Jamie Lee Curtis is known for memorable screen roles in a range of genres, from comedies like “Trading Places” and “A Fish Called Wanda” to action blockbusters like “True Lies” to family fare like “Freaky Friday.” But audiences met her nearly four decades ago as one of horror’s preeminent scream queens.
“Halloween,” “The Fog,” “Prom Night,” “Terror Train” and “Road Games” were the earliest entries in Curtis’ filmography, the projects on which the young actress cut her teeth, found a following and became an emerging star. But even after she achieved mainstream success, Curtis never looked down her nose at her horror roots, appreciating the exposure and opportunity her early work provided.
Now she’s coming full circle, appearing at the center of Ryan Murphy’s latest TV scare-fest (with a darkly comedic twist), Fox’s appropriately titled “Scream Queens.”
As the dean of a university where a murderous menace from 20 years earlier makes a bloody reemergence, Curtis contends with something that may be even more chilling than psychotic slashers: the mean girls of the privileged Kappa sorority. And as she reveals to Spinoff Online, she’s reveling in every bloodcurdling moment.
Spinoff: From day one, you have owned the “scream queen” title. You’re always proud of it – your mom Janet Leigh obviously being one of the greatest of all in “Psycho.”
Jamie Lee Curtis: Yeah, far out. Thank you. Miss her.
What’s fun to revisit it?
I’ve always tried to maintain the idea that we’re all trying to get our footing in show business; I don’t care who you are. And when you start out young, you try to get your footing in show business. And for me, I landed like on a mountaintop at 20. And what supported me was a genre that I don’t particularly like. I’m not a horror film fan, but the genre supported my work. So as long as I’ve been working, I understand that without them I wouldn’t have a career. And I’m grateful. I’m grateful to this unbelievably loyal, devoted fan base, this gentle fan base. So for me it’s a return to them, and it’s like going home again. It’s like coming home to your very big, crazy, loud, fun, extended family who loves you. And that’s how I feel.
Tell a little about “Scream Queens” the series.
It is a wild ride, and it has no reflection on a classic horror trope. It is wickedly funny and deeply dark and a little violent and super-fashion-y. And everything you think about a character does not add up. Like ,you think you know Dean Munsch, and then by the end of the episode you’re like, “Oh.” It is not a classic horror trope at all.
What’s been interesting to you working with these young actresses – Lea Michele, Emma Roberts, Abigail Breslin, Keke Palmer and the others? They’ve said that you’ve taken them under your wing to a degree.
I mean, by the way, I’m 56 years old. I have a 28-year-old daughter, and a 19-year-old son who’s walking around Comic-Con dressed as Trafalgar Law from “One Piece.” Believe me, I’m going to nest with my little birds. OK, so, the first scene I have is with Emma Roberts in my office, and that was the first scene we shot. And it’s a six-page dialogue scene, a ping-pong match between the two of us. And I’m telling you, we’re kind of like, “Hi, I’m Jamie,” “I’m Emma.” We sit down. Ryan’s like, “OK, let’s shoot this.” And it was like, “OK, boom! Hit it.” And this girl starts hitting ping-pong balls at me, and I’m like, “Whoa, damn! I’d better pay attention here.” Like, no warm-up. Like, she is firing aces at me, and I’m thinking, “I really got to be on my game here.” Like 7:15 in the morning in New Orleans, first day. I’m like, “Whoa.”
And that’s how it’s been with every one of them. Each of these girls has inhabited these people. They’ve eaten them. And they are just … it’s like garlic breath. They’re just, you know, giving it back to you every second. It’s really extraordinary. And I think it just is a testament to professionalism that young people actually do have that we kind of take for granted. I think it really speaks to Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, who have created this sort of triumvirate of talent that are very clear, “I will give it to you. You need to give it back.” And therefore, it means give it back, know your shit and deliver it. And that’s how I’ve had an experience with every one of these girls.
As Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis’ daughter, you know well what it’s like to be a second-generation Hollywood player. You’re working with second- and third-generation Hollywood women on this series. What are your thoughts on that unique perspective?
I have wondered all these years – I mean, this is stupid, why they’ve not, at the Oscars or the Emmys said, “We’re going to bring out all of these first-, second-, third-generation actors to show how much of an impact families have in this industry.” And I’m talking about directors, writers, actors, costume designers. And I haven’t ever seen that done. And it seems like you’re absolutely right. Emma Roberts is killing it in the show. She is wonderful. She’s freaking 21. What do you mean it’s her moment? She’s 21! She’s like the Jordan Spieth of her generation of actors. She is just killing it. She is like a laser beam. And Billie Lourd [Carrie Fisher’s daughter and Debbie Reynolds’ granddaughter], too, but Emma because she is the star, she is the representation of the future, as is Billie. So I’m thrilled to be in the show with them.
Did you and your mom ever have a conversation about the genre and both of you being in it?
No, never. [But] she was always grateful for it. And I’m grateful for it.
“Scream Queens” premieres tonight at 8 ET/PT on Fox.
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