Jamie Lee Curtis Credits Being 'Hungry' as Key to Her Success

CUL PS Jamie Lee Curtis
Jamie Lee Curtis. Riccardo Ghilardi/Getty

"I've been doing this for a long time with very little expectations...You just never know when someone's going to really love something."

If anyone in Hollywood has experienced every aspect of the business, it's Jamie Lee Curtis. "I've been doing this for a long time with very little expectations. I've just had a really good time doing what I get to do, when [and] with who I get to do it with. You just never know when someone's going to really love something." Fresh off her Oscar win for Everything Everywhere All at Once, Curtis is keeping busy, first with Disney's Haunted Mansion, bringing to life the mysterious Madame Leota. "I remember thinking, 'Why is that woman in the crystal ball? What's going on with her?'" She's also receiving even more award buzz for her portrayal of the high-strung matriarch on Hulu's The Bear. "How many of us know people who are so desperate for help but then claim they don't want it? It's a beautiful portrait, the whole show." If that wasn't enough, she's also out with a new graphic novel, Mother Nature. Considering how busy she is, Curtis is unsure if she'll have time to direct the film version. "I'm hoping to. The problem is, I'm getting work." We're certainly glad she has that problem.

Editor's Note: This conversation with Jamie Lee Curtis took place before the Screen Actors Guild strike was announced.


I posted a clip to my Instagram of your iconic costume change in True Lies, and the comments are amazing. The comments have become a Jamie Lee lovefest.

Well, I appreciate that. I've been doing this for a long time with very little expectations. I've just had a really good time doing what I get to do when I get to do it with who I get to do it with and then once in a while something happens. You just never know when someone's going to really love something. I had that experience, obviously, with the Everything movie. And then I'm having that experience right now with the TV show The Bear. And I'm just sort of being where my feet are and being really happy that I get these opportunities now at this advanced age near death, you know?

Well, I'm certainly going to get to The Bear, but I have to ask you about playing Madame Leota in Haunted Mansion. Recently photos of you at the Haunted Mansion ride in Disneyland went viral. What was that like?

It was a stunt, so it was before the park opened. They let people in early. Owen Wilson was there. LaKeith Stanfield was there. We greeted the guests to the ride, we rode the ride, then we did a little press stuff. It was so fun to be back in the park. I went to Disneyland when it first opened. I remember the Carousel of Progress as being the most exciting thing I'd ever seen. So I have real Disney love. And then I raised kids and did the whole version of doing it with kids and seeing it through their eyes. But I haven't been in the park in a while, and my heart soared because I had such vivid memories. The drive there is a b****, and the drive back is a b****. You're driving through a concrete jungle, Los Angeles, and the expansion of Los Angeles has just made a bigger concrete jungle. And leaving the park, I had all of the feelings of what this must feel like to people who come here who are in the concrete jungle and who walk through those doors and have that experience. It's magical.

Jamie Lee Curtis Credits Being ‘Hungry’ as
Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota in Disney's 'Haunted Mansion.' © 2023 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

What excited you about doing the film? And did it make you think of the ride?

I remember Madame Leota, I remember thinking, "Why is that woman in the crystal ball? What's going on with her?" Of course, I remember the ghosts at the dinner table. And it's not a ride, by the way, it's an attraction. I do remember [the rides]. We all have our favorite things. Mine was the Carousel of Progress, which they put at Disney World in Florida, where I'm not going because you can't say "gay" in Florida.

Look what I bought at Disneyland [puts on a pair of Pride Mickey ears]. To me, this really shows their commitment to inclusivity. So I have memories of the Haunted Mansion, but never thought about it. And then they sent me a script of a new version of what the Haunted Mansion was and meant. And this version deals with a lot of loss. We can joke about ghosts. But what are ghosts? They're dead people. So this is a movie with a little bit of grief. The people who are alive are missing their people who are gone. And so the movie has a real depth to it and a real gravitas amid the classic nostalgic part of the ride. So I think that Justin Simien [the director] did a really good job. blending those two realities.

How do you find a character like Madame Leota, considering how little we know about her?

We know very little [about her from the ride]. In the story, she is a medium from way back in the day who is brought in to reach out to host a seance to the soul of the wife of the guy who bought the house. And so originally, Madame Leota is brought in that way. And what happens is, of course, a bad spirit comes into the house and entraps her inside her crystal ball, which is why she's stuck in the crystal ball. So people, in modern day, buy the house and they bring in some people who are who are supposed to be mediums. But it turns out, in fact, they're very good and they summon her. And then [Madame Leota] shows up to help them figure out how to get rid of the bad spirit.

You've won the Oscar, and now you're going to win the Emmy for The Bear.

Well, I appreciate that, obviously, very much. What I really appreciate is the opportunity. And what I really appreciate is the level of storytelling and the writing. The way that Chris Stoner [the series creator] has taken his family stories and turned it into that TV show, it's the most exciting thing on television. And I felt that way when I saw the first episode last summer. And there is a moment where in the first episode, Carmen calls his sister Sugar to bring a jacket that he's going to sell, to make some money to buy the beef to keep the restaurant going, and when they're in the back alley there's a moment where she says, "Have you called mom?" And he says "no." And she says, "I think you should." I knew the minute they mentioned the mother, I knew that I would play her. I knew it and then sort of didn't think anything else about it. And then that Everything year went on and in January of this year I got sent the script from Chris. It was so beautifully written that I just knew it would be powerful. How many of us know people who are so desperate for help but then claim they don't want it? That was to me the mercurial part of her, someone who claims she wants to help, but then rebuffs the help, and then bemoans the fact she has no help. It's a beautiful portrait, the whole show. The way every character gets a beautiful portrait, the beautiful connective tissue. Like, for instance, what just popped in my mind was Richie and his scene with the woman who we know he's divorced from. But we're seeing them making a life together with a baby. It was just heartbreaking. Because we all have the hope and dream for our futures, for our children's futures, we all do, and then the reality of life sets in. I just love that we get to see this sort of origin story.

With a role that is this stressful, how do you leave it behind at the end of the day? Does it impact you?

It's an emotional day, and I'm not a yeller. And so just that sort of level of energy is draining. I'm not that person. I mean, if anything, the only thing that's weird is you're isolated, you leave that set with all those people, and then you go by yourself back to a hotel room, and then you're by yourself in your hotel room, and you call your home. How did your work go? And you go, what? "It was intense," was the word I kept saying. "It was intense." And then you find out that the dog threw up or that we have a water main break or something and then your life just becomes the quotidian part of your life and you forget it. And the honest truth is, I forgot it. And then all of a sudden they sent it to me and I thought, "Oh!"

Jamie Lee Curtis Credits Being ‘Hungry’ as
'Mother Nature,' Titan Comic

Your new graphic novel Mother Nature started as a screenplay. What inspired the story?

I had this idea when I was 19 years old. I don't remember exactly where I was, but I remember I was in a car and a piece of gravel kicked up and hit the windshield. And I remember this sound being so shocking. My mind went to the movies Bonnie and Clyde and The Godfather. I imagined a tornado kicking up an entire gravel driveway and pelting a car with people in it, like bullets. And then people trying to escape the car, getting kind of Sonny Corleone—and it's become a verb now, to get Sonny Corleone. The other thing that I always imagined was a hailstorm, where people had their heads knocked off by the hail. And I just thought about why are we having such extreme [weather]? And this was when I was 19. What happens when you f*** with Mother Nature? Mother Nature fights back. We are seeing it everywhere now. I had thought about it, I kind of tried to think about trying to put it together.

Then after I made Halloween in 2018 and realized how much fun moviemaking was, because I really lost my energy for it. It felt not exciting to me. And David Gordon Green makes sh** exciting. And I came back from it with this renewed feeling like "Oh, sh**, you can go off and make movies really quickly with fun groups of people. And it doesn't have to be this sort of slog, it can be a sprint, and it can be super fun." I came back and ultimately wrote a screenplay, which is something I'd never done before. And I hired a young person to help me put it into script form on final draft, and then kind of continued working with that young person [Russell Goldman] who ended up running the company that I have now with Jason Blum. At one point the movie was too expensive to make and blah, blah, blah, I got other work and I was off doing whatever I do. And at one point, Russell said to me, can I take a crack at the script? And I said, "Sure, of course." And my version of the script was my version of my childhood, Father Knows Best, The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family. That was what I was raised on. So in my script, there was a father, who was the engineer, and the owner of the company was a big heavyset guy named Eric Butterfield. And the women were wives and daughters. Now the wife was cheating and the daughter was sleeping with her boyfriend who didn't want her parents to know, but it was a pretty classic narrative, very '50s.

Russell understood that what was wrong with the script is that it's called Mother Nature. And so when he submitted the script back to me after a couple of months of working on it, he said, "Just read it, but just commit to the read and don't freak out." The original father's name was Track Denton and he was the engineer father in the story. Like 15 pages in, I realized Track wasn't in the script. And the movie was now about Nancy Denton and this Native American woman. Two mothers and two daughters. And that's where Russell really brought the movie together. So Russell is the co-author because he completely shifted the spiritual nature of the [graphic novel]. He made it about women.

Do you still plan on directing the film version?

I'm hoping to. The problem is, I'm getting work. So I have work and I have a TV show I'm going to do next year. I'm so excited for that, based on the Scarpetta books [by Patricia Cornwell] with Nicole [Kidman]. And I have a couple movies I'm gonna go off and do, I'm gonna try to direct a documentary. And so I may end up not directing it, I may give it to somebody and say go off and make a great movie. Because I just don't know if I'm gonna have that window of time. We'll see. We'll see.

Jamie Lee Curtis Credits Being ‘Hungry’ as
Jamie Lee Curtis, winner of the Best Supporting Actress award for "Everything Everywhere All At Once" poses in the press room at the 95th Annual Academy Awards at Ovation Hollywood on March 12, 2023 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic) Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

You've experienced every aspect of this business, the highs and the lows. Considering the success you've had recently, especially with winning the Oscar, do you think if it had happened earlier in your career you would have had the same reaction to it?

It would have been awful, really would have been awful. Because I would have attached so much to it. I would have felt a responsibility to attach some sort of gravitas. By the way, I want to remind you, I won an Oscar in a movie called Everything Everywhere All at Once that was made for $12 million in 38 days in Simi Valley. We didn't have trailers, we used offices in the building. I played an overweight IRS auditor who, in a multiverse, falls in love with one of her clients. It has not gone past me how I got there. And the whole ride of last year I was so excited for the movie, the last thing I thought was somehow I would end up with golden things. And I know people will be like, "Oh yeah, bullsh**." I'm telling you the truth. And yet if that had happened to me when I was in my 30s, I think it would have been that thing where there would have been some expectation placed on me that I would have felt very self-conscious about. I don't give a sh**. I'm now having a great moment, and I wish it happened when I was 75. Like, I'm so happy that I was hungry, hungry, hungry, hungry. I'm hungry all the way up to Everything Everywhere All at Once. Like my hunger to love what I do love and who I do it with, do it with 100 percent of my being that there's so little up in my brain about it that had that kind of success happened to me when I was younger, it would have been really damaging. I don't know how young people handle all of it. So it's beautiful that it occurred the way it has.

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