Actress Jamie Lee Curtis received the Maltin Modern Master Award at the 38th Santa Barbara International Film Festival Saturday night at the Arlington Theatre, where she spoke about her career and was honored for her recent performance in “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”
After 45 years of acting in movies ranging from “Halloween” and “The Fog” — some of the roles that made her a scream queen — to “Trading Places,” “True Lies,” and “Freaky Friday,” among several others, Curtis has been nominated for her first Academy Award this year for her role as Deirdre Beaubeirdre in “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”
“[Acting] is certainly intuitive for me,” Curtis said. “I understand some people have to go to those great lengths to get to that work and I don’t. And I don’t make any excuses or try to minimize that what I’m offering is still valuable and important, even though I go at it from a very natural way.”
Named after film critic and long-time SBIFF moderator Leonard Maltin, the Maltin Modern Master Award is the film festival’s highest honor, given to “an individual who has enriched our culture through accomplishments in the motion picture industry.”
Past honorees include Javier Bardem, Nicole Kidman, Bill Murray, Brad Pitt, Glenn Close, Gary Oldman, Denzel Washington, Johnny Depp, Michael Keaton, Bruce Dern, Ben Affleck, Christopher Plummer, Christopher Nolan, James Cameron, Clint Eastwood, Cate Blanchett, Will Smith, George Clooney, and Peter Jackson.
“Jamie Lee Curtis has several things that help define her,” Maltin said Saturday. “One is that she is the daughter of two bonafide movie stars, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh.
“But she’s made a name for herself that’s so indelible now that you sort of have to explain to people that, yeah, her parents are movie stars, too.”
Curtis acknowledged her privilege, but spoke of that and her career with gratitude.
“I am the granddaughter of immigrants from Hungary and from Denmark, and the dreams of those people coming to America, having the opportunities and the difficulties and the heartaches and the tragedies and the tiny little bit of joy, and then they each raised two children who became these massive stars from incredibly impoverished beginnings and then have their daughter, who did not come from an impoverished beginning,” Curtis said.
“I’ve had a life of privilege and ease. I never pretended anything but that, but nonetheless that their daughter sitting up here talking to you about the craft of acting, about a lifelong career. … By honoring me, you have honored my parents and my grandparents and my family and my children.”
Curtis’s husband, Christopher Guest, who is a screenwriter, director, and actor, also made an appearance Saturday night to present the award to Curtis.
During Saturday’s conversation with Maltin, Curtis recounted the time she was fired from the television series “Operation Petticoat” in 1978, and she was sure she would lose her contract with Universal Studios.
Instead, it led to her breakout role that changed her life.
“Had I not been fired from ‘Operation Petticoat,’ I would not have been able to audition for ‘Halloween,’ and that is the shot that changed my life,” Curtis said. “So there you go, for anybody out here who’s been fired — who thinks it’s the end of the road for you — the light at the end of the tunnel or the silver lining to this horrible experience was that I ended up making a movie that would change my life…
“All of the good things in my life — including my husband, including my family, everything — can be traced back to ‘Halloween.’”
Curtis and Maltin closed out the conversation Saturday evening by discussing “Everything Everywhere All At Once.”
“It’s a beautiful movie about many things — it’s about love, it’s about family, reunification, it’s about failure, the American dream and the failure of the American dream and what we put immigrants through,” Curtis said.
“It’s about marriage, it’s about a child. [Deirdre] represents that part of our lives where people are doing jobs they hate but they wield the power of their jobs. We all know Deirdre — there’s not one person in this room who hasn’t met Deirdre Beaubeirdre — and I have met her.
“I know Deirdres and I know the incredible loneliness that they feel when they go home at night, and I know the power that they feel with their jobs and I just felt like I knew her.”
The Santa Barbara International Film Festival continues through Saturday, Feb. 18.
More information on events taking place during the festival can be found here, and links to other Noozhawk stories, including information on free film screenings and how to purchase rush tickets, can be found here.