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INT: Jamie Lee Curtis

11.24.2004

Jamie Lee Curtis has been acting in film and television for nearly three decades. Her big break came from starring, and shrieking, in John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. She has managed to jump over some very challenging Hollywood hurdles—she is an aging actress, still steadily working in her 40s, and she is happily married for a long time to another Hollywood veteran, Christopher Guest (director of BEST IN SHOW & A MIGHTY WIND). She also has two adopted children that she adores, and she has written several highly praised books.

Her new movie, CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS, is based on a John Grisham book called Skipping Christmas. Since it was released so close in time to SURVIVING CHRISTMAS (a big hunk of junk if ever I saw one), they were forced by the MPAA to alter the title. In the film, she stars as Nora Krank, a loving wife who wants to give her daughter a picture perfect Christmas, with very little time to plan. Naturally for a comedy, everything that could possibly go wrong does, but it’s a movie that kids will certainly enjoy in time for the holidays. And you may even find yourself enjoying it, too.

Jamie Lee is very tall and dresses very nicely. She has a booming presence that commands your full attention. In her interview, she talks about her plans to leave acting and become a full-time mother, and she also speaks about how she is a micro-manager. This was made apparent when she asked her publicist to raise the air conditioning in the hotel room, so that the room was less stuffy for the interview. Unfortunately, this made the room about as cozy as an igloo in Alaska, and as soon as she left the room, the air conditioning was promptly turned off. But it’s the thought that counts, and it was a pleasure meeting her, even if the experience gave me hypothermia.

JAMIE LEE CURTIS

Would you consider Christmas With The Kranks a dark movie in some ways?

No. I think if anything, it takes the very classic kind of Christmas American value, and what I think people will respond to is they’ll want that. But what they don’t realize is that there’s actually a lens over it, looking at it, with some question. That’s ultimately why I think the book was so successful, because it really does make you go, ‘Well, why are we doing this? What is this about? A snowman that has no connection to the birth of Christ, etc.’ You know, in my little crash figures, there’s no Frosty. So there’s this question of-- has it become so over-commercialized? And I think that’s if there’s darkness, it’s really the indictment of the American way, which is to overdo everything. Super size everything, you know, make everything an event, turn everything into an experience. Instead of just having it be the core connection, which is a time for families to come back together. I mean, besides the birth of Christ, it’s that time to just cook together, to be together, the time of returning families together at the end of a year. I think that’s the key moment.

What is Christmas like in the Curtis family?

Well, it’s Guest-Curtis. Guest, actually. I actually took my husband’s name, although I don’t do it for work-- and then I took it back. I took it, and then I took it back, because I was not raised a feminist, and yet it did feel weird to me, that I was an independent earner and an independent person. I found that in charitable giving, it felt weird to not acknowledge myself too. We go to an undisclosed mountainous location (laughs) in the northwest part of America, where it snows, and where we have a log cabin. So we have a kind of traditional Christmas that we do, which is similar, you know, I think every year, I say it’s too much. Every year, the first words out of both of our mouths after the first hour of present opening are, “This is insane.” And every year I vow to do it differently, kind of like drinking, but I did end up changing that so… I’ve actually changed a big thing this year, after doing this movie. I made the decision not to give adults Christmas gifts. It was a big decision for me.

Was that decision inspired by this movie?

Sure. Yeah, I just looked at it like, what am I doing? I am one of these compulsive people who start in like, July. So for me if Christmas is truly about children, waking up in that morning and having that tradition, then make it about children. What do I need to buy adult girlfriends of mine Christmas presents? It’s insane.

Does the non-giving of gifts to adults create any awkward social interactions?

No. Because again, if you look at what John Grisham wrote, what he was saying, it’s insane. It’s insane. You know Tim’s voice, is the voice of reason. Even though he’s kind of a curmudgeon, he is the voice of reason, and he does speak to, I think, the frustration many of us feel, that it’s gotten a bit out of hand.

How different is it to have the director also be the head of the studio?

It’s slightly daunting. Head of the studio, head of the world I think (laughs). You know, he was the head of the Oscars. I mean, he’s Joe! I’ve known Joe for a long, long time. I’ve known Joe when he was at Fox, when he was a director, etc. The real way I know Joe Roth, is that he’s the soccer coach of one of my best friend’s kids, and he is an unbelievable soccer coach. He has dedicated himself, amidst the busiest showbiz life, to coach soccer for his son and my friend’s son. So all I really knew of Joe, was Joe the soccer coach. So in a sense, that grounded me to him in a very real way, because of course I’m my daughters’ volleyball team mom, and that to me, is my greatest gig. So I liked him immediately because I knew that about him.

What does Tim bring to the role?

He is Tim Allen. You know, he is, as good as it gets, in the sense of the kind of person he is. He is as nice a person as you see, and as smart a person as you see. I think the fact that he played an everyman on TV-- I never saw his TV show, but I always heard about him and heard that he was really funny and really nice. I don’t watch TV. But he has this sense of being identified as an everyman but what he has, which for me is very attractive, is his brilliance. He is brilliant.

The first day we ever met on this, I think we had done a celebrity nod to each other at a couple of things before, but we had never actually spoken. You know, we had this meeting in Joe Roth’s office and Chris Columbus was there. It was Chris Columbus, Joe Roth, Me, and Tim. We sat down and we’re all chatting a little bit, and at one point they were talking about the Passion of the Christ, and they were talking about the interpretations-- and not being part of the conversation, I brought up that I once was a neighbor of Elaine Pagels, who wrote the Gnostic Gospels. And that’s basically my contribution to the conversation. They started in on a 20 minute conversation that was so above my head, back and forth, and I realized how completely brilliant this guy is. Yet he plays this everyman kind of grunting and farting, and he is truly a mind, a mind guy. That combination for me is very attractive, because he has an innate intelligence and yet he has this genuine warmth as a real guy.

Also, I think he really loves that he gets to do this job. I think, bottom line, all the people in this movie, people Joe cast, were people who love their job. Tim Allen loves this. From where he came from, who he is, to be able to do this job, it’s a great job. I love this job. Dan Akroyd loves this job! Couldn’t find a greater guy than Dan Akroyd. So in that sense, I think he filled the movie with people that were grateful for their gig. There’s just no glitziness-- people genuinely love their work and I think Tim has that too.

Can you talk about Julie Gonzalo?

Oh, she’s lovely. You know, there are just those people where it’s no surprise when they become successful. Sometimes there are a couple typos, still working in show business today, that I’m still convinced somebody read the name wrong on the casting sheet when they cast them, and there was just one letter off. You see a couple of people in show business still today, I won’t name them, and you wonder, how did they get that gig? It’s crazy. But Julie is one of those people where you can see why someone like her has become successful. She has that genuine naivety, that genuine green. She reminds me of my mother, in the sense where, here is this woman who really came here and blossomed into this movie star. Again, talk about someone who is thrilled to have this job, thrilled to be here, there’s no diva-dom anywhere. The diva bus is way long gone with her and she’s just standing on the street. She is not that person. So she has that, and it comes across in movies. You see that face, and she has this innocence and beauty, and yet she is also incredibly smart, speaks 3 languages, etc. She is doing our entire Spanish speaking press, going all over the place. She is lovely.

How do you balance being a mom and doing as much work as you do?

Um, I don’t, and that’s why the balance has tipped. The precarious balance has tipped. I am now going to acknowledge the full time mom part of it, and probably let the other part go.

Completely?

Pretty significantly. I have to—can’t do it. The split right now with me, I have an 8 year old with some issues, he needs his mommy. And so I’m lucky that I have some money, and I’m able to really…it used to be that mom’s raised their kids. Then there were moms who raised their kids and tended to the gardens, and we make ‘working moms’ sort of this modern phrase. But you show me a pioneer mom that was a stay-at-home mom where all she did was take care of the kids and make bread, no. I mean, she was out there feeding the chickens, and the whole family was. You had more kids so you could have more hands on the farm. It’s true, and I’m not joking.

In my life, in the movie business, the split is very significant. When I’m there, I’m really there. I’m the volleyball team mom, I’m a micro-manager. I’m going to give you this example because it will make you laugh and give you just the tiniest idea of who I am. Tommy had a friend over the other day…I’m probably going to take this on the Tonight Show because it just happened the other day and it speaks volumes. Tommy had a new friend over from his new school, new kid, you know, getting to know each other, wanting to make a good impression, wanting to make sure there is no drama in the house, etc. They’re upstairs and mom and I are having a cup of tea, we’re just getting to know each other, and at one point she is leaving and I said, “Okay great, why don’t you give me your cell phone number” and she said “Oh no, Artie knows my number.” And I said well, “What if he’s unconscious?” And she looked at me, like, “What?!” (laughs). And I said, “Well, what if he’s unconscious, then I can’t get his number”, and she was just like, “Oh my God, you’re just insane”. That tells you everything about me, that I would actually say to somebody, “Your kid could be unconscious in my house, you know, maybe he’ll fall off the bed and hit his head and be unconscious and then I can’t call you”. So that just gives you the tiniest idea of how much of a micro-manager I am.

Then when I work, I’m not there. I don’t care if it’s in Los Angeles and I get to come home every night, I’m not coming home until he’s in bed, and sometimes I’m not coming home until he’s asleep. So I’m not there. Anyone who says they are there, is lying. So it’s that part of the job that I can’t do anymore. I need to make the family first. I’m just not sure that that other thing is going to be able to balance in. Sure, if there’s a day’s work or a week’s work in Los Angeles, fine. But I’m just saying in the sense of the bigger commitments, I need to make the bigger commitments to my family now. And by the way, I’m 46, so it’s not like I’m going to get that many gigs.

You seem to have gotten pretty steady gigs, even as an actress in your 40’s.

I do, but I didn’t do a new movie after Freaky Friday until this. That’s about what, a year and a half? But even, in a weird way, the longer it is in between, the harder it is on my family, because again I’m there, and then I’m not there, for 3 months. I’m a big presence. I am one of those people. This morning, in the hotel, he had his head on the pillow, and it had a little rough edge to it, and there was a velvet pillow down the couch, and I literally went and got the velvet pillow and said, “Honey, lift up your head, this is softer” (laughs). So again, I’m a micro-manager. I’m one of those people that really likes people to be happy and comfortable. So when I’m not there, no matter how many times somebody else will take care of him, that’s me. So when I’m not there, you feel it. And I just want to be there.

You have written some highly acclaimed children’s books. How did that come about?

I followed a passion that I didn’t even know I had. I got to follow something because something unconsciously came out of me that I had no idea I was ever going to do. Never was a thought in my mind, I just wrote a book one day and was like wow, that’s a book! It made me cry at the end. I wrote a list of things and at the end, it made me cry. I thought, ‘there’s a narrative here, there’s actually a story and it ends with some real emotion.’ And I sent it to a publisher and they bought it, and this was 12 years ago. True Lies had not come out yet-- the only movies that had been a big success for me were Trading Spaces and A Fish Called Wanda. But I was by no means a big media star or anything, I mean I was a successful actress, but I wasn’t on the cover of magazines. I was living a very private life as a successful actor. So that first book spawned something I had no idea I was ever going to do, and now that’s the most successful thing I will have ever done.

Do you enjoy writing more than acting?

Sure. I enjoy it because it’s me. It’s my point of view, my ideas, my thoughts, my concepts that are part of me that I want to impart, and then people liked them. So then they’re saying, “We really liked this. We really, really like this” and it makes me go, well about this, and this? Then all of a sudden, I’ve written 6 books, with 8 more down the line. So it’s unbelievable that it’s a passion I didn’t know, I followed it, and now the same pressures in this job are now in that job, which I never anticipated. Celebrities were not writing books when they were becoming successful and getting a lot of attention for it.

Your husband is also in the movie industry, as a director.

Yeah, but he also doesn’t work that often. Again, Chris is a director, but he’s a daddy. He’s a dad, he’s a guy, and no matter what, he would never put the velvet pillow under my son’s head. You know, God bless him, he’s just not that guy, and I am. It’s part of what makes me special, and I want my kids to have that person. My daughter, sadly, didn’t get a lot of that with me, you know, I worked a lot when she was little. I felt like I had handed her off to people tremendously. People I chose, people that I lived with, people that were part of our family, etc. But they’re not me, and that’s the mistake I made. Not the mistake, the choice I made, and now I’m making another choice.

Would you want your kids to be performers in the business?

If they had the passion to do it, absolutely. Sure. I hope they have passion. I hope the world we’ve opened up for them allows them a passion in life, in whatever it is they do. If my success can afford my children the ability to find a passion to follow, I would much rather say at the end of my life-- that was the gift I gave them. I’m not saying just give them a free ride to follow a whim, it’s not that. Take artists for example. If you’re a painter, a passionate painter, that’s a wonderful life. It’s a hard life but that’s a true passion. Musician, that’s another hard life. But I’d rather that than them working in an office job, if that isn’t their passion.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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