Jamie Lee Curtis gets into the spirit of Christmas with the Kranks
It's ten o'clock on Saturday morning and Jamie Lee Curtis is buzzing. Dressed in a sharp black suit with a red poinsettia, she brims with pep, energy, and, one might guess—caffeine. To a mostly stunned room of journalists, she leans across the table and shakes each person's hand, modestly introducing herself with a cheerful "Jamie Lee Curtis!"
As she sits down, she laughs and tells us that every time she uses the phrase, "Family Christmas Comedy," a charge account is triggered at the publicity firm for her new movie, Christmas with the Kranks.
How would you define the genre of this movie and what were the challenges?
Jamie Lee Curtis: [Laughs.] Christmas Family Comedy!
Would you consider it dark in some ways?
Jamie Lee Curtis: No. I think if anything, it takes a very classic kind of Christmas American value. But what people don't realize is that there's actually a lens over it, looking at it with some question. And that's ultimately why I think the book was so successful, because it really does make you go, "Well, why are we doing this? What is this about?" A snowman that has no connection to the birth of Christ. Was there a Frosty in the manger? You know, in my little crash figures, there's no Frosty.
So there's this question of: has it become so over-commercialized? And I think that's if there's darkness, it's really the indictment of the American way, which is to overdo everything. Super size everything, you know, make everything an event, turn everything into an experience, and not just have it be the core connection, which is a time for families to come back together. I mean, besides the birth of Christ, it's that time to just cook together, to be together, the time of returning families together at the end of a year. I think that's the key moment.
Can you share what Christmas is like in the Curtis family?
We go to an undisclosed mountainous location [room laughs] in the northwest part of America, where it snows, and where we have a log cabin. And so we have a kind of traditional Christmas that we do, which is similar, you know, I think every year.
Every year, the first word out of both of our mouths after the first hour of present opening is "This is insane." I've actually changed a big thing this year. After doing this movie. I made the decision not to give adults Christmas gifts. It was a big decision for me.
Does that relate to this movie?
Jamie Lee Curtis: Sure. Yeah I just looked at it like, what am I doing? I am one of these compulsive people who start in like, July. So for me if Christmas is truly about children, waking up in that morning and having that tradition, then make it about children. What do I need to buy adult girlfriends of mine Christmas presents? It's insane.
Would you ever have a Christmas in the Caribbean?
Jamie Lee Curtis: Would I have Christmas in the Caribbean? No, No. We go to the mountains and God willing, it snows and it's winter traditional sort of holiday, is how we spend it.
What does Tim bring to the role?
Jamie Lee Curtis: He is Tim Allen. You know, he is as good as it gets, in the sense of the kind of person he is. He is as nice a person as you see, and as smart a person as you see.
The first day we met, we had this meeting in Joe Roth's office, blah blah blah, and Chris Columbus was there. It was Chris, Joe Roth, me, and Tim. We sat down and we're all chatting a little bit, and at one point they were talking about The Passion of the Christ, and they were talking about the interpretations—and not being part of the conversation, I brought up that I once was a neighbor of Elaine Pagels, who wrote The Gnostic Gospels. And that's basically my contribution to the conversation. They started in on a twenty minute conversation that was so above my head, back and forth, and I realized how completely brilliant this guy is.
And yet he plays this everyman—kind of grunting and farting—and he is truly a mind guy. That combination for me is very attractive, because he has an innate intelligence and yet he has this genuine warmth as a real guy. And I think he really loves that he gets to do this job.
How different is it to have the director also be the head of the studio?
Jamie Lee Curtis: It's slightly daunting. Head of the studio, head of the world I think [laughs]. You know, he was the head of the Oscars. I mean, he's Joe! I've known Joe for a long, long time. I've known Joe when he was at Fox, when he was a director, etc. The real way I know Joe Roth, is that he's the soccer coach of one of my best friend's kids, and he is an unbelievable soccer coach.
How do you balance being a mom and doing as much work as you do?
Jamie Lee Curtis: Um, I don't, and that's why the balance has tipped. The precarious balance has tipped. I am now going to acknowledge the full time mom part of it, and probably let the other part go.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Pretty significantly. I have to. Can't do it. The split right now with me, I have an eight year-old with some issues; he needs his mommy.
It used to be that moms raised their kids. And then there were moms who raised their kids and tended to the gardens, and we make "working moms" sort of this modern phrase. But you show me a pioneer mom that was a stay-at-home mom who all she did was take care of the kids and make bread—no. I mean, she was out there feeding the chickens, and the whole family was. You had more kids so you could have more hands on the farm. [Room laughs.]
It's true, and I'm not joking. In my life, in the movie business, the split is very significant. When I'm there, I'm really there. I'm the volleyball-team mom. I'm a micro-manager.
I'm going to give you this example because it will make you laugh and give you just the tiniest idea of who I am. Tommy had a friend over the other day. I'm probably going to take this on the Tonight Show because it just happened the other day and it speaks volumes. Tommy had a new friend over from his new school, new kid, you know, getting to know each other, wanting to make a good impression, wanting to make sure there is no drama in the house, etc.
They're upstairs and mom and I are having a cup of tea, we're just getting to know each other, and at one point she is leaving and I said, "Okay great, why don't you give me your cell phone number" and she said "Oh no, Artie knows my number." And I said well, "What if he's unconscious?" And she looked at me, like, "What?!" [Laughs.] And I said, "Well, what if he's unconscious, then I can't get his number", and she was just like, "Oh my God, you're just insane."
That tells you everything about me, that I would actually say to somebody, "Your kid could be unconscious in my house, you know, maybe he'll fall off the bed and hit his head and be unconscious and then I can't call you." So that just gives you the tiniest idea of how much of a micromanager I am. And then when I work, I'm not there. I don't care if it's in Los Angeles and I get to come home every night, I'm not coming home until he's in bed, and sometimes I'm not coming home until he's asleep. So I'm not there. And anyone who says they are there, is lying.
So it's that part of the job that I can't do anymore. I need to make the family first. And I'm just not sure that that other thing is going to be able to balance in. Sure, if there's a day's work, or a week's work in LA, fine. But I'm just saying in the sense of the bigger commitments, I need to make the bigger commitments to my family now.
And by the way, I'm 46, so it's not like I'm going to get that many gigs.
You've gotten gigs, and continued to work...
Jamie Lee Curtis: I do, but I didn't do a new movie after Freaky Friday until this. That's about what, a year and a half? But even, in a weird way, the longer it is in between, the harder it is on my family. Because again I'm there, and then I'm not there, for three months. And I'm a big presence. I am one of those people. This morning, in the hotel, he had his head on the pillow, and it had a little rough edge to it, and there was a velvet pillow down the couch, and I literally went and got the velvet pillow and said, "Honey, lift up your head, this is softer." [Room laughs.]
So again, I'm a micro-manager. I'm one of those people that really likes people to be happy and comfortable. So when I'm not there, no matter how many times somebody else will take care of him, that's me.
So when I'm not there, you feel it. And I just want to be there.
Would you want your kids to be performers in the business?
Jamie Lee Curtis: If they had the passion to do it, absolutely. Sure. I hope they have passion. I hope the world we've opened up for them, allows them a passion of life, in whatever it is they do.
If my success can afford my children the ability to find a passion to follow, I would much rather say at the end of my life, that was gift I gave them. Whether they take it or not, whether their passion is ultimately successful, is not the point. I'm not saying just give them a free ride to follow a whim, it's not that.
Take artists for example. If you're a painter, a passionate painter, that's a wonderful life. It's a hard life but that's a true passion. Musician, that's another hard life. But I'd rather that than them working in an office job, if that isn't a passion. I mean, I would be great in an office job. I've been asking for years, for a studio to give me a gig. I've been putting it out there thinking that Joe Roth was going to call, and go, you know what? You have not ever had a bad idea.
When the internet came out, I wanted the name "Idea Girl." Because I keep firing them off, synapses all the time. For me, I'm a thinker. I have ideas all the time. I would love to have an office job where I could say like, okay, round table, I want to follow this, let's throw out this, I would love that job. Marketing, I'd love to sit in a room and have people show me advertising and say, "No that stinks" or "Ooh, really good!" because that's how I think.
Will your kids write books? [Jamie Lee Curtis is the author of several children's books.]
Jamie Lee Curtis: Well, that's the passion. See that is the passion that I get to do. I followed a passion that I didn't even know I had. I got to follow something because something unconsciously came out of me that I had no idea I was ever going to do. Never was a thought in my mind, I just wrote a book one day and was like wow, that's a book! It made me cry at the end. I wrote a list of things and at the end, it made me cry. I wrote three lines that made me cry, at the end of it.
And I thought, "There's a narrative here, there's actually a story and it ends with some real emotion." And I sent it to a publisher and they bought it, and this was 12 years ago. True Lies had not come out yet, the only movies that had been a big success for me were Trading Spaces and A Fish Called Wanda. But I was by no means a big media star or anything, I mean I was a successful actress, but I wasn't on the cover of magazines, I was living a very private life as a successful actor. So that first book spawned something I had no idea I was ever going to do, and now that's the most successful thing I will have ever done.
Do you enjoy writing more than acting?
Jamie Lee Curtis: Sure. I enjoy it because it's me. It's my point of view, my ideas, my thoughts, my concepts that are part of me that I want to impart, and then people liked them. So then they're saying, "We really liked this. We really, really like this" and it makes me go, well about this? And this?
And then all of a sudden, I've written six books, with eight more down the line. So it's unbelievable that it's a passion I didn't know, I followed it, and now the same pressures in this job are now in that job, which I never anticipated. Celebrities were not writing books when they were becoming successful and getting a lot of attention for it.
Can you talk about Julie Gonzalo?
Jamie Lee Curtis: Oh, she's lovely. You know, there are just those people where it's no surprise when they become successful. Sometimes there are, there's a couple typos, still working in show business today, that I'm still convinced somebody read the name wrong on the casting sheet when they cast them, and there was just one letter off. You see a couple of people I show business still today, I won't name them, and you wonder, how did they get that gig? It's crazy.
But Julie is one of those people where you can see why someone like Julie has become successful. She has that genuine naivety, that genuine green, she reminds me of my mother. In the sense where, here is this woman who really came here and blossomed into this movie star, very much like Julie. Again, talk about someone who is thrilled to have this job, thrilled to be here, there's no divadom anywhere. The diva bus is way long gone with her and she's just standing on the street. She is not that person. So she has that, and it comes across in movies. You see that face, and she has this innocence and beauty. And yet, incredibly smart, speaks three languages, she is doing our entire Spanish speaking press, going all over the place. She is lovely.