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Jamie Lee Curtis honored with the 2023 Maltin Modern Master Award

14 February 2023
  • Written by
    Maryanne Knight
  • Photographed by
    A. Arthur Fisher
Jamie Lee Curtis at SBIFF 2023
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It was a packed house at the Arlington Theatre Saturday night to honor Jamie Lee Curtis with the 2023 Maltin Modern Master award for her performance as Deirdre Beaubeirdre in Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert’s Everything Everywhere All at Once.

In a chic white suit, Curtis regaled the audience with tales from her lengthy career as the daughter of Hollywood icons Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. From the moment she picked up the mic and said “don’t ever give an actress a microphone. You people are so f*ed right now,” the crowd was in stitches.

She’s heard every “nepo baby” joke. She doesn’t pay attention to them, but she also doesn’t deny the benefits and privileges she’s experienced because of her parents’ success. Humble and down-to-earth, she spoke lovingly of her immigrant grandparents and of her parents as the children of immigrants, her deep sense of family connectedness. Growing up, she saw the pitfalls of the industry first-hand, and made a conscious decision to stop doing horror films after Halloween. She didn’t want to be pigeon-holed.

A gifted storyteller, Curtis took the audience down her career path with an impish sense of humor that kept the laughter rolling. Higher education didn’t engage her, and she fell into acting as a dodge for regular classes by proposing an independent study where she would audition for parts for a month, then write a paper about it. At the end of the month, she had a contract with Universal Studios, and turned in her paper. To hone her acting skills, she did a session with the late Allan Rich, who told her she didn’t need training as an actor, she needed to “expand her vocabulary.” He told her to go to movies, read books, have experiences.

At Universal, she starred in Petticoat Junction, the television version of one of her father’s movies. The contract included a six-month option to renew, and when a group of actresses from Petticoat Junction were let go, Curtis was among them. This freed her up to audition for John Carpenter’s Halloween, which she credits for all the successes she’s experienced in life, including her 38-year marriage to Christopher Guest, who presented her with the Maltin award.

Curtis agreed to do Everything Everywhere All at Once without reading the script when her agent said she’d be working with Michelle Yeoh. In addition to the Maltin, Curtis has been nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as Deirdre Beaubeirdre. She discussed her character as both an archetype of an alienated person with positional power, and as a lonely woman whose sole source of physical contact is from her manicurist. This depth of understanding informs her Oscar-worthy performance.

Curtis has learned over the years to trust her instincts, to understand and claim her power as an actor, citing examples where she did or didn’t do just that. And she’s always on set. “Don’t go back to your trailer,” she told her fellow actors in the crowd. “Stay on set.”

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Santa Barbara International Film Festival photo from State Street