FREAKY FRIDAY - Feature
Movie Feature by Susan Hodgetts
At the London press conference with the star of FREAKY FRIDAY Jamie Lee Curtis
A force enters the room and without turning around I know who's just come in. It's not a gust of wind, but rather the strong presence of Jamie Lee Curtis, who enters balancing a cup of tea with biscuits placed precariously around it and muttering aloud that we'll all be able to see if she's nervous (and how stone cold sober) by how much it wobbles. It doesn't move.
Dressed in a leather jacket with a purple scarf wrapped round her neck, which she keeps on throughout the interview (in California they're not used to this weather), you can tell that the 45 year-old Curtis loves any chance to yak to a captive audience and she doesn't disappoint. Hair greying a little now, she answers all the questions with the openness and enthusiasm of someone not tired of doing the press rounds, but rather revelling in it. You sense that she'd be happy to chitchat and wisecrack all day if you let her. Tough and feisty, yet extremely friendly and open, several times she stops mid-flow to flip over journalists' tapes in their Dictaphones if she hears them click off, leaving us petrified that it might be ours and she might make us own up to it.
As a rare winter sun streams through the window of the Dorchester hotel on a December day she remarks that she's brought it as a gift from California, the sunshine state, as "a gift from Arnold Schwarzenegger to you all. He wanted me to have you remember him fondly, cos he won't be seeing you for quite a while."
Eventually we get around to the subject in hand, Curtis' new film and the reason why she's here, her part as Dr Tess Coleman in FREAKY FRIDAY, a remake of the 1976 original starring Barbara Harris and a teenage Jodie Foster.
"It actually could be, if not the most successful, [movie I've ever made]. What's particularly nice about it is that it was unexpected, the way things often turn out to be when they're really wonderful in your life. This was completely the last thing in the world I thought I would be doing last August, headlining a movie. I thought that was over and that I was really moving on with other things (Curtis is now also a successful author of children's stories) and then lo and behold this weird set of circumstances fell into place. Had any of my criteria not been met on the movie, I wouldn't have been able to do it. If it had been everything the same except that they were shooting in San Francisco, I would have said no before reading it, before even hearing about it. So the fact that it was all in LA, a family film, a comedy, right round the corner from where I live, you know, I got paid...it could have been all of those things and a little independent movie where there's no up front money and I would have said no, because quite frankly I've got to earn a living. So quite an extraordinary set of circumstances fell together to have this happen for me, and in that sense to then have it be successful is kind of crazy and fabulous."
Crunching on a biscuit, she continues "I just didn't think a woman of 45 who has never been in the hierarchy, you know in that upper group of people, the last person I thought would get a chance to headline a movie in her 40s would be me. Then again, I was not the original choice and quite frankly they needed someone to fill it really quickly. And the irony of it is, because of the freedom that I'm experiencing as a woman right now, which has to do with my sobriety, my acceptance of myself and all of my bumps and foibles, I decided to do these photographs in this magazine (Curtis is referring to posing in bra and knickers for American magazine 'More' last year to show people what a 43 year-old body really looked like) in support of a book about self esteem for children which I'd written. All of which resulted in quite a bit of a... err... no, not brouhahah, that's J-Lo and Ben... I can't think of the word but because of [the pictures] this image of me was brought out. And I really do think that it was because of that the producers of the movie, when they found out with 3 days to go that their lead actress had pulled out, were like who can we get to play the mother of a teenage girl? And literally I was there. I think I was on the magazine cover in their office! So I really look at it as this wonderful new personal evolution that has resulted in the evolution of my career. I have to just stay out of the way because if I'd have made any of these choices I wouldn't have been able to fly in to London and bring you this sunshine..."
Speaking about the idea of being able to swap places with someone, she notes, "The idea of swapping to me is experiencing life from another point of view. The thing that I can't do is sing. I'm very musical and I love music, I listen to music 24/7. For my 45th birthday my sister gave me a fully loaded ipod with 3 days of music on it. I could live alone on an island somewhere with just my ipod and an extra battery. [I would like to] switch places with someone who can sing beautifully, like Joss Stone, or Natalie Merchant, Alicia Keys, anybody who can really sing and communicate through singing. I'd love to do it and I'll never be able to, so don't worry I'm not going to be on Top of the Pops next year I promise. It's funny because my husband [SPINAL TAP comedian and musician Christopher Guest, otherwise known in his full title as Baron Haden-Guest] is a talented musician and has created such a bizarre world for himself being a fake folk singer when in fact he is a very talented musician. I am not a talented musician so I won't be gigging around town, much as I would like to."
Speaking of how she herself and husband Chris rate as parents, she says, "We're hardly the coolest parents. My husband is, you know, quiet. And you know, I'm not. And I think the combo of that does not make us the coolest parents, but we're open minded and I think we're willing to acknowledge our own complete failures as human beings, and in that we are good parents. Being a parent has made me aware of how difficult it is to be a teenager simply just bearing witness. I wouldn't want to be a teenager again mostly because of the uncertainty. It's that classic psychological time of separating from mother, moving on, but also developing a sense of self, your body is changing drastically, and so to me the image of teenagers is this constant pulling their shirts down over their stomachs all the time and they're just constantly uncomfortable. I very rarely meet a teenager who's comfortable being themselves. I'm very happy being comfortable, I've finally figured out what to do with my hair, I'm 45!" she yells.
"And you could unearth some really heinous hair crimes. If you do look at people you do see this evolution and then finally people figure it out. I know what looks good on me finally, but I didn't for a long time.
"Being a teenager is incredibly challenging today," she continues, warming to her theme. "I think we have some big problems on our hands with teens today versus when I was growing up. I think that the imagery today is so sexually charged, that it is scaring these children to death. I think they just don't know how to handle it. Girls that are 11 years old are seeing these music videos that I find slightly offensive, more than slightly offensive, and I'm worried about it. I'm not a prude and I danced around in my underwear in a movie, but that was not intended for little kids, that was intended for adults. It's so hard to protect [them], you literally have to take the technology out of your home. I really wonder what are we telling young girls today? Quite frankly when I was growing up we would've called [these images] porn. My daughter's like "Oh Mom." But, I, you know, it's complicated. I am concerned that there is a loosening of the controls that should be in place for violence as well as sexual content. Somehow we've got to the point where it's like "Oh God, everybody's seen it" and that's a big mistake because it's opened the floodgates. We're seeing a lot of eating disorders and girls starting to really hurt themselves, because they don't know what to do with all of this information.
"And the problems of the children become the problems of the parent, because the parent needs to be the guide. I certainly have had to open my mind to things that I've never thought I'd have to think about vis a vis my children. I mean, 9/11, I was one of those people who wondered what is that repetitive viewing going to do to people? I forbade for it to be turned on in the house ever again after that first hour when we were all just so stunned. I realised what was going to happen and I knew that they would just show that over and over again. And we don't know what that immediate repetitive viewing of this carnage does to people."
But Curtis is clear about her admiration for her own mother, PSYCHO's Janet Leigh. "You know my mother is the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in my life. There are some pictures of this woman when she was 20 years old that are mind blowing. You know with all due respect to Nicole Kidman, all these beautiful women, my mother was the most beautiful person I've ever seen. So being that I've been called cute at best my entire life the idea of being beautiful in that way I think would be fun for one hour or so. I've never thought of myself as beautiful. My mother was a goddess, she was so beautiful. "But I really am very happy being me. I've worked really hard to get where I am. I only want to be myself and that's a miracle!"
Curtis is equally generous about her husband and his dissipated peerage. "Correctly the hereditary peers were abolished so Chris is really the last one in his family, and it was certainly something that was quite exciting for us to be a part of. Sadly the irony is that he in fact is a great guy, and I understand a lot of hereditary peers called into question were abusing the titles and not participating and not doing good work on behalf of other people and I understand that change is good and abolishing that system was good. And yet my husband would have made a great lord, in the sense that he's an environmentalist. I think he would have brought great intellect and an environmental lens into his work if he had been able to and I think we would have moved here at some point. I could see him doing that seriously for a number of years. It would have been difficult for me to live here to be perfectly honest, I'm a California girl and I drive everywhere. I've such enormous respect for the city and the weather's hot for me. I was born in a desert, it would have been hard for me to live in this wet climate. And I'm American and my kids are from California, so excuse the pun but I think it would've been very much a fish out of water scenario."
Darting briefly back to the movie for a second, does she think she'd ever get in the situation in real life of fancying her daughter's boyfriend?
"I can see it now, Jamie Lee Curtis, you've been quoted as saying you'd shag your daughter's boyfriend! So no comment."
And with that, she happily poses for smiling pictures and the breeze waltzes out as abruptly as it came in.