Seasoned fans of Jamie Lee Curtis will remember learning the actress’ name in the late ’70s, after her breakout role as Laurie in the iconic horror flick Halloween. Millennials, however, may know her better for her role opposite Lindsay Lohan in the 2003 remake of Freaky Friday. Whether you’ve been a fan of Curtis from the beginning of her on-screen career or not, though, we can all recognize her as one badass actress. But how much do you really know about this incredible woman off camera?
You may not have realized that she was in the public eye long before she even began acting in the ’70s — and long after, of course. The award-winning star has gradually become more open about what it was like growing up in the limelight and all of the struggles that came with it. Here’s what you should know about Curtis’ life and her stunning transformation.
Jamie Lee Curtis was a "save-the-marriage" baby
Jamie Lee Curtis’ childhood was anything but average. Born in Los Angeles, Calif. to famous actors Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, the future actress entered the world on Nov. 22, 1958. "By the time I came along … my parents’ bond had deteriorated precipitously as their stardom grew," Curtis recalled in More magazine (via Express). "And, like any other save-the-marriage baby, I failed."
When Curtis was 4 years old, her parents finalized their divorce. "My mother persevered through it all and survived; I’m not sure if my sister and I did," the star revealed. "There was no Demi-and-Bruce [Willis] amicable divorce or joint family vacations for us." Curtis later said in an interview with The Talk (via Daily Mail) that, although her dad was adept at providing for his children financially, he "was not an involved father."
Despite her complicated relationship with her father — and her parents’ complicated relationship with each other — Curtis said her parents’ example was "crucial" when it came to acting. "One of the great benefits of being the daughter of great film stars … is I had the opportunity to watch them play the game," she revealed at the 2019 ICG Publicists Awards.
Jamie Lee Curtis’ "very abnormal normal childhood"
Being raised by A-list actors is, obviously, not something many of us can relate to. That said, we might look at celebrity children with rose-colored glasses. Sure, there’s fortune and, of course, fame, but that doesn’t mean their lives aren’t without difficulty.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, the actress revealed what it was like growing up with a famous last name. "I had a very abnormal normal childhood," Jamie Lee Curtis shared. After her parents divorced, her mother married Robert Brandt, who Curtis would go on to view as "Daddy."
Despite the relative normality of her childhood, though, Curtis admitted, "It was just never forgotten who my parents were. Whenever I met anyone new, I was introduced as Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh’s daughter." She said that it really messed with her mind, and one can see why it would. "You’re a child trying to develop an identity and a sense of self-worth," she explained, "and all this Hollywood stuff plagues you and makes you kind of wonder who you are."
High school was a "f***ing killer" for Jamie Lee Curtis
Being in the public eye didn’t get easier when Jamie Lee Curtis got older. The actress revealed that she continued to struggle with figuring out her identity. "Then you’re twelve through eighteen, and you’re developing sexually and emotionally. And it’s hard," she admitted to Rolling Stone. "My time in high school was just a f***ing killer."
Much like her childhood, Curtis’ high school experience wasn’t exactly typical. She attended two schools in Los Angeles. One was Beverly Hills High, which Curtis later dubbed a "designer school." When Curtis’ mom accepted a role on Broadway, Curtis went with her and enrolled in high school for a third time, attending the Connecticut boarding school Chaote in her senior year.
Curtis instantly realized she didn’t fit in with her preppy classmates, but she set about to change that. "So if another girl was wearing her hair up in a ponytail, the next day I’d do that. I said I liked whatever kind of music they liked," she told Rolling Stone. But pretending to be someone she was not felt awful. "I’ve never been so depressed," she revealed to the publication.
Jamie Lee Curtis’ "emotional coming out"
Jamie Lee Curtis’ high school experiences were nightmarish, according to the actress, but they helped her hone her talent. "I think the fact that I had very low self-confidence growing up and in high school made me a good actress," she told Rolling Stone. It wasn’t difficult for her to become whoever she was around, she confessed. "I learned early to be a chameleon, to turn whatever color was needed," Curtis added.
When Curtis was just 19 years old, she channeled what she learned in high school and took on the lead role in the low-budget horror flick Halloween. The young actress only took home $8,000 for her part in the now-famous film, but she was just thrilled to have her name in the credits. "I was finally able to say, ‘That’s mine. I did that. That’s all me,’" she told Rolling Stone, calling the experience her "emotional coming out."
Jamie Lee Curtis went from aspiring police officer to Scream Queen
After high school, but before she landed her huge role in Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis decided to give college a try. "I was studying corrections at the University of the Pacific," she told Good Housekeeping. That’s right. Jamie Lee Curtis once wanted to be a cop. But it seems life had other plans for her. "I was a terrible student. School just … missed me. I probably had some learning thing I didn’t know about." With a solid D+ average, Curtis admitted she was more of a party animal.
While studying — or partying — at UOP, Curtis learned of a new Nancy Drew series and decided to audition. But she didn’t get the job. Instead, her audition led to her trying out and subsequently landing a role in the television show Operation Petticoat. Her role came with a seven-year contract, but the series would only end up lasting for two seasons. "I was devastated; I thought it was the end of my life," she revealed. "But had I not been fired, I would not have been able to go up for the movie Halloween — which basically gave me the life I have today."
The "beginning of it all" for Jamie Lee Curtis
In a true whirlwind romance, Jamie Lee Curtis said "I do" to Christopher Guest, an actor and screenwriter, in December 1984. Two years later, the couple adopted a daughter, Annie, soon after she was born. When speaking to People, the actress said becoming Annie’s mother was "the most profound, nondescribable event of [her] life."
At the time Annie came into the world, though, Curtis’ acting career was very demanding. "My memory of A Fish Called Wanda is that I cried every day to and from work," she admitted to USA Today. "Not that I laughed, not that it was super-fun, nothing. My memory of A Fish Called Wanda was leaving my sleeping 6-month-old daughter, going to work an hour away and then working 12 hours, sometimes more, and then an hour back, often to a child asleep again." She continued, saying, "And that was like the beginning of it all for me." But, what did "it all" entail?
Jamie Lee Curtis attempted plastic surgery
When you look at pictures of Jamie Lee Curtis today, you see a woman with icy silver hair — a woman who exudes body confidence. But it took Curtis a long time to get to this place. By her mid-30s, she was still actively struggling with low self-esteem.
When the young mother was on a movie set, a cameraman told the star that she had bags under her eyes, Curtis revealed in an interview with More magazine (via Daily Mail). "I remember the cameraman saying: ‘I can’t shoot her now,’" the actress further detailed (via Us Weekly). "I remember being mortified."
That experience prompted the actress to seek out plastic surgery, but she continued to feel unattractive. "I attempted various types of plastic surgery, minutely but enough to stave off this encroaching middle-aged body," she told the magazine. "And every time I did, something went wrong. I felt misshapen, just not natural any more." Years after trying liposuction and Botox, the star came to the conclusion that "none of it works."
Jamie Lee Curtis’ secret addiction
As far as Jamie Lee Curtis was concerned, plastic surgery was a bust. But, not only did the cosmetic procedures not work as Curtis had hoped, they also provided the star a gateway to drug addiction. After her first cosmetic procedure, the actress was given a prescription to lessen the pain from the surgery. Before long, Curtis secretly began to abuse the medication. "I think it was a big stimulator of my drug abuse," she said of plastic surgery when speaking to More magazine (via Daily Mail). The star also began drinking excessively. "I’d anesthetize myself on a daily basis," she told the publication.
Curtis later confessed to stealing pills prescribed to her sister, Kelly, while she was staying at Curtis’ house recovering from an injury. "I am lonely. I take them at night to ease the pain. I was so afraid to tell you," Curtis wrote in a letter to her sister — one she never ended up sending. Thankfully, Curtis kicked her opioid addiction and got sober after realizing how it was affecting her daughter, Annie.
A "big shift" in Jamie Lee Curtis’ life
While recovering from her drug and alcohol addiction, Jamie Lee Curtis wanted to focus less on her body image. She started to accept her graying hair and switched out her high heels for flats. That certainly sounds great, but Curtis admitted to More magazine (via Daily Mail) that she actually went from one extreme to the other and ended up getting "so caught up in not caring about body image."
In an interview with AARP, she revealed, "I saw a picture of me in a tabloid, where they had actually given my weight. I was like, ‘How dare you — I’m not 161 pounds!’ I was indignant. I got home and I went on a scale and I was 161 pounds." Initially, the star said she stayed "in denial" about the weight gain.
In time, she went to the doctor and discovered that both her blood pressure and cholesterol levels were high. She didn’t have much energy, but, with a desire to play tennis, Curtis started eating healthy and very gradually lost 20 pounds or so. "That was a moment of truth and a big shift," she explained, "taking care of my physiological life."
Jamie Lee Curtis led the no-makeup movement
While we may think of the no-makeup movement as a fairly recent trend, Jamie Lee Curtis actually bucked conventional beauty standards all the way back in 2002. The star took part in an un-retouched cover shoot for More magazine without makeup and clad only in her underwear.
The 43-year-old actress stipulated the conditions of the shoot, which also included no hairstyling and no manicure. Curtis wanted to put an end to the idea that celebrities are perfect. "There’s a reality to the way I look without my clothes on," she told the publication (via Yahoo! Lifestyle). "I don’t have great thighs. I have very big breasts and a soft, fatty little tummy. And I’ve got back fat."
The shoot was a success. Curtis caught up with More after the feature was published and said it was her way of apologizing to her fans for making them feel "less than." She revealed (via Yahoo! Lifestyle), "I did not anticipate for a second the bigger reaction to it and the continuing reaction to it. It turns out it will probably be the single biggest contribution I may ever make as a public figure."
Jamie Lee Curtis has welcomed aging like no other
In celebration of turning the big 5-0, Jamie Lee Curtis was photographed for AARP topless. She told the publication confidently, "I have not one second of anxiety about turning 50."
When Everyday Health asked the actress about the shoot, Curtis revealed, "I did it for myself." Although she admitted that she still feels down when she picks up certain women’s magazines, she opined, "But there’s nothing I can do about [how I look]." Jiggling the skin under her upper arm, she joked, "I can do 100 push-ups and back push-ups. Unless I’m doing the work of a farmer, toting gallons of water on two sticks in Hungary — which is my genetic makeup — I won’t be buff."
Still, she was, and is, in great shape. "I’m just an active mommy," she told the publication. The actress’ daughter, Annie, was 24 years old at the time, and Curtis also had a son, Nicholas, who was then 14. She detailed further, saying, "I was just in the mountains. I played golf in the morning, took a hike and swam, and fixed the TV. My life isn’t sedentary."
Jamie Lee Curtis’ style is much like her career: "a distillation"
In her high school days, Jamie Lee Curtis may have wanted more than anything to fit in with her peers. As she’s gotten older, though, she just wants to be herself. "My style is a distillation," she told AARP back in 2008. "I’ve etched out who I am through myriad haircut attempts, outfit attempts, beauty attempts, diet attempts. It’s been an evolution."
She recalled attending the Golden Globes one year — donning a borrowed dress and earrings and wearing her hair differently than she ever had — when her husband asked if she knew who was the most beautiful woman in the room. Although she’d hoped he’d say her, he pointed to Jessica Tandy. The older white-haired actress was wearing a simple silk pantsuit along with a string of pearls and just a smidge of lipstick, Curtis detailed. She realized her husband was right. Tandy’s appearance was free of "pretense" and "trying so hard." It’s no surprise that, in the years since, Curtis has fully embraced her inner Jessica Tandy and routinely slays in pantsuits.
Jamie Lee Curtis has a mirrorless beauty routine
Yes, Jamie Lee Curtis has eschewed traditional beauty standards, but there’s no ignoring the fact that she looks amazing. Her secret? "It’s going to shake you to your core," she teased when speaking with NBC’s Today. "Sea Breeze and Nivea. Water and sleep." She clarified, saying, "Sea [Breeze] is that astringent. I’ve been using that my whole life." The actress has tried the über-expensive creams, but insists they’re all "a scam to make money." She sticks with Nivea for her body and face.
Not only is Curtis’ beauty routine quick and easy, but it doesn’t even call for a mirror. In an interview with Good Housekeeping in 2018, an almost 60-year-old Curtis professed a secret: "I don’t look in the mirror." Wait, what? She continued, saying, "When I get out of the shower, I have a choice: I can dry myself off looking in the mirror, or I can dry myself off with my back to it. I turn my back to the mirror, and I feel great!"
Jamie Lee Curtis’ transformation never ends
No transformation is ever truly complete, right? When speaking to USA Today, Jamie Lee Curtis recognized the "shifts" she’s already made throughout her life and acknowledged her sobriety as "the single greatest accomplishment of [her] life." Still, that doesn’t mean she’s done making changes.
In an interview with Good Housekeeping, the actress highlighted why she lets go of what no longer serves her. "I am a constant editor," she admitted. "I shed people, I shed clothing, I shed possessions, I shed ideas. The biggest thing I’ve shed is my own limitations and perception of who I am." She added, "We are all looking for a fast track to enlightenment, but it’s sweat equity, sweat equity, sweat equity."
Curtis is also excited about her future — and that includes getting older. "If I can challenge old ideas about aging, I will feel more and more invigorated," she told AARP. "I want to represent this new way. I want to be a new version of the 70-year-old woman. Vital, strong, very physical, very agile." We are here for that.