Jamie Lee Curtis walks in the door and is already looking for the exit. It’s two weeks before her new Halloween sequel opens, and she’s in the middle of a heavy press campaign. Today, she’s at AOL Studios in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, and there’s a mob of fans three people deep scrunched against a barricade outside. Some are singing Halloween’s iconic creepy theme music. The actress whisks past them, a vision in red, and settles into a blue velvet chair in her dressing room, asking where the best escape route is. “If I go back that way, I’ll get booed,” she says.
Social media has changed fan culture so much that people feel emboldened and entitled when they see her now. Curtis noticed the shift at a screening she attended in Germany where she walked the press line, met with a young girl and was about to go in to watch the film — her three obligations for the event — when a group of men started shouting for her to sign their memorabilia. She smiled and said she couldn’t, since she hadn’t for the young girl she’d met with … and they started booing her. “I got into it with this one guy,” Curtis remembers. “‘Wait, I’m sorry. Are you booing me? How old are you?’” Her voice is loud and stern. “And he literally said, ‘In all the time you’ve been sitting here talking, you could have signed this.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re not listening.’”
Such is the life of a natural born scream queen in 2018. In the four decades since John Carpenter’s low-budget slash-’em-up launched her career, leading her to roles in horror flicks like The Fog, Prom Night and Terror Train (before she broke from the genre with Trading Places), Curtis learned how to manage horror-movie fanatics. After all, she’s had plenty of training deflecting obsessive men in the four previous times she’s portrayed Halloween’s protagonist Laurie Strode. (Spoilers follow.) The way she tells it, the character has always been a part of her.
“One day, [director] David Gordon Green told me he’d recreated the classroom scene in the original, and instead of Michael outside the window, it’s you,’ and I said, ‘Oh, that’s beautiful,’” she recalls. “He said, ‘I’m trying to remember that classroom scene.’ And I said, ‘When the teacher calls on Laurie, she goes’ — and I’m 60 years old on November 22nd and without skipping a beat – ‘”Costain wrote that fate was somehow related only to religion, whereas Samuels felt that fate was more like a natural element, like earth, air, fire and water.” And the teacher says, “Yes, that’s right.”‘ I remembered it just like that. I know every word Laurie said still. … Forty years later, I remember almost everything.”
Curtis wasn’t looking to reprise the role the way she had when she concocted 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. She had realized the 20th anniversary was approaching, so she contacted Carpenter and his cowriter and fellow producer on the original film, Debra Hill (since deceased), and asked them to write a script. They declined. She ended up finding a new crew to help her make a generally well-received sequel that picked up where 1981’s Halloween II had left off, with Myers stalking his sister, Laurie, to California. “That was my idea,” she says. “Here, it being 2018 and 40 years later didn’t even cross my mind.”
She got involved this time because her friend, Jake Gyllenhaal, told her that his friend, filmmaker Green, wanted to speak with her about a Halloween sequel. So what made this one stand out? Doesn’t she get pitched on Halloween sequels and just roll her eyes at them? “No, no,” she says. “Not at all, actually.” What sold her was the screenplay’s opening scene, in which Strode’s granddaughter, Allyson (played by Andi Matichak), walks through town, goes home and opens up a closet like the one Strode hid in in the first one. It reminded her of how she felt in the original. “By page three, I was hooked,” she says.
She was also sold on how different the story was from the past sequels. Unlike H20, this Halloween picks up after the 1978 original and jettisons all of the mythology concocted in the sequels — Myers is not Strode’s brother; he’s not controlled by the nefarious Cult of Thorn; he’s (maybe) not even supernatural. “Thank God,” Curtis says of the plot changes. “The only two dots that needed to get connected were what happened to Laurie Strode in 1978 on October 31st and what happens to her on October 31st, 2018. I thought it the freshest way to tell a new story was to go back to the original. If we had tried to do it the other way, it would have been a mish-mosh.”
“We just started asking ourselves what made the original movie scary, and we realized it’s the fact that it could happen to you,” says Green a few days later as he road-trips with his fellow Halloween cowriters, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, to their old film school in North Carolina. “It could be anyone. It could be anywhere. The more specific his mission, targets, ambitions or inspirations were, the less it affected me personally. So if we were going to create this boogeyman, it had to be less motivated.”
When Green first approached Curtis, he thought she’d say no. He’d already come up with scenarios to move forward without her, such as recasting the mythology (think Batman Begins) or focusing more on Strode’s daughter, Karen (Judy Greer). When the star said yes, it was a “dream come true” for the director, who was obsessed with Michael Myers as a preteen. He copped to feeling a sense of validation the day his father visited the set and saw him working with Curtis and getting approval from Carpenter, who happened to be in town.
Incidentally, Carpenter’s main feedback for Green & Co. was to keep the story simple. Myers isn’t specifically after Strode here; he has the duplicitous Dr. Sartain (a replacement for late actor Donald Pleasance’s omnipresent Dr. Loomis) guiding him to Strode for a reunion. “The Shape” remains a cipher. Although he is content picking up a comically large kitchen knife and carving the denizens of fictional Haddonfeld, Illinois, he does conform to a confusing set of ethics here. In one scene, he kills a mother but spares a crying baby (voiced, incidentally, by Curtis). Green can’t quite explain it, but it works. “I don’t know why [Michael] did that,” he offers. “That wasn’t in the script. I was just kind of playing jazz that day. I’ll ask Jim, who was playing the Shape in that scene what his thoughts are. But it is an ethical decision from someone that doesn’t make many ethical decisions. That’s something I’ll have to come up with a better answer for.”
Where motivation wasn’t a major concern for Myers — “He’s kind of a nothing character,” per the director — it was for Strode. “Jamie is one of those people you can’t just half-say something to,” he says. “You have to be honest, specific and have intent with what you’re talking about. We were trying to honor John Carpenter’s film.” They did that by questioning where Strode would be 40 years later. Carpenter has used the word “repressed” to describe the character over the years and while Green doesn’t quite agree with the word (“If that’s [his] description of her … ” he says, trailing off) there’s a scene in the original where everything changes for Strode.
“Jamie and I always speak about a moment at the end of the 1978 film where she’s got [the children she was babysitting] Tommy and Lindsey upstairs and she says, ‘Do as I say,’” he explains. “In that moment, she’s transformed from a soft-spoken, slightly timid academic sweetheart into an authoritative, confident figure. We used that as her mantra. We’re meeting a woman who said, ‘Do as I say,’ one night in 1978 and was very empowered by that authority and is comfortable with that confidence.”
Curtis said she gave Green only a few notes on her character throughout the process. “He thought she would be messy,” she says. “He had written that when you first met Laurie, her house had dishes in the sink. I said to him, ‘If someone is spending her entire life waiting for one moment with someone, there’s a gun right next to her when she sleeps. There are no dishes in the sink, because they would get in the way. Nothing gets in her way.’”
Her other suggestion was that when Strode learns of Myers’ impending release that the character would be drinking strawberry Nesquik. “The day I got to Charleston [where the film was shot], there was a knock on my door and a room-service person brought me a glass of strawberry Quik milk with a note from my best friend in Los Angeles, Suzanne Yankovic, saying, ‘I know you’re feeling far away from home. I thought this would make you feel better.’ So when David Gordon Green said, ‘I need Laurie to be doing something the morning of the truck crash,’ I went, ‘She’s drinking strawberry Quik.’”
Curtis says she did in fact need the comfort of Nesquik – a treat she grew up drinking – because she was purposely lonely on set. To get into character she allowed herself to feel isolated in Charleston. “I drove myself everywhere,” she says. “I lived by myself. I was lonely. I didn’t know anybody. I was doing emotional work. I was doing physical work. I was hurting. I was sad all the time. I could literally burst into tears right now — that’s how fresh and ready the feelings were. I was telling the story of this woman, and it just made me sad, ’cause her life was so sad.” (Asked if she researched how people dealt with trauma, she says, “I didn’t need to read any books. We all have trauma. When people have trauma, they’re frozen in a moment and are emotionally trapped where they were when the trauma occurred.”)
“When she’s watching Michel’s release from prison and she’s considering whether or not she’d try to kill him, there’s a sensitive moment where she screams and it’s a battle cry,” Green says. “She offered all these beautiful, emotional nuggets that were beyond the page.”
Part of the reason why the shoot was so emotional was because of the news cycle. With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements in full effect when the film was being shot, it was something on all of the creatives’ minds, and the film represents something important to Curtis because of that: a shift in power dynamics. The key to the movie – and to the original Halloween, as well – is Strode’s reaction to her trauma, something which could apply to all survivors of abuse.
She points to the way women have come out en masse against people like Dr. Larry Nassar, the sexual predator who took advantage of young gymnasts, or Bill Cosby. The women who accused them took the power from the inflictors. She also praises Dr. Christine Ford for speaking out against now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“He denied it, and that’s fine,” she says of Kavanaugh. “And there was no official corroborating evidence not to confirm him so they voted him in, but the power shifted. The power shifted with Larry Nassar, who’s now in prison. The powers shifted with Bill Cosby, who’s in prison. And the power shifted with Harvey Weinstein, who’s not in prison … yet. And that’s where a slasher movie about babysitters has taken on social relevance. And the movie was written before all of that happened, but David, Danny and Jeff understood the power of generational trauma and how it’s passed down. It’s Rashomon.” Ending on that serious note, Curtis needs to leave for her next interview. And though she’s smiling and says, “I could have done that all day,” there’s a glint in her eye that suggests she’ll always know where the back exit is.