Director James Cameron suggested she tone it down, and the rest is movie history.
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Jamie Lee Curtis
Credit: Courtesy Universal Pictures

To be a badass is to embody a seemingly contradictory combination of qualities that surprisingly live in harmony. For example, I hate violence and horror films, yet that's my bread and butter. The truth is that I scare easily. I think that's why I'm so convincing in the genre, because I'm not a Terminator; I cry at commercials.

My character Laurie Strode of the Halloween franchise is widely considered to be among the ultimate badass heroines of horror film, and like all badasses, she contains multitudes: She was a dreamer and an innocent, but because of the circumstances of one night, she's had to fight for her life. I've been playing this character on and off for 43 years, and there are aspects of her that are still that original lovely, thoughtful girl. They've just been elevated to a different level because now it's her daughter and granddaughter she's fighting for. It's like, "If you fuck with me, OK, but if you mess with my people, I go into warrior mode." Honestly, I'm the same way in my personal life.

The most badass I've ever felt on the job was during a shoot for the scene in True Lies where my character, Helen Tasker, is laughably out of her element performing a striptease for her husband. It was very early on in the shooting schedule, which made me a little anxious because it meant I should probably stop eating whatever the fuck I was eating and maybe do a couple of sit-ups, but I didn't have time. There was no choreographer, and we only rehearsed it in the sense that we were made aware of the camera placement and marks to hit.

I danced to the John Hiatt song "Alone in the Dark." There was a moment when I shut my eyes and let go of it all, and there was pin-drop silence afterward. It was a powerful experience that nobody else could take credit for — it was just me, the music, three cameras, and approximately 100 dudes. At one point I was hanging on to the bedpost and it got a little too sexy for the director [James Cameron]. He came up to me and whispered in my ear, "Will you let go of the pole?" He understood that Helen stumbling in her seductive dance would remind everybody that it was a comedy, after all. It will always be the single greatest laugh I'll ever get in my life.

There are plenty of potholes that people in my industry stumble into, like ego, but my strategy is just to show up, get into the process, and don't fall prey to any of the bullshit of show business. Be game and be prepared for whatever happens. I have continually taken the jobs that come my way, from blockbuster film projects to commercials for pantyhose and rental car services and yogurt that makes you regular. I'm sure some people thought I would never get another "real" job after taking some of those opportunities, but I didn't care. Everything good that has happened to me, it's because I have been in the path of it.

I have a motto now, as I am past that sell-by date, which is, "If not now, when? If not me, who?" I say it to myself every single day. And after more than 40 years in the business, I am busier today than I have ever been in my entire life.

Curtis appears in Everything Everywhere All at Once, out March 25.

For more stories like this, pick up the February 2022 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Jan. 14th.