FREAKY FRIDAY - Q&A with Jamie Lee Curtis
A string of horror flicks early in her career earned Jamie Lee Curtis the unofficial title of Hollywood Scream Queen, but she has also proved herself a talented comedienne with wickedly funny performances in such films as TRADING PLACES, A FISH CALLED WANDA and, her latest, FREAKY FRIDAY. In it, Curtis plays Tess Coleman, a psychotherapist and harassed mother who's at odds with her guitar-playing teenage daughter, played by Lindsay Lohan. After a strange night at a Chinese restaurant, the two awake the next morning to discover that they've switched bodies and are now forced to see life through one another's eyes. "If given the choice, I wouldn't want to be a teenager again," admits the 44 year-old Curtis, who says she has no interest in dying her hair or otherwise turning back the hands of time despite her involvement in a youth-obsessed business. Rather, Curtis, who's the daughter of Hollywood legends Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, seems quite content raising her two adopted children with actor/director husband Christopher Guest, writing children's books and attending the occasional Eminem concert.
FREAKY FRIDAY is getting great reviews. The New York Times even said you should get an Oscar nomination. Did you see the potential in the script?
This film was designed as a fable from the beginning, and in a fable you have the opportunity to tell something magical, but you ground it in reality, so I liked that. At its core, this movie is about loss. And it's some of the deepest loss you can have - the death of a spouse and parent. Add to it the possibility of a new life, a new marriage, and in the midst of all this very real stuff there's an opportunity to walk a mile in someone else's shoes - quite literally. So you have the zaniness, you have the comedy, but at the heart of this movie is a mommy and daughter trying to reconcile the loss of this man.
Are there lessons for mothers and daughters in this film?
I think movies are entertainment and this is a fun family comedy. It's not reaching for any big messages. It's a movie that a father and a mother and their teenage daughter or son - and even their 8 year-old - can go to and afterwards maybe have a conversation. I don't think it reaches for more than that. It's a light, frothy Disney comedy that, I think, works terrifically, and if it happens to spark some dialogue, that's wonderful.
You have a teenage daughter in real life. Are you good at communicating with each other?
Annie has a very level head and a very conscientious way of going out in the world. That doesn't mean for a second that we haven't had conflict, but she is making good choices and therefore I am just supporting those good choices continuously. The whole idea of raising kids is that at some point you're supposed to let them go and you hope that this person who you've helped along makes good choices in their life. And you have to let them make the choices, even some bad ones, so they know the difference. Of course, if I had a daughter who was really pushing the envelope, I think it would be a much, much more difficult scenario. But so far my experience has been a pleasant one, challenging and very illuminating.
Do you sense a generation gap between you and your daughter?
I think the '60s kind of blew up the generational boundary lines that existed and the demarcation line between adult and teenager has gotten a lot fuzzier. For instance, I listen to the same music that my daughter listens to and we go to every concert together. We've seen Eminem, Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Missy Elliot, even Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera.
What's the hardest part about being a mom?
I think the first time your child goes in a car with another child is one of the hardest moments of your life. There's a great period up until a certain point where you drive your child everywhere, and I hear other parents bemoaning that and it's like, don't bemoan how much taxicabing you're doing because there's going to be a day when they say, "No, mom, I don't need a ride. So-and-so is going to take me." And from that moment on, your life changes in a way that you can't appreciate until it happens. So to me, the hardest thing is knowing that at some level, these children are all making choices that you have no say-so in whatsoever. That's why I always tell my daughter to make good choices. Every time she goes out, every time she leaves the house, that's what I say to her.
Career-wise, you've made some pretty good choices yourself, haven't you?
You know what? I didn't make any choices when I first started in this business. Even now - I think there's been maybe one time in my life when I actually made a choice between two pieces of work. I've never had that in my life. I know there are people who have that stack of scripts and for them it's like, this is the Woody Allen movie, this is the comedy, that's the drama, that's the one with Ben Affleck, that's the one with Harrison Ford, which one do you want? That's not been my path. My path is I've taken every single job I've ever been offered. So when I was a young actress, what I got, fought for, auditioned for, were horror movies, and then once I got those, I got a few more, and so on. So the choices I've made in my life have really been more personal choices, you know, I pulled out of a couple of engagements because I knew they weren't right. Those are the kinds of choices I've made. But regarding my work, I've just done the work I've gotten.
So how did you get the role in FREAKY FRIDAY?
I was in New York on a book tour and my agent called me at midnight to tell me that Annette Bening had to pull out of this movie and that they're offering the part to me. I asked when they were going to start filming and he said Monday. The good news was it was all going to be filmed in Los Angeles, where I live, and it was a family film, so I took a deep breath and said OK.
There are some unflattering moments in this film when you're playing a teenage girl who recoils at what she sees when she looks in the mirror. Do you have to throw vanity out the window when you take on a role like this?
I throw vanity out the window in every single thing I do. It's actually why I think I'm successful. I've always felt that I was kind of weird-looking, so to me, the more I can become somebody else, the way more fun and the way better the work is going to be. TRUE LIES is the greatest time I ever had because it wasn't me - I was completely different. For FREAKY FRIDAY, the minute something looked good on me, we threw it out. The minute something made me look almost attractive, it was like, "Oh, forget it. Let's get something else." Because that's what this film needed. But I much prefer to be the clown, anyway.
Part of the transformation for this movie included dying your hair, right?
Dying my hair in a movie is always good because it helps me become the character much quicker, but I personally don't dye my hair ever because I don't want to anymore. I'm just uninterested in it and to me it's humiliating. When I go to the hairdresser, it's huuu-miliating. I've always felt that way, even when I was very young. Some women love to go and it's almost therapy for them. I hate it. I've always hated it.
So how do you feel about being in a business where people are constantly doing much more than just dying their hair in order to look younger?
I think it's gotten out of hand, this idea that you can fix the outside of yourself, and I think what I've learned in my life is that you can't fix anything on the outside. If somebody's been in a ghastly accident, you can improve them. If a child is born with a cleft palette, you can fix it. But beyond that, this constant need to somehow rebuild yourself in order to feel better doesn't work because I don't think it does make you feel better. It's an external fix to an internal problem.
Accepting who you are is the topic of your most recent children's book, "I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem." How does it feel to be a veteran author?
It's the greatest thing I've ever done in my life, creatively. It's the only thing that truly has ever given me the feeling that, "Oh, that's good," because it actually has to do with what's inside me. It's not about what I look like - it's not about the visual. It's just a great way to be authentic and not have to be judged for a movie in which, perhaps, I'm playing a character who thinks and feels and does things that are reprehensible, someone I have no connection with, and yet I have to sit here and somehow defend it because that's the job I did. With writing, instead of having to be responsible for other people's thoughts and feelings, I get to actually be responsible for my own. That's why I always feel very distant anytime anyone likes me in a movie. I always say thanks, but when I go home at the end of the day it doesn't make me feel good, it doesn't make me feel like anybody really understands me. Instead, they like that person I play. But the books are me; they're like my children.
Certainly you must look back at your film career with a great amount of satisfaction, right?
If I look back, which I rarely do, I'm just shocked that I'm able to do any of this, because it's just not the way I thought my life would go. Recently I was driving through Hollywood and my little boy, Tommy, who was in the backseat, says, "Mom, is that you on the side of the building?" So I look up and there I am on the side of this building in this huge advertisement for Freaky Friday. And I sat there thinking, "OK, this is weird." I just never thought any of this would ever happen. It's all very surreal.
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