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Jamie Lee Curtis on screams, laughter and kindness

Story produced by John D'Amelio. Editor: Lauren Barnello.
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The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles is home to the treasures of the film world – and that's where we met one of them.

"This is my hometown, right here, all of it," said Jamie Lee Curtis, overlooking Hollywood.

"This is where you grew up, this is where you raised your kids?" asked correspondent Tracy Smith.

"I did. I mean, it's weird, and beautiful."

And for Curtis, "weird" and "beautiful" might be just the words to describe her life.

She's known for a good jump scare, but in more than 40 years in the business she's also been the one who could hold our attention – and make us hold our breath. And her best work, she said, comes in those moments when she can just let loose.

"When I'm free, I'm fantastic," she said. "It's a weird job. But when I can be free, I am unstoppable in everything. It's just who I am."

"And when did you feel the freest?"

"Work-wise? I mean, Deirdre, I'm flying!"

And she really does fly: in this year's "Everything Everywhere All at Once," her character, Deirdre Beaubeirdre, is an airborne assailant – and, in an alternate universe, she's an even scarier villain: an IRS Auditor.

"Now, you may only see a pile of boring forms and numbers, but I see a story. With nothing but a stack of receipts, I can trace the ups and downs of your lives. And it does not look good. It does not ... look ... good."

Jamie Lee Curtis in Everything Everywhere All At Once
Jamie Lee Curtis as IRS agent Deirdre Beaubeirdre in "Everything Everywhere All at Once."

Curtis said, "I know women like Deirdre Beaubeirdre. I think we all do. We all have had so many disappointments, so many opportunities that then break your heart. And I think that Deirdre's heart has just been broken. I know her. And I love her."

Critics loved her, too. Oscar talk is already in the air. It's the logical result of hard work, talent, and maybe good genes.

Her mother, Janet Leigh, famously scared us out of the shower in "Psycho." But she was also someone who could hold her own in a scene with Frank Sinatra, in "The Manchurian Candidate." And her dad, Tony Curtis, was a legend of his own.


Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis with their daughters Jamie Lee, and Kelly Lee, in 1961
Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis with their daughters Jamie Lee, and Kelly Lee, in 1961.

Jamie Lee was the second of their two daughters.

Smith asked, "You've called yourself the save-the-marriage baby?"

"Yeah, totally. Sure."

"That didn't save the marriage?"

"My parents divorced when I was three," said Curtis. "It was horrible. Horrible, horrible, horrible. I was also raised by my mom, who came from nothing and treated this industry, like, with big wide eyes. I don't have big wide eyes about it. I understand the industry. But I have the same gratitude for it."

"Are you in any way like your dad?"

"Oh, sure, sure, sure. He would love to walk into a big room, Hello, everyone. Hello, It's Tony. Hello. You know, he loved it. He loved the performance of Tony Curtis. And I'm caught in the middle."

And like both of her parents, Curtis went on to be a star, but it seems she was luckier in love than they were. She said she fell in love with actor/director Christopher Guest after seeing his photo in a magazine in 1984. "I was with my friend Debra Hill, and I said to Debra, 'Oh. Huh. I'm gonna marry that guy.' And she said, 'Who?' I said, 'That one right there. I'm gonna marry him.'" Long story short, it actually happened later that year.

She said he can drop her to the floor with laughter, and so can her co-stars, not always a good thing on a movie set. Smith asked, "I read somewhere that you have a trick. How do you keep a straight face?"

"I've stepped on a thumbtack. I've put it my shoe. And if I'm standing there, I'll just push my heel down on it. Because I have to. You have to distract your brain."

"And it worked?"

"Oh, it works beautifully."

Still, she's best known for a serious role: Laurie Strode of the "Halloween" series. She was 19 when she was first cast in John Carpenter's horror classic. And this year's "Halloween Ends" is (reportedly) her final bow.

To watch a trailer for "Halloween Ends" click on the video player below:

To Curtis, the Laurie Strode role was more than a part in a movie; she said it was a bridge to everything she ever wanted. "Every time I talk about it I cry. Because of what it's given me."

"What has it given you?"

"My entire life. My entire life is because of Laurie Strode. I don't know what would've happened. I know I would've never found any success. And just the fact that people cared about her so much – powerful to have that. Incredible respect I have for it. And feel very honored by it, and proud."

Curtis also runs an online business called My Hand in Yours, selling everything from bronze sculptures of clasping hands to hats to hand sanitizer, with every cent going to benefit Children's Hospital Los Angeles. "My little company has almost raised a million dollars in two years," she said.

At this point in her life, so much of it is about giving back. She bought the naming rights to one of the Academy Museum's structural pillars and dedicated to a couple of pillars of the industry: her parents.

"There she is," she said. "She's right there. But see, what I like is, see, they just left it totally rough-hewn. But it's cool!"

Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, honored on a pillar at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, honored on a pillar at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

And maybe it's no surprise that Jamie Lee Curtis, who's faced down death over and over in the movies, has a pretty clear idea of what she'd like to leave behind.

Smith asked, "When you think about what your own legacy will be, what do you think?"

"I hope my legacy will be kindness," Curtis said, "that I get it, that life is hard. And I really feel like I'm aware that life is really hard for people. Maybe humor, a little humor would be good. Don't take it so f***ing serious. You know, just, like, lighten it up a bit. But kindness. At the end of the day I hope it's kindness."