Entertainment & Arts

Jamie Lee Curtis, once known as the ‘queen of scream,’ has fun with her role on ‘Scream Queens’

Jamie Lee Curtis holds her dog J.J.
Jamie Lee Curtis (here with her dog J.J.) is having fun returning to her horror roots, with a healthy dose of satire, in “Scream Queens.” She’s nominated for a Golden Globe.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Jamie Lee Curtis is seated in the all-white kitchen of her Santa Monica home when the conversation takes an unexpected yet happily relatable turn: She began quoting a Sheryl Crow pop hit as representative of her guiding principle for life.

“I live by the song lyric, ‘All I want to do is have a little fun before I die,’” the 57-year-old actress said with a slight lilt, calling up the 1994 hit “All I Wanna Do.” “That is me. I want to have a little fun before I die. That is why I said yes to this role.”

It’s the sort of disclosure that might elicit a snicker or eye roll from the very character she’s referring to: Dean Cathy Munsch, the cynical, tough-as-nails head of fictional Wallace University, whom Curtis portrays in Ryan Murphy’s slasher satire “Scream Queens” — a role for which she received a Golden Globe nomination earlier this month.

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The actress, whose early career famously included the slasher film “Halloween,” spoke to The Envelope about making a return to her horror roots — only this time, with satire as the masked villain.

You were almost the person who said “no” to Ryan Murphy.

Oh, yeah. I met with him at his office when it was on the Paramount lot. Mind you, I didn’t know the stuff he had done. I had seen glimpses of “Glee.” Anyway, he told me about the project. I was game for it. But my agent called me and said, “You do know the show shoots in New Orleans?” I literally said, “Oh. … Bummer. Bad. Oh, really bad. Can’t do that.” I texted Ryan and said, “Maybe another time” or something like that. And within a second he had written back to me: WHAT? NOOO. There was a lot of capital letters. But look, I’m married. I have a child still in high school. I said I’m not able to do a TV show on any level. But we worked it out so that I only had to work four days at a time out of New Orleans, and then I came home for at least 10 days at a time.

What was it like to sort of be considered the Mike Myers — “Halloween’s” killer — in this scenario, at least for a moment?

Everyone was told from the beginning that we would do the work as written. And then every person would do a version of whatever work he or she was doing, but with somebody whispering in our ear that we were the killer. And that was fun. Simply to lay in the suspicion of everyone. To be honest, I don’t think I would have understood if she was ultimately the perpetrator of the bigger thing. Because from the moment it began, you see that she’s been let down by the system. She’s another woman who had the promise of the women’s movement, and now she is sort of slogging her way through a job. She could have become an old, unhappy maid [having sex with] some students [as blackmail over their] academic probation. And that’s a really sad person. So to find her at the end of this, back in that office, surrounded by women, having written a bestselling book about feminism, was particularly inspiring to me.

How would you describe your creative relationship with the cast?

I’m the old lady who does needle point and sits around on set. I will say that the girls and I had a good relationship. Each one of them, individually, I have connected with in our own way.

Dean Munsch has some pretty memorable lines this season …

Oh my God, wait. There have been three or four lines on the show that have been my favorite dialogue I’ve ever been able to say. And there was one particular line that Dean Munsch says when she’s in the mental institution. [Curtis goes on to relate a scene in which Munsch suspects a student is guilty after disapproving of her personal grooming habits.] I read that line and I texted Jane Lynch [of “Glee”] and said, “I think I am channeling Sue Sylvester.” I sent her the line. She snorted. She actually texted “Snort.” And, of course, it turns out that [“Scream” co-creator and writer] Ian Brennan was the go-to writer for Sue on “Glee.”

We need Ian to start that spinoff then.

Oh yeah! That’s a show. Isn’t there that show “Grace and …" — what is it?

“Grace and Frankie.”

There you go: “Sue and Cathy.” You know what, that would just be funny. At the end of this whole thing, it should just be Sue and Cathy like, sitting in a bar trading stories. Sue is in her sweat suit and Cathy is in her black suit, just smoking a joint.

yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com