Slasherdom’s ultimate final girl, Laurie Strode, is back in theaters this October – and she’s a changed woman. In David Gordon Green‘s Halloween, set 40 years after John Carpenter‘s horror classic, Strode is at once a tough-as-nails grandma ready for her ultimate showdown, and a shell of her former self. She’s been beaten up by years of dealing, and not dealing, with the trauma of the night “the Shape” first came into her life, turning to drinking and drugs and failed relationships for support, turning away her family and loved ones. For audiences, it’s a shock to see: this is what happened to sweet, innocent, Laurie Strode? The babysitter who couldn’t even inhale that joint? For Jamie Lee Curtis, the woman who’s played her across 40 years, it’s a tragic but logical progression. “She lost everything,” says Curtis. “Nobody went and embraced her. All of the innocence is gone.” To mark Strode’s return to the big screen, we sat down with Curtis and Carpenter, who created the character with Debra Hill, for a deep-dive on Laurie – from the casting of Jamie Lee to the character’s lasting appeal and, finally, to the woman we find in Green’s new film.
What follows is a history of Laurie Strode drawn from sit-down interviews with John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Jamie Lee Curtis: “I had done a TV series prior to Halloween. But I was one of 13 or 14 regulars on a half-hour, one-camera TV show. If I had two lines a week, that was a lot. All I remember about Halloween was that it was a script where every single page had the name ‘Laurie’ on it. What I knew was that it was a big part. To have something where it was that kind of complete character was kind of exciting for me.
The roots of this were so low-scale. It was crappy little offices in this old building on Cahuenga Boulevard [where Curtis auditioned]. It was two little offices, side by side: One was Debra Hill’s, one was John Carpenter’s. That was the extent of their big production offices.”
John Carpenter: “We picked a scene in the script and she read it, and she had a quality about her. There was an innocence and yet a strength going on in there, and I really liked it. Plus, the girl I wanted for the part had turned me down – so Jamie was perfect!”
Curtis: “I remember meeting with the costume woman, talking about Laurie, and we went to J. C. Penney and we basically bought back-to-school clothes for this girl. It was like going shopping with Laurie’s mother. There was that skirt, then there was the turtle neck, and then the little cardigan sweater, and the thigh-high big socks.
I’d had a perm when I met John, but then they decided they wanted my hair straight – or, not straight, but not frizzy like a perm. I remember putting hot rollers in my hair each day to get it to straighten out.”
Curtis: “[She] was the archetype that had to be the center of that story, which is an innocent girl, without boyfriends, without experience. She’s the good girl, even though she did smoke pot, which is such an anomaly for a good girl. But the way she smokes it, you can see she’s not experienced. She coughs and she sort of blows it.”
Curtis: “The movie was conceived as The Babysitter Murders. Moustapha Akkad went to John Carpenter and said, ‘I wanna make a movie about babysitters who get slashered.’ It was John and Debra who set it on Halloween night. I think it was Debra who said, ‘Let’s have it take place on Halloween night.’
It’s really the innocence of babysitting coming into conflict with this evil being. That’s why the movie worked: because she was so incredibly vulnerable. The audience was let in on her vulnerability from the very beginning. ‘I wish I had you all alone…’ ‘Oh, poor Laurie, scared another one away. It’s pathetic. You study too much.’
There is something beautiful about babysitting. Babysitters are not nannies. This was neighborhood girls coming over so the parents could go out to dinner or go out to a birthday party. There’s just something beautiful about the relationship between a babysitter [and a child]. You’re not a teacher. You’re not a governess. You’re not Mary Poppins. You’re a peer, in a weird way. You’re only probably 8 to 10 years older than the kid you’re babysitting. There’s an innocence about it all.”
Curtis: “We are no longer innocent. Particularly in America, 9/11 removed all of our innocence. Yes, there are still small towns and yes, there are still people within them babysitting and stuff, but I think innocence has been ultimately lost because the brutal reality of life came into our lives.
[But] the archetype still works. There is still that lovely connection and ultimately, you still are entrusted with the lives and care and safekeeping of children. When you introduce something scary into that, you are going to step up and be the responsible quasi-adult. That hasn’t changed. We, as a nation, have changed.”
Carpenter: “I love everything about [Curtis’ performance as Laurie]. She was so game about everything. I tell her to do something – ‘Okay, go over the banister and just hold onto this rope. You’ll be fine…’ – and she’d do it! And she was just great at it. And she could produce all the emotions that were necessary. She was just a joy to work with.
[Laurie] was a combination of things. She was a virginal character, but she was extremely strong and self-directed. It was mainly Jamie’s performance. I think that’s what took us there. Every time I make a movie, I learn things from the process of making it. It’s the casting decisions that you make that are so important. To cast the right person for the role is essential. What I learned [from Halloween] is that any time you cast Jamie Lee, you’re in good hands.”
Curtis: “What was so beautiful about the first movie is it was complete. You can’t kill the bogeyman. It was the bogeyman – [and] as a matter of fact, it was. What’s beautiful about the new movie is that it just literally slices away all of those other movies. They exist, you can watch them, you can love them or hate them. [But with the new movie] there’s 1978 Halloween and 40 years later. That’s it. That’s why this [new] movie got me. That’s why I said yes. Because it made all the sense in the world.”
Curtis: “Now we get to really look at what happened to Laurie Strode 40 years later, to the day, with no attachment.
She lost everything. She lost herself, she lost her friends, nobody was helping her. Everybody was saying, ‘Oh, just get on with your life.’ Of course, that didn’t happen, so then the cascading trauma, like a tumbleweed, just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. She slams into people looking for contact, men, alcoholism, drugs. All of it with no support.
She was the freak. She’s the girl who survived. She’s the final girl, but she’s also something that you recoil from, in a way. Nobody went and embraced her. All of the innocence is gone. She has been self-reliant and the more calluses that she created on herself, the farther and farther people [moved away from her], and she had a child and they took the child away.
The woman we meet [in Halloween 2018] is alive by her own wits, has no friends. She is the freak of the town. And lives in a compound because she is preparing herself every day for the eventuality that Michael Myers will return.
And he does.”