcraft and her involvement in video games are, she says, solely to understand her son, Thomas.
“I have a kid who is not a traditional learner and not a traditional human being, so I decided if you can’t beat them, join them and beat them,” she says. “I felt I needed to know who he was and I needed to go there. It’s not that I’m a big gamer; it’s that I have an acceptance, awareness, and an appreciation for the gaming community and what it has brought out of my son. So when there was the premiere of the movie at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood I said, ‘Hey let’s cosplay the shit out of it!’”
They did—and it was glorious.
In addition to being a badass mom, Curtis also serves as godmother to Jake Gyllenhaal (his mother, Naomi Foner, is a good pal). She says the role is purely symbolic, having watched Jake and his sister Maggie grow up, and shares that when Jake started acting she offered him some advice on the industry and was anointed his so-called “celebrity godmother.”
“Neither of them needs advice. They are both very talented, very smart and interesting people of depth and character and live in worlds not associated with performers,” she says.
In her limited free time, Curtis has been serving as a surrogate for Hillary Clinton across the country and proudly sports a gold Clinton pin on her lapel. “I believe that Hillary’s experience during this time in the world is the most important asset we have. Hillary has skin in the game. I do not believe Donald Trump has any. So I’m with her but I’m not going to disparage him.”
Her starring role as the stern headmistress, Cathy Munsch, in Fox’s horror-comedy series Scream Queens—a throwback to her role as the “scream queen” of the ‘70s and ‘80s in films like Halloween and Prom Night—has added to her allure and attracted a whole new fan base: millennials.
Curtis, however, maintains that there is little discrimination in Hollywood when it comes to aging actresses. “I see nothing but women of a certain age working today,” she insists. “The two women on my show are me and Kirstie Alley, who is 65. I just don’t see it. Things have changed and that’s never been a thing for me. I’ve had other things, but that hasn’t been it.”
The other things were drug abuse and alcohol. Now sober for 18 years, Curtis states, “I was a dope fiend. I became addicted to painkillers after a medical procedure and it was a ten-year addiction. Secret and private. I have worked very hard to stay sober and help others. My whole life my parents had dependence on alcohol. This is a family disease. I lost a brother at 20 from heroin. It will be the greatest achievement of my life if I can stay sober until I die.”
She was just three years old when her high-profile parents divorced. The fallout was traumatic. “There was hate, great betrayal, and shame,” she recalls. “I learned to keep very quiet. There was such acrimony. Speaking about one to the other caused great pain.”
Because she was the last child, Curtis saw her role as “the save the marriage baby.” When her mother and father subsequently split she decided she had failed. “Why do you think I was stuffing painkillers down my throat all those years?” she queries. “There were eleven divorces between my parents. This is not light; it’s life, and it was not easy.”
Despite her hardships, Curtis labels herself a “joyful person,” who, after years of good therapy, has settled into a long, comfortable marriage with two “beautiful” grown children.
The glamorous star who made her film debut at 19 in the horror classic Halloween dismisses her two Golden Globes and various other accolades, saying she never aspired to or sought a role or career in Hollywood.
“Every job I get is because it comes my way. I have zero ambition. Zero,” she says. “I don’t want anything. Because I do not want what I have not got, everything is a fucking blessing. I have a family, I have some money in the bank, I have a sense of humor. “And,” she adds, “I’m sober.”