Jamie Lee Curtis' Advice to Her Tween Self Is an Affirmation We Can All Still Use

Twenty years after her unretouched photo shoot went viral and in the midst of a creative renaissance, Jamie Lee Curtis talked to E! News about why she's more vigilant than ever about keeping it real.

By Natalie Finn Jul 19, 2022 2:00 PMTags
Watch: Jamie Lee Curtis JOKES About Halloween Ends at Oscars 2022

Welcome to E!'s Tales From the Top, our series on women who are leaders in their fields and masters of their craft. Spanning industries and experiences, these powerhouse women answer all the questions you've ever had about how they got to where they are today—and what they overcame to get there. Read along as they bring their resumés to life.

For those days when you don't feel like you are enough—and who doesn't have those days—let Jamie Lee Curtis remind you that you sure as hell are.

Knowing firsthand that the outward gloss that comes with your first-ever film putting you on the Mount Rushmore of horror movie heroines and starring in a film called "Perfect" doesn't mean a whole lot if you aren't OK with yourself, the actress and author has committed her platform to reassuring young people of their value—offering her own journey as case study No. 1.

"All you have to do is listen to the Janice Ian song 'At Seventeen' and understand how hard life was for me, and her, and other people," Curtis told E! News in a recent Zoom interview. "I listen to that song probably once a week. It's so beautiful and it's such a heartfelt struggle of self-hood, of looking in the mirror and trying to understand who we are. It's a particularly poignant time for me, adolescence—I hated it."

Horror Movie Heroines

Which is why, in the same vein as the wisdom she's imparted in her books for young readers with titles such as I'm Gonna Like Me: Letting Off a Little Self-Esteem and Me, Myselfie & I: A Cautionary Tale, she feels so strongly about the underlying themes of her Audible series Letters From Camp, the third and final season of which drops July 21.

Jamie Lee Curtis, Audible

Inspired by an actual letter Curtis' goddaughter Boco Haft wrote her from camp when she was 12 but never sent, left to be unearthed by her mom 14 years later and finally forwarded along, the show stars Sunny Sandler as Mookie Hooper. A reluctant camper when her mom first dropped her off in season one, the precocious 11-year-old was soon wrapped up in all the excitement and anxiety that spending the summer away from home at that age entails. Now 13, Mookie's getting a crush voiced by Jacob Tremblay—"I went to the young people I work with and they spoke," Curtis quipped of the casting coup—and a mystery to solve.

Written by Haft, the action began very purposely in pre-social-media 2005 "so we could focus on the beauty of teenhood, the innocence, the complexity of self-awareness, learning about ourselves," Curtis explained. "Why you go to camp is to be a new person—the motto of Camp Cartwright is 'Be You.' Who are you? You become a new person at camp."

Getty Images / E! Illustration

Asked what wisdom she would impart to her tweenage self in a letter sent from 2022, Curtis, 63, revealed that she had written the equivalent of that letter to Sunny—and the message was, in fact, "that you are enough," the Halloween star said.

"That comparing yourself with other people and what they're doing is an endless pursuit of unhappiness," the mother of two grown daughters with her husband of 37 years, Christopher Guest, continued. "And that you're pretty enough, you're smart enough, you're talented enough, that you will find your place in the universe, and know that. Unfortunately adolescence is filled with the questions of 'Who am I? What am I? Why do I look like this? Why am I like this? Why do other people…?'"

Despite having made a name for herself playing one of the fiercest movie survivors of all time (the word "badass" is regularly invoked), as well as being known for her off-screen commitment to not bathing her life in that rosy Hollywood glow, getting to this good place was a process. 

And Curtis talked to E! News about what she's figured out along the way:

(This interview was edited for length and clarity)

E! News: You've said you used to be "chronically insecure." Do you remember when you flipped the page, when finally you were like, "You know what, here I am," and believed it?

Jamie Lee Curtis: It happened way too late for me—I say way too late and right on time, if you will—but it was when I got sober when I was 40. That was a real turning point for me, being able to really look in the mirror and understand. Excuse the pun, I was a very high bottom. No one anywhere in my life, including my family, knew how much of an issue it was for me. I knew, but they didn't. So that was a real reckoning for me, of living authentically. It's always been a goal of mine, I've always tried to strip away artifice because I fear we are inundated with nothing but an unreal sense of who we are, who everyone else is and what everyone else is doing. And I find companionship in the struggle. I don't relate to big success, I don't know what it means.

Hollywood Kids That Are Upstaging Their Famous Parents

E!: In 1985 you said about your career, "I figure I've got about 15 years left." But here we are and you are very busy—how does that feel?

JLC: Well, it is my Beatles birthday this year, I am 64 [on Nov. 22]. And I am the daughter of actors who watched their fame and their opportunities for work diminish. When you're famous, you stay famous, even though the thing that made you famous goes away. It's heartbreaking. The industry stopped giving them the opportunities to do the very thing that gave them that fame and wealth and privilege and all the rest of the things that go with it. I always felt like I needed to hedge my bets, that it was better to leave before they didn't want you to leave. I think that comment back then was a direct result of not wanting to become a joke. You know the Paul Simon song "You Can Call Me Al": "Don't want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard." You get fame and then all of a sudden you get cartoonized. And for me it's a skinny face, big breasts, and short hair, like that's me and that's all I am. I was always worried that I would get lost in that.

Curtis was on the big screen this year in the fantastical action adventure Everything Everywhere All at Once, playing a frumpy, villainous IRS inspector who ends up being half of a most unexpected love story.

E!: How do you feel about the amazing reaction to Everything Everywhere?

JLC: There were a lot of people who told me not to do Everything Everywhere All at Once. For me, it was the most liberating couple of hours I've spent in a movie theater and I had a wonderful time creatively. I try to just go with the opportunities and I've been really lucky. The new Halloween movies gave me an opportunity to then go off and do Knives Out, which then gave me the opportunity to go off and do Everything Everywhere All at Once, which gave me the opportunity to go do Borderlands—with Cate Blanchett! They said, "Do you want to do this movie, it's a tiny part of this scientist." I'm like, "Tell me about it." They said, "Cate Blanchett." I said, "Oh yeah, I'll do that." Same thing with Everything Everywhere. It was like, "Wait a minute, Michelle Yeoh is going to star in this movie? Oh, yeah, I'll do that."

Walt Disney Pictures

E!: You've said that your favorite role other than Laurie Strode in Halloween was Helen in True Lies. Has anything surpassed that since or joined it in your hall of fame?

JLC: What was fun about that was the freedom to be able to really take a character and make her a character. And Helen Trasker was a full portrait with a lot of extraordinary aspects to it. The world that she populated was very interesting, but the character work—the kinetic freedom—was very important. And Jim [director James Cameron] gave me 100 percent freedom to do what I do. And Freaky Friday, I would say, I had creative freedom. For me, all of the work that has meant anything to me really has to do with freedom.

E!: Do you think taking a step back, or de-prioritizing acting, some years ago helped you love it again? Is it more fun now?

JLC: It required leaving my family a lot. Everybody I know is traveling for work and leaving their families, and it's very hard. But I certainly had hit a place where I was no longer feeling that great freedom in the work that I was doing. Really the 2018 Halloween movie, which came out of nowhere—that was a very freeing experience, and it was successful. Getting a taste of the freedom of the way [director David Gordon Green] worked was like, "Oh, shit! This is fun!" I went home and wrote a screenplay and started a company, and now I'm trying to produce things. Prior to Halloween I was not feeling that same creativity.

Ryan Green/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock

Now I'm doing [Letters From Camp], I did a podcast at iHeart called Good Friend, which was conversations about friendship with interesting people. And the screenplay that I wrote is now going to be a graphic novel [Mother Nature, co-written with filmmaker Russell Goldman, due in 2023]. I've got a new book for children coming out in a year. I'm having a good Beatles birthday. I know that when I first heard "When I'm Sixty-Four," it sounded like you were a dead person and it was about someone very old. So to turn 64, it's interesting, because I feel not very old.

E!: It's been 20 years since you posed in your underwear, without makeup, for More magazine and even pre-social media it went viral. You said a few years later that photo shoot may end up being your "single biggest contribution as a public figure." It did make a mark.

JLC: I knew it would. And the reason I knew it would was because I was known for being cute naked, and in a bathing suit and in a leotard, and the memes of me and John Travolta grinding [in 1985's Perfect], and pictures of me naked from Trading Places. I've seen them, I know that they exist. [In 2002] I was actually in the middle of promoting a book about self-esteem, a book for kids about liking yourself—and why do you like yourself? What makes us feel good about ourselves? And because I had tried plastic surgery, it had not worked, it made me feel shitty, made me feel worse—I knew I would talk about that. Then I called the magazine and said, "I'll tell you what. We're going to do a picture of me"—they wouldn't put it on the cover, by the way, they still put an airbrushed picture of me with makeup—but I did say to them, "I will take a picture of me in my underwear with no lighting, no makeup, nothing, and then you have to put a full picture of me, fully done up, on the next page, and talk about how much it costs, how long it took and how many people were involved in the creation of that other image."

Talk about freedom, that moment in that studio with [photographer] Andrew Eccles and my people—I've never been freer. I was as free there as I was in Everything Everywhere All at Once—I loved it. I knew that a woman who had looked at a picture of me in a bathing suit, or who saw the movie Perfect, would appreciate that what I was saying is, "I look just like you, and don't believe what you see." That's really the message, isn't it? What you see is not real. And this was before we could do it on our fucking phones, with a filter.

E! News: Social media seems to be going both ways, with some perpetuating the fakery and others striving to show just how real they are.

JLC: There are a few people who rule social media who are perpetuating a very fraudulent reality and we don't know what the longitudinal reaction and consequence of that is going to be. I have a sense of it and it's not going to look good. And every person, me included, who perpetuates and promotes a fake agenda is culpable in the destruction of any person looking in the mirror and seeing something natural and beautiful. I did these things for my work—but I still perpetuated it.

Gary Miller/WireImage

E!: You also ended up at the forefront of celebrities being real about their appearance.

JLC: I knew it would give me a little comfort to say, "Look, this is the reality." I'm happy I had that voice then. Now I can just not fuck up my face anymore and look like I look, and not be worried about being older. And I'm not saying I would want to look at me with a close-up lens, but I am in ownership of it, that this is who I am.

E!: I think your perspective is very much appreciated, in Hollywood and beyond.

JLC: My thing is: Don't fuck with your face. My new mantra with people. I'm not going to name her, but a really lovely woman was saying to me once that she was going to [have work done]. And I was like, "Don't fuck with your face, don't do it."

The eight-episode third season of Letters From Camp premieres Thursday, July 21, on Audible.

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