Jamie Lee Curtis, the Original Scream Queen
From One World Trade Center in Manhattan this is the New Yorker Radio hour a CO production of WNYC studios and the New Yorker Welcome to the New Yorker Radio Hour. I'm David Ramnik. Jamie Lee Curtis descends from Hollywood royalty. She's the daughter of Janet Lee and Tony Curtis but if that sort of Hollywood history isn't your thing exactly you still know Jamie. Lee Curtis who shot to fame in the original Halloween com on Halloween night. It's when people play tricks on each other. It's all make believe I was just trying to scare you. I saw the Boogeyman I saw outside the boogeyman can only come out on Halloween right right while I'm here tonight. I'm not about to let anything happen to you. Curtis eventually started playing in comedies. Like trading places says with Eddie Murphy and the weirdly unforgettable. A fish called Wanda set up a guy who is incredibly important to us. There's GonNa tell me where the loot is and if they're going to arrest you and you'll come lopping and like Rambo without a jockstrap and you dangle about a fifth floor window was that smart okay was it. Was it good tactics next. Was it stupid. You don't call me stupid. Her new film is also in the oddly. COMEDIC WJM Curtis is one of the leads in Ryan. Johnson's knives out which is a WHO done it. Comedy filled with references to Agatha Christie and to the Board Game Clue Curtis plays the daughter of the film. They're very very rich and very very dead. Mystery author Mr Block. I know who you are. I read your profile in the New Yorker. I founded delightful. I just buried my eighty five year old father who committed suicide. Why are you here? Jamie Lee Curtis sat down. Recently with the New Yorkers Rachel time do you have a history with whodunnit movies. No I am the anti mystery girl. I'm the anti mystery girl roll. I don't like horror films I know I know I know Venus. Just a cute. There's not a movie that my friends I haven't all said Oh I'm going to go see this movie. And then they look at me and they say but you can't go you know there's this new thing that people do where they read. It's like a whole trend of people who read read the wikipedia for a scary movie before they see it like. This is the way well. I'm going to tell you a secret. Yeah And this was before I became very close with Jodie Jodi foster But I was making my girl in Florida and the makeup man had done silence of the lambs and it was is out in theaters and he wrote me a sheet which I took with me into the theater with a little flashlight and I sat in the back row by myself and it it read when jody goes to the storage locker. Close Your eyes and ears and wait for the second scream only and and so I would look at my little list and I'd be like Oh there she goes to the storage locker and I would cover my ears. Close my eyes curl up in a little ball and sing. Oh Claire De la Luna in my head Okay Luna on them you feel Donna. Da Da da Da da until I heard the I scream and then I heard the second scream and then I could open my eyes. I can see visual It's the it's the auditory and the jump. The the the unexpected is terrifying for me Let's talk about your beginnings is an after I did you resist it at any point that you could have gotten gotten into it. I mean I know you went to a year. College started acting never going back. That's the story. No no no it was the last thing in the world you have to remember. I was not pretty eighty. I was cute. The word cute was a sort of attributed to me a lot. I had a lot of personality. Your spunky I was spun. Guy was cute and precocious totally. Yeah mostly because I wasn't particularly intelligent so I lack of any school like success assess I made up for in personnel as like personality plus anyway I went to college where my mother was the most famous person you've ever graduated. It was the only Lee school that took me with my e plus eight forty combined. Sat Average was. Why were you so bad at school? I mean I just couldn't the delivery. The system didn't work for me today. I'd be diagnosed with some learning disability or some learning difference. So what happened is I went to college. Yeah a friend of mine. Nine from Beverly Hills had a tennis court behind her house and a man who had been the tennis teacher who would teach people at her house and he said you know they're looking for Nancy drew managing actresses now and they're looking for. Nancy drew universal. You should go up for it and I said Oh okay. I was home from college and I went up and auditioned and didn't get the job but the Somewhere somebody said Oh. She was whatever I don't even know what they said. They said something because all of a sudden he said you know you should stick around. You could get work and all of a sudden. I called my college and I said can I take the month of January Kan.. which is a month that everybody else took one class I said can I do a drama class and get credit for drama? If I go to acting class trying to be an can I break into show business in a paper from get school credit. Get School credit for it and they said yes and addition for a program which is no longer in existence which was a contract system. They used to put people under contract. What is your say when I read that I thought God she must have been the last I was contract attractive? Truly I was with virtually one of the last people I actually told the woman who ran it a woman they moaning James. After I finished my audition I said look. I know that you take some time to decide but I'm going back to college in two days so I need to know by Tuesday. 'cause I'm going back to college. And so they called and said Yes yes and so I quit. I quit college. became an actor by accident. And what was your family's reaction to that. My mother I think was thrilled. You know Tony I have no no I don't remember And you know I became an actor and I i. I've been an actor since that day. Never in a million years thought. It'd the an actor really. That's so I mean never in a million years and I mean in terms of you say you never thought you'd be an actor ever. You took these acting classes. I was reacting classes because I had to take them. I mean how did what I want to know is how did you learn. Could you have a sense of what the craft is. That goes all the way back to the beginning or is it something something. That's kind of ad hoc that has developed over the years totally Just sort of what I've picked up what works what doesn't work. I have learned that it whatever it is. There is no formula for anyone. There is no one way to do it. there are a million ways to approach something and every actor. We'll come in with a different way. There have been times where I have felt less than because other people seemed. More Articulate well it I I will tell you I remember. I did a wonderful movie with John. Boorman all the tailor of Panama and it stars. Geoffrey Rush It's John Onlooker novel. Pierce Brosnan myself and Geoffrey rush and Jeffrey and John are both intellectuals and they're both deeply Deeply into character and they do method work. Well they just dig deep and excavate everything and I put on the watch of the character and I'm ready because I cut my teeth and horror movies so you don't have any time you just show up as the person and you do the work and you get a take or two and then they have to move on. Because there's no time and I remember a day where Pierce Brosnan and I were sitting in this room with John and Jeffrey and John and Jeffrey were like deep diving into things and I remember. We're at one point. Pearce look to me. I looked at him. 'cause pierce cut his teeth on Remington Steele right which is an hour. It's a mystery murder mystery right right. He was a detective. You know again television fast fast. Show up no it fast and I remember who he walked out of this room. We were in an elevator later and I looked at him and I said Pierce. I feel like such a bad actor because I'm not. I'm not deep diving like that. And he goes. Yeah me too two and the two of us just stood there looking at each other because in a weird way I think at that moment felt out of our depth but the truth is there is no depth actors actors listening to this wherever you are yes. She's about to drop some truth. The truth is there is no depth that you have to go to. It doesn't matter it's about creating something real and whatever it takes to do that do it. But I don't I have found that when I try to be a really good actor. I'm not a good actor because I'm all of a sudden very very self conscious. I'm thinking about things in a way. That's just not the way I do it and I have just found since I started. arted that the best thing I can do is I read at once. I kind of know what it is and I show up. I know what I'm supposed to say say. And it has worked out that way in every area of my life Going back to starting out in horror I mean I know a little little bit of the whole origin story of how Halloween came about but again as a person who doesn't like scary movies. It's funny that that should be. It's the weird irony. I know. Yeah I am I just I will tell you this I've been on. TV series called Operation Petticoat. which I like an old west thing? Well no it was a remake of the Tony Curtis Carey Grant Comedy set on pink submarine in World War Two now and I would have guessed that was a movie and where five army nurses get picked up on an island and are on this submarine and get trapped on it. They remade universal when I was under contract as a TV movie And I was cast in the part that was opposite the park my father had played in the movie. That's not twisted. Twist at all. Oh it's almost incest but not by gender. It's generational incest and while we were shooting the movie it got picked up as a TV TV series. This show did not do well and I was fired. I was fired along with eleven of the thirteen actors. I thought my life was over. I thought my career was over. I thought I would lose my contract and two weeks later. The audition for Halloween alouine came up. Had I not been fired from a show that only lasted two episodes before they cancelled it. I would never have been in Halloween in my life. I never changed. Did you have a feeling when making Halloween. Not a clue the thing that nothing No nothing all I can tell you is that my name was on every page of the script ripped and the reason I told you the operation petticoat story is simply put it into context. I would have to lines if I'm lucky on an episode of that show and here was a movie where I had Lori was on every single page of that script and that was was thrilling to be able to actually create something as a character. Do you know how you got the job. Did you ever ask addition many many many times. I know it. You start whittling down you start going. I like her bring her back. Bring her back bring her back. And then it was between me and one other woman whose name I know but I I will never say publicly and obviously at that moment Debra Hill who ended up becoming one of my best friends who co wrote it and produced it. I'm sure that at some point when it was down to me and this other woman who had much more experience than I did had been many many more things than I had. I'm sure the fact that I was Janet Lee and Tony Curtis' daughter that my mother had been in psycho that that wasn't going to not help the promotion of the movie somehow. Like if you're GONNA choose between this one and this one choose the one whose mother was in psycho because it will get some press for you sure and so I can't. I'm never going to pretend that I just got that all on my own like I'm just a little girl from nowhere getting it you know I mean clearly I had a leg up because of that but that I don't think played much much part in the process of the auditions and certainly. Didn't you know that does nothing for you. Once they say okay. We're rolling now do the work. But but I'm sure getting the part that probably tilted it in my favor. Were you reticent to do the revisit this current recurrent right not at all no no because I read it and that theme the theme of Trauma Speaking Trauma was it. Yeah I've always even H.. Two O.. For those of you who've seen it and don't hate me for for it you know the goal of H. Two O. was both time the twenty years had gone by and we were still all in like in show off business here. We all still working working and trauma 'cause in that movie. She's an alcoholic and a drug addict trying to hide who she is by changing changing her name and running. Was it important to you that they also export addiction well. It is a byproduct of trauma by the way pain killers alcohol. It is the bomb that heals people when they are so traumatized it's a natural. Evolution of trauma is to end up with drugs and alcohol. People hurt people hurt. People hurt people seek relief has been twenty years for you in recovery. I'm twenty one Coming up in February. Congratulations thank you. Has that been fairly unexpected for you to to be kind of like a public representative for treatment and recovery public representative for a private. Yeah for private private issue. Yeah I was so terrified when I got sober from a ten year. Run on Vicodin and alcohol. I was terrified about being outed. I was terrified of the tabloids. I felt like that weakness was going to be exposed and then and then exploited take dependent picked apart and I would feel I would feel so embarrassed by that exposure of secret of a flaw of human human. Frailty so feeling like that the great part of my life would get taken away from me if I publicly ever talked about it and and then I was actually doing an interview for Redbook magazine about a book that for children that I had written. My teenage daughter was sitting with me at that moment. We we were at the table. I believe the author Amy Wallace and I remember we were sitting there and I was talking about how great my life was and how happy I was and how because better I kept saying the word better I kept saying like Anne and I are getting along better in. Chris and I are getting along better in my life is so much better. I kept saying the word better in at at one point. She said well. What do you attribute it to? And in that moment I remember I looked out the window and I thought do I don I and then I thought I do and I turned back and said and I think because I've been sober for over two years and I think it's interesting. How over the years the stories you've been telling about your own passed with? Opiates and addiction has tailed with Your thoughts on maybe the exacting beauty standards in Hollywood. And all and how you Sort of push back against them such. That wasn't that I've I've read in several places you've talked about how you had a procedure done and that was an eye job because I was is on the movie. Perfect and Gordon Willis. The great cameraman in a courtroom scene looked at me one day and said Yeah. I'm not shooting her today. Like that because I if you look at pictures me as a child I looked like I haven't slept every picture of me as a child. I big bags under my eyes. Dark circles I always. I've had it and I was puffy that day. What for whatever reason and I was mortified just so embarrassed so deeply embarrassed that right? After that movie I went and had an eye job. Wow and that's when I found Vicodin and then you know. The cycle of addiction began with that but I have done enough plastic surgery attempts. I pulled some light bow on me at one point. Ain't none of it works. It just didn't work makes you feel worse. You know I'm someone you've probably heard me say it. I try not ought to become a broken record. There's a phrase it's in recovery but it's I apply it to my life fully. which is when I wake up in the morning and and I look in the mirror I am looking at the problem? I'm also looking at the solution gets in me. It's all they're all in you. Yeah all of it and plastic surgery and all these external fixes our society. There charlatans they are advertisers. There's it's all advertising and moneymaking not one of these people not one doctor. I'm not talking about plastic. Surgeons who fix winded veterans sure. I'm not talking about people who do altruistic help for I am talking about these. These charlatans that draw you in with promises of you remove this you remove that you can inject this you can inject that and that ultimately you're going to be beautiful you'd feel better and I don't know anyone who's had procedures who feels better. They look in the mirror and they feel fraudulent. Because it's not real and I am one of those people I have been. I let my hair go grey. I can't I have tried it. It didn't work. It felt like it it. It made things worse in a way and that has just been something that I've kind of carried on for a long time. Are there any rose. You've done that. You think are kind of Unsung like no one asks you about them. You know what I get so much effing attention it's obscene. I mean really. I just just can't even one side second pretend to think that there's some hidden gem no one ever and shems even if there is it it doesn't matter I been doing this for a long long time and I've been successful at it since I was nineteen. I have been told him fantastic every day. There's not a day I don't walk down the street and somebody goes. Hey love you. You're fantastic and I appreciate it. I get it. It's sort of been my Gig so I don't need any more attention. I get plenty of people telling me that they appreciate what it is. I'm I had an extraordinary life. Jamie Lee Curtis this talking to the New Yorkers Rachel Sign Curtis is one of the stars of Ryan. Johnson's knives out and you can find. Even more from their conversation online at New Yorker Dot com knives out was one of the big movies of the Thanksgiving weekend and looking ahead to Christmas. The most anticipated thing on the docket is probably little women. Greta Gerwig new adaptation of the novel. Gerwig told me recently that she got a lot of personal history with little women that was in a community theater production a children's Children's production and I played job in Sacramento. Yes I remember. I was wearing my hair. There's Joe had this line Make says you're almost a young lady. Now you'll turn up your hair soon and Joe says if turning up my hair makes me a woman then I'm GonNa wear in two tales until I'm twenty and I remember thinking I'm sort of not saying this right right but this is all I have. I mean that's I think in some ways maybe you become a director because you're in some way no your own. Limited capacity is an actor actors. So you get to vicariously live through other people. I'll talk with Greta Gerwig on the New Yorker Radio Hour next week and there's more to come this hour stick around breath this is the New Yorker Radio Hour. I'm David Remnant. Helen Roster is a food correspondent for the New Yorker and she interprets that beat pretty broadly cheeses likely to write about the ethics of reviewing or the metoo issues plaguing restaurant kitchens as she is the perfect recipe for Rhubarb. So she had a lot to talk about recently with the Los Angeles Chef Nikki. Nakayama who's been featured on the Netflix show chefs table title. And whose restaurant has been called one of the very best in America. Here's Helen not long ago. I had one of the best meals that I've ever had. It was a restaurant called Anaka in Los Angeles and the kind of food they serve. Their is called K.. Seki Kentucky is a type of Japanese cuisine that you might not be familiar earlier with. It's not that common outside of Japan. It's an incredibly formal ritualized elaborate meal that unfolds over the course of hours there are dozens of courses. The chef at Anaka in Los Angeles is a woman named Nicky Nakayama. I visited her in the kitchen a few days after I had my meal at Anaka and when I showed up up she gave me a tour and then this is our dish pit area but trust us a lot more organized than what Hap- service there's just a lot going on because we have so many dishes the flake incredible. We had to build a shed outside just to house those dishes. That's why we love our dishwasher Clement. He's been with us for three ears. I feel very fortunate that People WanNa like hang out with us and stay even though we want to kill each other. Sometimes it's very normal. Nakayama was born in La and she grew up there. Her parents are Japanese immigrants who owned a seafood distribution company. So she spent her time as a kid working in the warehouse or Hanging out in the office. She figured she was going to become a musician. Maybe a pop star but she ended up spending three years studying traditional Japanese cooking in Japan. And in two thousand eleven the culmination of all that training and running a couple of other restaurants in La. She opened a knockout. My work area. We're here the kitchenette and knock out is the first one that Nakayama has been able to build from the ground up. She designed it to suit herself. She's five foot one and so everything is at counter height or lower. It has notes pasted up by her workstation and near the past reminding everyone how to feel the mood is what Nakas all about but one of the most important nets. It's that I had was actually stuck outside the door because I felt that. This is a very sacred space for me and I mean we've all been in kitchens ends where the environment hasn't always been the friendly one or hasn't been like very conducive to good things so I had a note outside that said good things starting now also basically when you walk into a reminder to tell yourself that leave leave all your shit outside. Don't bring it in. Don't bring it in but that's since fallen off often. Generally everybody gets the idea. We're not gammon talks about these unfriendly environments. I think part of what she's referring to hyon kitchens. In general. Those spaces basis tend to be pretty blowing almost all the shops that are running those kitchens our men and within the already pretty sexist Cayenne restaurant world high in Japanese. The knees cuisine is an area that remains particularly close to female chefs. Nakajima's response to this is to staff her kitchen almost entirely with women women and that includes her right hand in the kitchen and everything else. Her sous-chef Caroliina. I am the sous chef here not in our my partner in life. Don't forget that you're not just shot your important in a lot of ways. Only you have the most beautiful ceautiful romanesque. Oh we don't use a lot of room ESCO in Japanese. But I'm sure we'll figure out a way our I in like our Goto thing is okay. Let's just use the the standard Japanese method to cook it and see what happens and if all else fails we temporary everything. Kentucky is incredibly complex and very ritualized chefs train for years. Sometimes decades to become cocky masters the difficulty for someone like Nakayama Alma is trying to make sake and California is that the cuisine developed in Japan. It's a meal that reflects Japanese seasons Japanese terrain so to try try to translate it to California can be complicated. I think authentic Kayce Seki can only exist in Japan even for us. We've tried to plant certain plants. What's that are needed Japan in this environment into doesn't work like we've tried to put loss in that window behind you and it doesn't survive because the environment doesn't allow for it to be? It's not humid enough. I don't like to call ourselves traditional anyway but I think our heart in our motive in our ideas about it feel very genuine authentic to us as in who we are. Because I think we're combining a lot of our knowledge of Japanese cuisine is and also our personal experience of Japanese food and the things we know about it and combining that with our upbringing in America. It's it's hard to pretend that we don't have one or the other. So the most authentic representation of who we are is to sort of blend in a little bit of both. It's when you say we you're talking about yourself and Carol Yes yes so when you open the Naga Carroll wasn't in the picture did you guys so each other then no but then you met and started dating and then you decided to work together yes and it all happens sort of uh by chance and do a little bit crazy because I lost my sous chef that I'd been working with for nine years and this is like well I know does she and I know Japanese cuisine. Maybe I can come and help you. Just you know do some of the basic things that are really important and my initial reaction was like no. You're going to see what a mess and how crazy it can be behind their so. Everything is altogether you and Carol have You are the one hundred you've sort of appeared together as a couple and you're often described in the media as a Lesbian Jeff. Couple Caroliina the Nikkei Nakayama. Do you think that that's an important part of your identity is chef certain innocuous idea restaurant a originally Ah. I didn't want that to be out there because I felt that. It's already hard enough to be a female chef to be judged for so many things in the `nother level of judgment is not what I want people to focus on when they're coming to eat. I want them just to think about the food. And what we're creating but as time time has gone by I realized and recognized that it's important to sort of put a voice out there to sort of encourage more support and more acceptance. I don't necessarily think that it's very important to tie to that identity but I understand how if we are positive about it. It's a good nothing. How has it been difficult to be a female chef? Sometimes when can't help but wonder how serious people are taking can you. There are times in the kitchen. If I was a man they would never question me about this and but I don't know if that's true or not I really don't I don't know because I've you've never been and I don't know what the opposite reaction would be but sometimes the it's easy to fall back on that just to make yourself a little better but overall I feel that I've been very fortunate with and knock on that it's not an issue anymore. It used to be an issue with the restaurants that have but for here. No you've told the story a couple of times of being at your Sushi. Restaurant was it. And what was it that a man came in and realized that he was going to be served by a woman and got up up and left basically when he walked in with. There's a couple of them and then they walked in and they saw us and then just turned around and left and I understood that. Oh Oh he probably thought we weren't a serious restaurant or this is not a restaurant so they just sort of. Didn't even try. Sushi seems to be a uniquely Sexist culture even within the already difficult University of fine dining sushi is really still the realm of men. That is very true. I think For Men in Japan to have a woman in the kitchen as a distraction for them. And there's this constant belief that women have certain roles that that we need to play and when we're not doing that we're being rebellious to structure and rebellion too. Structure is number one. No no in Japan so so all of your diners here at knock on know who you are. You're pretty well no now. If you've been on a lot of magazine stories why do you still will cook with the screen closed in front of the kitchen. I cook good the screen close because well overall I do enjoy to to be The ability to complete focus on the work and I feel that it's a lot better for the environment to not have it be open kitchen. It's very intimate commit. And the industrial feeling of the kitchen is very overwhelming and not conducive to a nice relaxing feeling but most of our I want people to come here and think about the food and I think about WHO's cooking. So how has it changed since you were on Jeff's table so what happens so okay so. The first day chefs table came out. We were still taking reservations. That were like where the phone was being forwarded to my cell phone and I remember it got really hot and we had to turn it off and then we caroline. I just sat there and stared at it for a bit GonNa do. She's like this cannot happen. We I figured out a plant like who's going to all those messages a minute. He get anymore. I mean we're looking at maybe like a week ahead or at least every day we had customers in a stable amount but after chefs table came out we became like a restaurant that was booking up three months in advance but seriously when that happened Karen I were were like we need to have a meeting with our staff because expectation levels are going to be really really high right and we need to make sure that people come in. Don't get disappointed so that was the first thing on her mind. Let's not piss anybody off the Nikki. Nakayama the chef at Anaka speaking with Helen. Rosner The New Yorker. I'm David Remnant and that's our show for today thanks for joining us. And next time I'll be talking with Greta. Gerwig the director of Lady Bird about her new adaptation of little women IDA terrific time talking with her. And I hope you'll join us the New Yorker Radio Radio Hour is a CO production of WNYC studios and the New Yorker. Our theme music was composed and performed by Merrill garb of tune yards with additional music by Alexis Qudra Auto. This episode was produced by Alex. Barron Emily Boutin Ave Correo reacted. Corby Karen Fomin Cala David Krosno Caroline and Leicester Louis Mitchell Michelle Moses and Stephen Valentine with help from Isaac Jones Adam Else Magawam Mum Fei Chen and Emily Man. The New Yorker Radio Hour is supported in part by the Tarinah Endowment Fund.