Jamie Lee Curtis' Journey From Childhood To Oscar Winner

The following article includes references to mental health struggles and addiction.

Jamie Lee Curtis may be one of Hollywood's most iconic scream queens, but the actor actually hates horror films. She just cannot stand the suspense, she told The New Yorker in 2019. "I scare easily — I have since I was a child. Loud noises scare me, suspense music scares me," she said. As surprising as that may be, considering Curtis shot to stardom thanks to her role in 1978's "Halloween," it simply goes to show how incredible her talents are. 

Curtis was not the first to carry the title, with Fay Wray being dubbed a scream queen as early as the 1930s, as was Curtis' own mother, Janet Leigh, in the 1960s. However, Curtis became the most prominent wearer of the crown because she ruled during the genre's peak in the 1980s. While incredible on its own, Curtis went on to become much more. This is especially impressive, considering being typecast as a scream queen can also thwart an actor's career prospects, as Wray herself lamented in a 2003 interview

But Curtis was able to transition into different genres, including cult comedies like "Trading Places" (1983) and "A Fish Called Wanda" (1988), as well as thrillers and mysteries, like "Veronica Mars" (2014), and "Knives Out" (2019), proving she was fit to go any which way. Her skills didn't go unnoticed by the film institutions, as her acting has earned her a series of accolades, including a Golden Globe, a BAFTA, and an Academy Award. Keep scrolling to check out Jamie Lee Curtis' awe-inspiring journey over the years from childhood to Oscar winner.

She was the product of a turbulent Hollywood marriage

Jamie Lee Curtis is the second daughter of actors Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, whose marriage was the subject of intense public attention in the 1950s and early 1960s. Their 1962 divorce came on the heels of Leigh's career-defining role in Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" (1960) and Tony's role in the iconic "Some Like It Hot" (1959). That's the context into which Jamie was born. By the time she came along in 1958, Tony and Leigh's relationship was unraveling, and Jamie had no option but to be a witness, she said in her 2010 More cover story (via HuffPost). "My parents' bond had deteriorated precipitously as their stardom grew. And like any other save-the-marriage baby, I failed," Jamie opened up.

Jamie later used the word "hate" to describe the feelings her parents had for each other. "My parents hated each other my whole life. I was raised in a house of hatred for the other," she said on "The View" in 2016, while admitting that, amid the chaos, there was also love. However, Jamie maintained a distant relationship with her father for most of her life. According to the Daily Mail, she noted on "The Talk" that she did not hold it against him. "He was not interested in being a father. It's not a slant against him, he was very clear. He did what he was supposed to do from a financial standpoint ... but he was not an involved father," she said.

Jamie Lee Curtis wanted to be a police officer

Despite being Hollywood royalty, Jamie Lee Curtis did not want to follow the same career path as her famous parents. "I never thought I'd be an actor, ever, ever, ever, ever," she told The New Yorker. Her true calling, she thought, was in law enforcement. That's mainly because she thought being a police officer would give her an opportunity to be useful without having to have a whole lot of education. "Today I'd be diagnosed with some learning disability or learning difference," she said. 

That does not mean Curtis was not popular in school. "You have to remember, I had gray teeth, because my mother took tetracycline when she was pregnant with me. My teeth were gray. I was not pretty. I was cute. I had a lot of personality. My lack of any school success I made up for in personality," Curtis said. She even enrolled at the University of the Pacific, in Stockton, California, to study corrections, but her prospects were not great, she told Good Housekeeping. "I was a terrible student. School just ... missed me. ... I had a D+ average and was a party girl," she said.

Having grown up in the entertainment industry, Curtis could not avoid being noticed. A friend of a friend once suggested she audition for Nancy Drew at Universal. She did not get that particular part, but he encouraged her to continue to try out. So she started taking up acting classes in college.

Being Janet Leigh's daughter may have helped her land Halloween

During the month she took acting classes in college, Jamie Lee Curtis estimates she auditioned about "a hundred times for things and not getting much" until she snagged a contract with Universal, she told The New Yorker. Her TV debut came in 1977 when she appeared in an episode of "Quincy, M.E." and in the comedy series "Operation Petticoat" as an Army nurse. Curtis' portrayal as Lt. Barbara Duran didn't impress many — but neither did most of her co-stars'. "I was fired, along with eleven of the thirteen actors. I was devastated. I thought my life was over. I thought my career was over. I thought I would lose my contract. And two weeks later the audition for 'Halloween' came up," she told The New Yorker. 

The auditioning process was long and arduous. In the end, Curtis was up against another actor, and she contends that her getting the role boiled down mainly to her privilege. "If you're going to choose between this one and this one, choose the one whose mother was in 'Psycho,' because it will get some press for you. I'm never going to pretend that I just got that on my own, like I'm just a little girl from nowhere getting it. Clearly, I had a leg up," she said. Regardless of how much that played into it, there's no denying she was right for the part of Laurie Strode. Jamie Lee Curtis was an immediate sensation.

Jamie Lee Curtis transitioned out of the horror genre

At the beginning of her career, Jamie Lee Curtis was most well known for her roles in horror flicks like the iconic 1978 film "Halloween," as previously mentioned. Curtis also starred in the frightening 1980 thriller "The Fog." However, her acting prospects took off from there, as she made a career-defining decision in 1983 when she took on the role of Ophelia in the comedy "Trading Places." It seems that the actor made a smart decision in venturing outside of the world of horror because it helped her become a household name.

Curtis won a BAFTA in the category of best supporting actress in 1984 for her role in "Trading Places." This gig did amazing things for the star's career, but it also came with challenges. Curtis revealed she was uncomfortable filming nude scenes for the movie during a 2022 interview for "PEOPLE (The TV Show!)." "I was 21 years old and the part required Ophelia to take off her dress," she explained. "Did I like doing it? No. Did I feel embarrassed that I was doing it? Yes. Did I look OK? Yeah. Did I know what I was doing? Yeah. Did I like it? No. Was I doing it because it was the job? Yes." 

Curtis went on to share that she wouldn't be okay with filming a nude scene today because she is now a wife and mother.

The movie star married Christopher Guest in 1984

Jamie Lee Curtis and Christopher Guest's marriage has stood the test of time. The husband and wife also have quite an interesting love story. "I married Chris five months after seeing his picture in Rolling Stone," Curtis revealed to Interview magazine in 2015. "I said out loud to my friend, the late, great Debra Hill, 'Oh, I'm going to marry that guy.'" 

The "Freaky Friday" star went on to share that she made the first move. "Debra said, 'Oh, I know him, and he's with your agency. I tried to get him in a movie,'" she continued. "So I called the agent, left my number, but Chris never called me. And then I ran in to him at a restaurant." Curtis also shared that she and Guest didn't speak at the restaurant. Instead, Guest called the actor the next day. Their romance moved quickly from that point on, and they got married only four months later in 1984. The couple went on to welcome their first daughter, Annie, in 1986 via adoption, and they adopted their second daughter, Ruby, in 1996. 

It seems that Curtis and Guest's love for each other hasn't dulled over the years. The husband and wife often publicly express how much they mean to one another. Curtis even wrote a song for her filmmaker husband to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary in 2019. The tune includes sweet lyrics like, "I feel safe when I drive up and see that you are home."

Jamie Lee Curtis' self-image issues led to drug addiction

Perhaps being Janet Leigh's daughter helped get her foot in the showbiz door with 1978's "Halloween," but Jamie Lee Curtis clearly had what it takes to succeed in Hollywood. It's no easy feat for an actor to instantly become famous for their debut film — but becoming a star overnight can take a toll on anyone's mental health and self-image. Curtis was hit particularly hard because she grew up witnessing her own mother deal with self-esteem issues surrounding the public attention she received for being beautiful, Curtis told More (via HuffPost). 

"I think the most complicated relationship my mother had, both loving and often cruel, was with her own body. ... She was intoxicating. Like anyone who becomes famous for what they look like, when that commodity starts to change, the relationship with it deteriorates," Curtis said. Curtis was insecure. She did not think she was beautiful, which prompted her to seek a series of cosmetic procedures, she told Variety

It was after what she called a "routine plastic surgery" in the late 1980s that Curtis became addicted to painkillers. After being prescribed Vicodin to manage the post-op pain, she started using it excessively, along with alcohol. "I was the wildly controlled drug addict and alcoholic. I never did it when I worked. I never took drugs before 5 p.m. I never, ever took painkillers at 10 in the morning," Curtis said. That's why she managed to keep a secret. In 1999, she became sober. 

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

She revealed a Freaky Friday sequel is on the way

Jamie Lee Curtis' role in "Freaky Friday" alongside Lindsay Lohan was also monumental for her career. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for the film in 2004 in the category of best actress. "Freaky Friday" was a box office hit in the year of its 2003 release, and there is still a bit of buzz around the film these days. That might be the reason why a sequel could be on the way.

In February 2023, Curtis took to Instagram to share a throwback photo of her and Lohan with the caption, "It's Friday. I'm just sayin! Freaky fingers crossed!" This sparked curiosity around a possible "Freaky Friday" sequel. Curtis also fueled this speculation during an interview with Variety at the "Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery" premiere in 2022. "There is no scheduled date, but we're talking," Curtis told the outlet. "People are talking. The right people are talking. I'm 64 in a week and Lindsay is 36. ... [A sequel] lends itself so beautifully. We're both committed to it, and it's not ours to make. It's Disney's to make and I think they're interested and we're talking."

The actor shared another update on a possible second "Freaky Friday" film during a February 2023 interview with Variety. "It's going to happen," she said. "Without saying there's anything officially happening, I'm looking at you in this moment and saying, 'Of course it's going to happen.' It's going to happen." It looks like Curtis and Lohan might be reuniting on the big screen.

Jamie Lee Curtis is also an accomplished writer

After her experience with self-image led to self-destruction, Jamie Lee Curtis learned to embrace her natural beauty and changing looks. She let her hair turn silver, showing the world how elegant gray locks can be. With that, Curtis also showed that the career of a female actor does not have to stop after certain time. She continued to rock the silver screen, appearing in fan favorites like "Freaky Friday," as previously mentioned, and various "Halloween" sequels, including a 2018 version that earned her a Saturn Award and a string of other nominations (more on these latter projects below).

While she did that, she also branched out, launching a writing career in the early 1990s that has been as successful. Like her acting career, writing children's books is not something she thought she would do, she told The New Yorker. Her 1993 release, "When I Was Little: A Four-Year-Old's Memoir of Her Youth," came to her by accident when she started listing things her 4-year-old could do. She has since written 13, including one that was on The New York Times best-selling list for 10 weeks.

The author of 2016's "This Is Me: A Story of Who We Are and Where We Came From," Curtis also balances both her careers with her family, of course. Amid it all, she's still full of energy and set to star in four upcoming projects, as of this writing, which goes to show she's nowhere near done.

The actor reprised her iconic role in Halloween

Jamie Lee Curtis' role in the 1978 film "Halloween" launched her career, so it only makes sense that the star reprised her role in the movie's three sequels. Curtis brought Laurie Strode back to the big screen in "Halloween" (2018), "Halloween Kills," and "Halloween Ends." It appears that the role means a lot to the actor, because she revealed that portraying Laurie for the last time in 2022's "Halloween Ends" was emotional.

"The whole concept of a horror movie is to stimulate emotions, and the making of it does the same thing," Curtis shared in behind-the-scenes footage shared by Entertainment Weekly. "So to have done it three times with a group of people, and knowing that I'm not going to get to do it again with that same group of people, really has been very tough for me. It will be difficult to say goodbye to this group of people. Thank you so much for all of it." 

While it was understandably hard for the "Knives Out" actor to leave such a sentimental role behind, she also seemed to be ready to let go. "I need to now cut her loose and let her live in the minds and hearts of the fans that have supported her," Curtis said in the same clip. "I now get to go off and do my own thing."

She won an impressive lifetime achievement award

Jamie Lee Curtis' decades-long acting career has established her as a Hollywood veteran. Some of the actor's most impressive accomplishments include her two Golden Globes, Emmy and Grammy nominations, Screen Actors Guild Awards, an Oscar Award, and her aforementioned BAFTA.

Curtis also won a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Venice Film Festival ahead of the release of her 2021 film "Halloween Kills." With everything the movie star has accomplished, it might be safe to say that this award was well deserved. Curtis shared a thoughtful statement with La Biennale di Venezia after she was honored. "I am incredibly humbled to be honored in this way by the Venice International Film Festival," the actor said. "It seems impossible to me that I've been in this industry long enough to be receiving 'Lifetime Achievement' recognition, and to have it happen now, with 'Halloween Kills,' is particularly meaningful to me. 'Halloween' — and my partnership with Laurie Strode — launched and sustained my career, and to have these films evolve into a new franchise that is beloved by audiences around the world was, and remains, a gift."

Venice Film Festival Director Alberto Barbera was partially responsible for choosing Curtis as the award recipient. He shared he settled on Curtis because of her impressive acting ability, her lengthy career, and her charity work. "Her work reveals an artist who navigates tone and style with impeccable skill and definitive grace," Barbera shared in part, per La Biennale di Venezia.

Jamie Lee Curtis nabbed her first Oscar in 2023

Some might say that Jamie Lee Curtis' 2023 Oscar win was long overdue. The actor nabbed best supporting actress for her role in the critically acclaimed 2022 film "Everything Everywhere All at Once," and it was the first Oscar she received in her decades-long career. Curtis' win also resulted in a bit of controversy, however. Angela Bassett, who was also nominated for best supporting actress for her role in "Black Panther: Wakanda Forever," appeared to be a bit disappointed that she didn't take home the trophy — though fans swiftly took to social media to defend Bassett's arguably understandable reaction.

Meanwhile, as you might imagine, Curtis appeared to be incredibly grateful for her win. She even took a moment to acknowledge her late parents, movie stars Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, during her acceptance speech. After thanking her co-stars, her team, her family, and fans of her films, the actor shared, "And my mother and my father were both nominated for Oscars in different categories." Curtis closed out her speech with an emotional, "I just won an Oscar!"

The actor spoke about her win during an interview for the "GMA Oscars After Party." "The goodwill, that is the takeaway," Curtis said, reflecting on the victory. "Not the gold statue, not the shiny things that I've been talking a lot about. It's the goodwill, the goodwill that the movie engendered with the message of kindness and love and reunification at a time when it feels like we're all really struggling with reunifying."