Director John Carpenter and actress Jamie Lee Curtis took part in a Q&A before the Beyond Fest screening of “Halloween” at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, CA on October 1, 2014. Moderated by Geoff Boucher, this rare appearance of the two personalities together marked the first, and likely last, time the duo has ever presented their landmark film.
Geoff Boucher: Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce … John Carpenter.
John Carpenter: It is my pleasure to introduce to you, the beautiful, the talented, the effervescent, the legend… ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Jamie Lee Curtis!
Jamie Lee Curtis: We look like we’re married! You know how married couples start to look like each other?
Jamie Lee Curtis: John, you’re really far away.
John Carpenter: You want me to come closer?
Jamie Lee Curtis: It just feels a little odd!
(John moves his chair closer to Jamie.)
Audience Member: Love you Jamie!
Jamie Lee Curtis: I love you too. I don’t even know you, and I love you. It’s okay, because this happens to me every day!
Geoff Boucher: October 1978 this film came out. It was a pivotal moment for both of you in very different ways. Tell me a little bit about your friendship, first of all. What was it like when you guys met?
John Carpenter: We met at a reading for the character Laurie Strode, and one Jamie Lee Curtis trotted right into my office. What do you remember about that, Jamie?
Jamie Lee Curtis: Well, I remember coming into (the offices). They were on Cahuenga.
John Carpenter: That’s right.
Jamie Lee Curtis: They were small. The offices were small.
John Carpenter: Cheap. Small.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Well, I mean, yeah, it was cheap and small. I just remember… obviously, I remember coming in often. I think I came in like three times. I just remember the audition. I mean, auditions are difficult. And I just remember-
John Carpenter: How did you feel? When you read for the part. What’d you think?
Jamie Lee Curtis: Obviously, there are three women in the piece. There’s a cheerleader. There’s a smart aleck. And then there’s the repressed virgin. And I was thrilled that I was reading for that because in the previous work I had done, it was more the other things. So for me, it was an actual chance to be an actor and not just kind of cute. I was thrilled that there was some gravitas and some depth to it. And that there was some intelligence to this women rather than just being cute.
John Carpenter: Very good, very good.
Geoff Boucher: How was (the success of the film) received by you? How did you both view the film as it rippled back?
John Carpenter: Well, I didn’t get a chance to celebrate any success of “Halloween” because it was released regionally, meaning that it started in L.A. and was bicycled across the country. It was just a few critics. And the first reviews were really negative. “John Carpenter does not know how to direct actors.” Things like that, which I now remember, of course. But, word of mouth started growing about this movie. So by Christmastime, there was kind of a buzz going on. And I remember one night I was shooting a TV movie, and the heads of an independent studio came to visit me. I said, “well why are they here?” It’s not because they like me. It’s not because of my personality. It’s because something of mine is making money. That’s the only reason they’d visit me. So that’s when I realized that “Halloween” is starting to cook.
Geoff Boucher: Jamie, for you, the first few days of shooting, was it what you anticipated or did you find there were there some surprises in store?
Jamie Lee Curtis: You have to remember, we look at movies today as these big things. This was not a big thing. This was like a home movie. This was very, very small. The scale of it was very small. There was an art department truck. There was one Winnebago that was wardrobe, makeup, hair, all the actors. One Winnebago, small. This was the scale of the movie. So it didn’t feel like you were walking onto “Terminator 3.” It was a small-scale movie, so right away it felt different. The first day we shot was the scene where Laurie is walking- where is Brian? Brian where are you?
Brian Andrews: (from the audience) Right here! Right here, Jamie!
Jamie Lee Curtis: That’s Brian Andrews, by the way, who plays the little boy, Tommy Doyle. That was the first day, was the walking (to) school and Tommy running up and then walking by the scary house. And then seeing the scary house and the scene in front of it and then walking down the street singing. A couple of things popped in my mind. The first is, that it felt really natural, that it was beautiful, it was this pretty afternoon. Right away I knew there was something going on that was lovely, which was this sort of verisimilitude of a small town. It was very real in the way that you very freely allow it to be scenes, walking, very casually walking. It didn’t feel artificial at all. It felt very real, which obviously is crucial.
Jamie Lee Curtis: (to John) And then I remember, we kind of did this work, and then at the end you said, “now walk away and finish out the scene singing.” And I remember saying to you like, “um, what’s the tune of the little song?” And you said, “I don’t know, make it up.” Now, you have to understand, I don’t sing. At all. I just don’t sing! And I remember it like, “what do I sing?” So I sang, “I wish I had you all alone…” Horrible! But, I just remember being sort of overwhelmed after that first day and then wrapping and then going home. You shot something else. You went to the school that afternoon. And then, that night I was home. And my friend Tina Cassidy answered the phone when the phone rang and said, “Jamie, it’s John Carpenter.” And I swear to you I thought I was fired. That’s how actors got fired! They did a day’s work and then the director called them and said, “you know… we’re going to go another way.” I was convinced that was what it was going to be. And in fact, what John did is he called me and said, “I just want to tell you how happy I am with the work today. Let’s do more.”
Geoff Boucher: What is it that you think Jamie brings to the set? What is it that you would describe?
John Carpenter: Working with Jamie on the set is fabulous because she is a total professional. I never have to drag her onto the set, never have to say, “get out of makeup, let’s go.” Jamie has an extraordinary talent, has ever since I first met her. And it translates through the lens. When you watch a movie with Jamie Lee Curtis in it, she is expressive. She is the perfect character that she’s playing. She molds herself to whatever she has to do. And I love Jamie. She is one of my favorite actresses of all time.
Geoff Boucher: What would you say about the filmmaker sitting next to you?
Jamie Lee Curtis: Obviously, “The Fog” was a different experience. To be honest, I was 19 years old and it was fast. My experience was that I felt like I was doing the right thing. I didn’t feel at any moment that John and I had any contretemps. There was no moment where I was trying to interpret something different than the way he intended it. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re doing your job correctly, the director then has the freedom to be able to express himself in his camera and all the rest of it knowing that you’re going to do what you’re supposed to do. I felt that way from the beginning. I felt that way always. It was certainly the greatest experience of my life, bar none. To say that it was a little movie- how many days?
John Carpenter: 22.
Jamie Lee Curtis: It was 22 days and $300,000. It was little. The catering was like somebody’s wife. It really felt that way. Kim Gottlieb, who was the still photographer, is over there in the red turtleneck. She has a new book out about her work with John, which I’ve just seen for the first time, which is in my purse. I wish I had it here to hold up and show you. Somebody will hand it to me before we’re finished! But, the way we were as a crew, it was a little guerrilla film crew and it felt that way. Nothing is ever going to be what that experience was for me. Nothing. Nothing will ever match it because, you were like the oldest person. (To John) You were 30. I mean, I’m not joking! It was very young people coming together to make this movie and it was beautiful. Beautiful.
Geoff Boucher: The creation of the character Michael Myers influenced a good chunk of Hollywood for years in how they approached screen villainy. When you saw the character on the set and he comes out, Jamie, how did you feel about the look? And John, how hard was it to get it to where it was? How close was that to the starting point?
John Carpenter: Once we had the mask, we had it made. The mask was the big thing. Everybody knows the story. It’s a Captain Kirk mask spray-painted, I don’t need to retell that. But there is really no character there. There’s no personality. He’s just a force. He’s just a force of evil. That’s all he is. He doesn’t walk like a monster. He walks like a man. By stripping away character, he became more powerful. That was in the script and once we had the mask, we were all set to go.
Jamie Lee Curtis: And it was your friend. So this is somebody you were in a band with?
John Carpenter: Nick Castle? Are you kidding? Nick Castle? The legendary Nick Castle?
Jamie Lee Curtis: It’s also not just- you know, in subsequent years, it became stuntmen. But this was a very different experience. This was John’s friend and, was he the lead guitarist or were you the lead guitar?
John Carpenter: We were all singers.
Jamie Lee Curtis: In the Coupe De Villes?
John Carpenter: That’s correct. No lead guitar.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Really?
John Carpenter: No.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Oh, how interesting. I always thought one person was lead and one played bass.
John Carpenter: No.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Interesting. Okay. I have to change my autobiography! Whoops!
Jamie Lee Curtis: But you know, the fact that he was Nick also allowed, I think, there to be some depth to it. Nick is a talented director and so I think he had something richer to offer. I certainly think that it comes out in, as he said, the sort of human but not non-human way that he acts. And the way he cocks his head to look at his fine work like a dog when they have a bone.
(A replica Michael Myers mask signed by the “Halloween” cast and crew is presented for auction.)
Jamie Lee Curtis: Here’s the dealio. A while ago, at the Malik Akkad Scare Foundation event … I realized that you can monetize this horror film thing. It’s just not something that I had paid much attention to. Not out of any disrespect, but literally, I had not thought of monetizing it. And I do work for children’s charities, particularly Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. And I realized I could monetize my horror fandom for some horror film-y stuff for a greater good. Let’s just put it that way … So what happened is, Sean Clark, the guy back there, handsome, jet black hair, looks like a goth, is a representative of the Convention All-Stars. If you go to a horror film convention, Sean Clark represents many, many actors and directors from horror films who come to the conventions. I was hooked up with Sean and Sean graciously, gratis, set me up at a convention where we spent a weekend in Indianapolis and all of the money went to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. I made over $150,000 in a weekend for the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles!
Jamie Lee Curtis: One of the ways we did it were with some signed masks. Basically, this mask was FedExed all around the country to every living member of the “Halloween” crew family to sign. There were a bunch of them. This one is numbered. So what I realized when we were coming here to the (American) Cinematheque and this is the first time, and maybe the last time, John and I will ever appear together in a “Halloween” related function. No, I’m not joking! We’ve not done one until now! I thought, I’ll bring one of those masks for the Cinematheque, which is offering us this evening, and they might raise some money. So I think what they’re going to do is they’re going to put this up on some sort of auction site. The money will go to the Cinematheque. You can go on the Cinematheque website. I promise you whoever wins this or gets this, John and I will do some special thing to go along with it. I mean, if someone has $5,000 cash and they want to just walk away with this tonight and get a picture with me and John, that’s fine! But if for any reason you don’t, we’ll put it up on a website. We just wanted to raise some money for a greater good to preserve film, to allow film to live forever. To be able to have always.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Here is the thing. This is a group of fans who are uniting together tonight in support of this man’s work, without whom none of us would be here. This is a book called “On Set with John Carpenter” written and produced by the beautiful Kim Gottlieb, who was … a 20-year-old still photographer (who) took all of the pictures that you have fallen in love with about this movie. (They) were taken by Kim Gottlieb on the set as the still photographer.
John Carpenter: Check out the bellbottoms I was wearing!
Geoff Boucher: John, what do you like about this filmmaker you see in this photo? When you look at “Halloween” or consider the time on set, what is it that you like about that John Carpenter?
John Carpenter: I like the fact that he was younger. He wasn’t tired. He hadn’t been f*cked over by the studios yet! This guy was at the beginning of his career. It was all uphill in his mind. I was working on a movie that I love with a cast and a crew that I love. And it was all good. That’s what I think of when I see that. What about you darling, what do you see when you look at yourself there?
Jamie Lee Curtis: You know, I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t have a clue! At that point in my life, I just felt so incredible. I still feel that way. I mean, I feel that way sitting here right now with all of you. I can’t really believe it. I felt incredibly lucky. I didn’t really have that big of a sense of myself. So it was really easy for me. You know, I was Laurie Strode. I am Laurie Strode! I am. Ultimately, I think the reason I didn’t play the part that P.J. played, or even the part that Nancy played, the reason that he cast me is because I am Laurie Strode, despite my obvious reason to cast me as the other thing. Do you know what I mean? There is a definitive vulnerability. There is a definitive-
John Carpenter: You got it. You got it.
Jamie Lee Curtis: -fragility to me. I’m incredibly emotional. And I was really quite not kind of in my body as a young woman yet. I didn’t own it at all. Just look at my hairdos over the years. No, I’m not joking! For me to be able to play her and not worry about- you know, we went to JC Penney and got her entire wardrobe. She got the school separates. But that’s how Laurie Strode would have gone shopping for school clothes with her mom. And that’s exactly how we did it. We went to JC Penney and we got the school separates and one pair of dungarees and a blue shirt. And that was the wardrobe for the character.
John Carpenter: There’s one thing I want to add to what Jamie said. She has one thing that many people don’t have. That’s talent.
Geoff Boucher: What do you think about youth? You both mentioned the age of the entire production team. There’s something about that time in our lives where you can do things other people say can’t be done because you don’t really know the rules.
John Carpenter: Because you’re stupid, that’s why.
Geoff Boucher: I was trying to beat around the bush on that, but yeah!
John Carpenter: Well, I hate youth now because I’m 37 years older! But yeah, you don’t know what you don’t know yet. You know how to make a movie. I knew that much. But I didn’t know what laid ahead. There was an excitement around the time of “Halloween.” It was really fun to make. It cut together like butter. We came up with the music really fast. And off it went. That’s the most fun I’ve ever had making a movie. Ever. Ever.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Oh, yeah! Hands down.
John Carpenter: I wish they were all like that.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Can I ask you a question about the music?
John Carpenter: You can. You made fun of my music! I heard you in interviews!
Jamie Lee Curtis: Didn’t you do it on a synthesizer?
John Carpenter: That’s right. I did.
Jamie Lee Curtis: In your home?
John Carpenter: No.
Jamie Lee Curtis: (sarcastically) Oh, sorry! Whoops! There’s chapter two!
John Carpenter: Let me tell you how it was done, Jamie.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Please, that’s why I’m asking, John!
John Carpenter: On a movie that I made called “Assault on Precinct 13,” I got stuck with a synthesizer teacher, a computer music teacher at USC. And he had a little studio where I could work one day on “Assault.” So I would record this work in one day. I went back to him and on “Halloween” he gave me three days. So the first thing we did was the theme. A piano and a couple of synths in the background. But the rest of it was all improvised.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Improvised by you.
John Carpenter: That’s correct.
John Carpenter: And, listen to this. You’ve been pimping your charity, I’m going to pimp myself now!
Jamie Lee Curtis: I didn’t pimp!
John Carpenter: I have an album coming out in February (2015) called “John Carpenter’s Lost Themes.” I expect you all to buy it!
Audience Question: Jamie, who were your favorite actresses growing up? And John, I’d like to know who your favorite villains are?
Jamie Lee Curtis: I did not have role models. Just never have, in kind of any areas. There are a few people that I have started to admire, mostly because of what they’ve done with their lives, not as much about their work. I mean, Meryl Streep is- whenever I have felt sh*tty, and felt like I should just never do this again, I go see a Meryl Streep movie. And it just gives me some sort of an inhalation of her profound talent. Not that on any level I’m in a league with her. What I’m saying is that I look at her and think, “okay, f*ck it. I’m just going to keep trying.” Because she is amazing! I’m being honest. I’m not somebody with a lot of hero worship.
John Carpenter: My favorite villain is Dracula.
Audience Question: Jamie, in this movie, what do you think is the one scene that tested you the most? And John, what do you think is the one scene that tested Jamie the most?
Jamie Lee Curtis: Well, there are two things that popped into my mind. The first is that there is a scene where Laurie walks upstairs, opens the door, walks five steps into the room, sees Nancy on the bed, recoils herself into a corner, conveniently next to the cupboard where P.J. is going to come out, and then pivot, and start to walk down the hall where the boyfriend comes swinging down, and then end up out in the hall. And there’s an architecture to it. But from an acting standpoint, I just didn’t know really what to do. I remember thinking like, “what the f*ck?” I remember walking though it, because obviously we had to rehearse the timing of it all very specifically so that all these things could happen. The cabinet door could open. The guy could come swinging down. And I could go do what I do. But I remember before we started rolling thinking, “F*ck… F*ck… F*ck!”
Jamie Lee Curtis: And then there was that moment where we also architecturally figured out the part where Laurie has now been attacked by Michael in the house. She now has broken through the very obvious pane of candy glass in the kitchen area. And then she’s running around to the front of the house and then there’s the scene where she runs out the front of the house screaming. She runs, she falls, she gets up, she goes to the neighbor’s house, she pounds on the door, blah blah blah, the neighbor won’t let her in, and then she exits frame. There was also that moment for me, which was we rehearsed it in the sense of Steadicam, I’m going to come out here, I’m going to stop here, I’m going to fall here. But then again, it’s night shooting, there’s the whole beginning of, “quiet!” And then all of a sudden like, “we’re rolling!” And I remember the same thing, like, “f*ck! What the f*ck?” Because I had never just like let one go. I just remember it was the kind of thing where you just have to sort of go. So I just remember that was a challenge for me because I didn’t know what the f*ck I was doing.
John Carpenter: (drily sarcastic) The most challenging scene was the first one she described. That was challenging for her. Emotions, giving lines, nothing. Nothing challenging about that. But if you describe the architecture of that scene, somehow you were very nervous about it. It’s very simple! You walk in-
(audience applause and laughter)
Jamie Lee Curtis: That’s what directors say! “It’s easy! You walk in, you see her, you back up.” I will tell you, I will tell you, I will tell you something! When we were shooting “The Fog,” I’m just going to digress for ten seconds. We were doing a scene with me and Tom in the truck. You know, we’re driving in this truck. And it was the scene where we were ultimately going to back the truck- you know, we come to the fog, the fog bank comes at us, and we have to back up willy nilly. And I remember we were doing that on a soundstage. So we’re just in the truck and the grips are rocking the thing and it’s all black on the outside. We’re basically looking out at nothing. Maybe they put up one little thing. And then John, I remember you, this is John: (monotone whisper) “okay, here comes the fog. It’s coming at you know now. Oh, it’s getting big!” (laughing) Like, c’mon! C’mon! Because you know, you’re trying to act really f*cking scared! And here’s this guy going, (low whisper) “here it comes.”
Audience Question: Mr. Carpenter, your first four films have been remade by Hollywood. Two of them currently are in development. Can you think of any other filmmaker in history who has had that happen? And when you reflect upon your work and its impact, what does that say to you now about the f*cking studios?
John Carpenter: There are two kinds of remakes in my life. The first kind of remake is one where I have nothing to do with the story, the writing, or the rights. Like “The Thing.” Universal owns those. So if they want to make a sequel to “The Thing,” they just go do it. They don’t even have to talk to me. As a matter of fact, they didn’t talk to me! The second kind of remake in my life and career is the kind where I wrote the script. By contract, I have a say. And that’s the kind of remake that I like because what I do is, I sit on my couch, I extend my hand, and a check drops.
John Carpenter: As for the other part, I don’t know. They remake everything these days. Guys, c’mon. It doesn’t mean anything. They just remake it because they think the audience is so stupid that they won’t go see anything original. I’m serious! They think you’re going to go see only things you recognize. They look down on you. Don’t you see that? I just want to get the check. That’s all I give a sh*t about!
Audience Question: (asks if Jamie Lee Curtis has a hard time going out and being recognized in public during late October.)
Jamie Lee Curtis: You know what? I am Halloween! Wherever I go, I don’t have to do f*cking anything and it’s just my day. I have felt that way even years and years later. I have always felt a little ownership over this Halloween time. I have an 18-year-old son and he loves video games. He’s graduating high school and I said to Tom, “we’ll go to…” EVO? Is that what it’s called? EVO. It’s a fighting game convention in Vegas. And then my husband looked at me and said, “Jamie, you’re not going to be going to the fighting game convention in Vegas.” And I went, “oh right, f*ck!” Because I forget who I am and what I look like. I just forget! So I keep thinking, “well yeah, I can go to a convention in Vegas!” So then I realized, I can go in costume! Because there’s a term called “cosplay!” And I’m going to f*cking go full on cosplay and go to the EVO convention with my 18-year-old kid and rock it for three days at the EVO convention. You’ll never know it was me! I’ll be some masked, thigh high, bandolier-wearing vixen. And you’ll never f*cking know that behind the bandolier is a 55-year-old hag! I’m going to own it! So Halloween, I don’t have to wear no stinking mask. I just walk around and smile at people. By the way, I am the only person in my neighborhood with Halloween decorations already up!
Audience Question: Do you guys think you’ll ever collaborate on anything ever again?
John Carpenter: I would love to.
Jamie Lee Curtis: Sure!
Audience Question: Are you going to keep going on or are you going to retire?
Jamie Lee Curtis: You know what, here’s the truth of the matter. You know, actors don’t retire. They are “retired” by other people. And you know what, it’s okay. It is. It is. Because it doesn’t matter ultimately. It really doesn’t matter. But the truth of the matter is, I don’t write my own work. So I’m really at the liberty of someone writing something and casting me in it … (If they don’t,) then as they would say in show business, I’m sh*t out of luck. It’s the nature of the beast. I’ve been really kind of very savvy and have taken good care of myself. So when that inevitable moment comes and, I think I’m hearin’ the door knockin’, then I’m not going to feel punished for being who I am and what I look like. Just enjoy my life and the bounty of my beautiful life, which I do have a beautiful life. All of which I would not have were it not for this man right here! … Thank you John!