Jamie Lee Curtis On High School Cliques, Family And 'You Again'
We don’t see Jamie Lee Curtis as much as we used to. She still acts and she’s still a huge star, but she’s also an author and she’s also a spokesperson for Activia Yogurt. Unless you’re a kids who reads books and sees movies and eats yogurt, it may seem like Curtis isn’t around as much.
She’s back on screen in You Again, a comedy about dealing with your high school nemesis. Her son is marrying the mean girl who tormented her daughter, but it turns out said fiance’s aunt is HER high school nemesis. Since it’s a comedy, nobody deals with it maturely. They even have a dance off where Curtis rocks moves even wackier than her True Lies pole dance.
Curtis covered the whole gamut of subjects her career now entails. The film reveals themes about her own childhood. The nature of the film speaks to her current cinema interests, and her schedule speaks to her commitment to family. Curtis took a spare moment to share all these things before You Again opens on September 24.
Q: Did you have any frenemies in high school?
JLC: No, no. No, high school as far as I was concerned was more about betrayal. I think high school is when you first get betrayed.
Q: By whom?
Q: Did that happen to you?
JLC: Sure. Name one person who didn’t get betrayed. [If someone says,] “I like him.” You’re now going to lean back and go, “She likes him.” The next thing you know, Heidi’s going, “You like him?” Because that’s what happens. You don’t think. You say to a friend something and then the next thing you know you’re betrayed. For me, and that’s just the natural thing where we also as young people don’t know what to do with those trusts. It’s too hot to handle so we have to give it to somebody else. “She likes him.” It gives you power the way that kind of moves so I think high school is a lot more about that. For me, that’s what high school was, was learning that people are going to tell your secrets.
Q: What group were you in?
JLC: I was a cheerleader. I was a kind of middle of the road. Here’s what I can tell you. To me, this was high school, and I just remembered this. I went to a girls’ school, Westlake School, and in our year, the yearbook picture, we were allowed to group in our little groups and a photographer was hired. So each little group signed up for their time and you could go do what you wanted. So the artsy people, the theater people, they all were doing mime and top hats and were all like this and very clever. The ballet dancers all stood with their little things and the thing. I sat cross-legged with my girlfriends in a semi-circle. We were like the good girls, kind of like the good cheerleader girls. Nothing sophisticated, we’re just like this. And then there were four girls who were the bad girls. Now the rule at school was you were not allowed to leave campus. That’s the rule, right? Their picture was taken from the back of them walking off campus. Four girls, walking away from the camera like this, through the gates of the school. I’ll never forget it as long as I live, ever. A year ago I’m in a doctor’s office and I’m sitting there. A woman across from me goes, “Hi Jamie, do you remember me?” I won’t say her name, I’ll come up with a fake name. “Emily Brown.” I went, “Emily Brown, from Westlake?” She said yeah. I said, “You were in the picture of the four girls walking off campus!” She said yeah and then I named them all. I knew ‘em all. That to me was like ahhh, the ultimate. So I was a good girl. I still am.
Q: Sounds like you were envious of the bad girls.
JLC: But how could you not? Risking it all, you know, walking off campus. Ah, no, I just wanted to fit in. I still do. I just want to fit in.
Q: I’m surprised you weren’t in drama.
JLC: No. No, I was never in a play, never in anything. Anything, in fact I, in my senior year, I went to three high schools, don’t even ask, that tells you everything. So I went to three high schools. My last year, I went to Choate in the east coast. My mother did a play in New York, I decided to go east. Her play closed, I stayed in the school my last year of high school, and I’m a movie star kid, a prep school, you don’t want to know, horrible. So I auditioned for the plays, a big art center there, and I can’t sing. I can dance a little but I’m not a great dancer, blah blah blah. And I’m not a great actor so I’m not getting in any of the plays. You know, the big musical, Oklahoma, so I audition. I think I get in a chorus. You know, you’re in chorus. And I was a dancer in chorus. You know, the cast lists, everybody has named parts and then it’s chorus. So I’m in this thing and the director of the play had been a theater director and he said, “You know, in the original Oklahoma, there was a girl in a polka dot dress who was a featured dancer. She would run across the stage being chased by boys. She would run across the stage and lift her skirt and kind of look over her shoulder and giggle and then run off. Then seconds later, three boys would run past. It would just happen randomly in the play as if this little chase was going on through the story.” He said, “I want you to be that girl.” Basically, he said, “When the play’s lagging, go out there.” I would stand off going in and out, and then I’d run off. I have a picture of me, I’m like this. That’s the extent but that was the senior year of high school. That was the extent of my experience.
Q: When did drama kick in?
JLC: It didn’t. I went to college, it’s a boring story, probably three minutes, but I came home from college on Christmas break, a tennis teacher that I knew in Beverly Hills happened to be managing actresses at that point. I went over to a friend’s house where he taught and I knew him. I said, “Hey, how are you doing?” He said, “Good. I’m managing actresses. They’re looking for Nancy Drew. You’d be a good Nancy Drew.” I said, “Yeah. I would.” He said, “Well, do you want to go up for it?” I said sure so he arranged an audition, I went to the thing, I didn’t get the part but then I got a contract at Universal and quit school, became an actor. Never thought about it.
Q: This film is about integrity and honesty. Why do you think those are important values?
JLC: Well, don’t we look at that in every relationship we have? Politics, marriage, friendship. It’s sort of like the old golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, trust, blah blah blah. It’s nice that you actually gleaned that from a cute, fun chick flick kind of romp. It’s nice that you would, a man. It’s definitely nice. I don’t go into a comedy looking to have a big message. I look for it to see will it be funny, can it be funny and what can I do to make it funnier? If there’s somewhere in it some essential truth, then that’s a lovely byproduct of the storytelling but it’s not what I set out [to do]. I didn’t set out going, “Ooh, this is going to be great because it’s going to have this great lesson at the end.” I thought it was just kind of a funny conceit honestly. I just thought it was kind of silly and fun.
Q: Tell us about shooting that dance scene.
JLC: The dance scene, I know, but the problem with the dance scene is of course we shot like eight hours of it and it’s like 14 seconds in the movie. Honestly, the amount of frickin’ dancing that we all did together, I don’t even think you can put it out on the DVD. I had an entire, you know those silks from Vegas, you know those women who get wrapped up in the silk? I have an entire sequence in the silk. I’m the only one that will go up, I go up, Victor’s whipping me around, I’m flailing, it’s pathetic. Talk about rehearsals. Weeks of web work, weeks! Bruised, I don't think it’s even on the DVD. It must’ve been really bad but I thought it was funny at the time. You know what? It’s all cute. All of that is fun. That’s what it should be, a big dance off between people. Sigourney and I did that for six minutes a time, 100 times. A lot of back and forthing, and of course it’s just minute in the movie now.
Q: You look fit though.
JLC: Well, I’m fit but I mean, I’m not that fit. Believe me, I was huffing and puffing every time.
Q: How do you balance all your work, acting, writing, charity with the children’s hospital? They say kids don’t read anymore.
JLC: Well, they’re not really. I’m one of those people, I do a lot of things. I’m lucky, I get up, I have a lot of energy. I have a great work ethic. My mom I think really gave me a great work ethic so 5 a.m. I’m up doing stuff every day. And, you write a book, it comes out two years later. So it’s not as if I’m writing every day. When a book is kind of in its finishing stages I do that. I’m very involved in my son’s school, VERY involved in my son’s school. I do as much charity work as I can, as much as my family life will allow. I do believe charity begins at home and I think the more we focus on our families, the better they will be. Somebody asked me the other day am I going to be at Maria’s big conference, her last. I said I don’t know, because I’m going to be involved in Tommy’s life. That’s not an “oh, you’re a good girl, Jamie. What a wonderful mom you are.” It’s just really the choice. The choice is I would rather do that than talk to 17,00 women. I’d rather do that, even if it’s a much smaller thing. I occasionally work. This popped up because it was six weeks in the summer in Los Angeles. If this had been six weeks in Toronto, I wouldn’t be in the movie.
Q: All your films in the last 10 years have been very family oriented.
JLC: Yeah, well, there does come a point where you’d like to do movies that your kids can see and, by the way, you don’t want to do anything particularly dark because I have to navigate already that both my kids are going to see things that I did when I was younger that I wouldn’t like them to see today. Not because I’m ashamed of it on any level whatsoever, but because they’re my children. I just don’t want them to have to see me like that, whatever it is. It’s not nudity. My kids have seen me in a bathing suit. It’s not like they’re going to see that much different. It’s just that the idea that themes, there’s some dark thing, I don’t want them to see me like that. There’s no need for me as an actor to have them go, “Oh, you were good in that, mom. Wow, that was great.” Feh, feh. The last thing I’m going to do now is go do some movie where I’m slamming up against some guy. As much as The Kids are All Right is a fantastic movie, there’s no way I would be able to participate in something like that. I’ve got small children. I’ve got a 14-year-old son. He does not want to see his mommy doing that. So I have to be really cognizant about what I’m bringing into my family. My husband, he doesn’t want to see. At a point, and so I’m lucky, I don’t have to do that. I respect so much the work that so many women do but that’s just not what I do.
Q: Are you kids interested in Halloween or A Fish Called Wanda?
JLC: Nope. My kids are not interested in anything I do. And I mean that not in any dis to my children or dis to me. My kids have their own life, they could give a sh*t what I do.