Jamie Lee Curtis: Acting Is in My DNA

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis
TV pitchwoman is just one of many roles in the long career of actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Her urge to act goes a long way back, as she tells "The Early Show"'s Julie Chen in this Sunday Profile:

Jamie Lee Curtis says acting is easy for her because it's in her DNA.

"I'm a performer. I've just been one since I was a little girl. I used to pretend all the time. So I would be a secretary: 'Hello, Mr. Brown's office.' To me, that's acting. There's no difference between that - Meryl Streep's watching this going, Really? Oh, really?' "

Pretending may come naturally to Curtis - you could say she was born to it, being the younger daughter of screen legends Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis.

But her real life is unlike anything she'd imagined.

"At what point in your life did you realize, 'I have achieved not only what I wanted to achieve, but what most people don't in this world?'" asked Chen.

"I didn't want to achieve anything," Curtis said. "That's like the last thing that I'm - I'm not a dreamer, so I never had a wish list."

Not to be a best-selling author … but her latest children's book, published this month, is her ninth.

Not to be an activist … or a pitchwoman … or a photographer . . . even a wife and mother.

And not to be an award-winning actress … though she's made some 40 films.

Her latest, "You Again," a comedy about lingering high school rivalries, hits theaters this week. In it she gets to use her cheerleading skills: "It's fun!"

Chen asked, "Your character in the movie says, 'Nobody gets through high school unscathed.' Did you?"

"Oh, no, no. I found high school to be a horror show."

It was soon after high school that Curtis tried her hand at the family business. She was the Scream Queen, in "Halloween" and a string of other horror films, then became known as much for her looks as her talent in films like "Trading Places" and "Perfect."

She was asked if she enjoyed being known as The Body: "No, no. I don't think anyone likes to be known for something that's exterior. I don't believe it. I don't think any woman wants to be known for being beautiful or busty. I think you want to be known for who you are."

She wasn't a fan of the movie "Perfect." Still, she can look at herself in it now with some appreciation.

"I've watched it recently. And believe me, there was a moment when I was like, Damn, you looked fine."

Curtis eventually became known for her work in comedies, though she doesn't always give herself the highest marks for acting.

"I'm perfectly fine. I can be really, really good, occasionally. I may be able to be great occasionally. And most of the time I'm just pretty good," she said.

When asked which of her roles she thought was her best, she answered, "'True Lies,' without question."

"'True Lies' was the best opportunity I had to be free," Curtis said. "And all I look for in anything I do is freedom. I think it shows. I just had a great, great time." And she won the Golden Globe for that (her second).

Her first Golden Globe was for the TV series "Anything But Love."

Curtis was anything but in love with the demands of Hollywood, and being a physical role model. She tried plastic surgery, botox and liposuction to look better … and painkillers and alcohol to feel better. None of it worked.

She battled her addictions, and has been sober 12 years.

"I'm a human being who lives a flawed, contradictory life. And I have all sorts of problems and all sorts of successes. And I would feel terrible if a woman sat there, looking at a picture of me, going, 'Oh, what's the point?'"

So eight years ago, at 43, she gave them a different picture to look at. She posed for more magazines in her underwear to make her own point:

"The hair, the makeup, the clothes, the artifice, the airbrushing, the thinning, the everything, the fashion, the it, the that, the thing. All of it is BS, that it is against the essence of who you are."

"And what was the reaction when it came out?" Chen asked.

"Really positive," Curtis said. "I knew it would be good. I did not know it would become something that may be the single greatest thing that I'll ever do as a public figure."

Her role as a public figure isn't something she takes lightly, particularly her advocacy for children's charities, for which she's helped raise millions of dollars.

"I do what I can because I believe it's of course the reason why you're famous. There's no other reason really to be famous. But the key component is charity begins at home."

Curtis's home life has been her top priority, focusing on raising her two children with her husband of 25 years, the actor and director Christopher Guest.

And she found a new calling.

"I never thought I'd write a book in my life. I barely got through high school," she said.

Her children's books, written with illustrator Laura Cornell, have sold more than five and a half million copies. The latest, "My Mommy Hung the Moon," is dedicated to her mother, who died six years ago.

"This book is about mother love, and I've raised two children, and I have had the great pleasure of feeling mother love - when a child looks at you and you understand that you are the most important person that that human being ever will meet."

She doesn't have happy memories of her own childhood. Her parents were Hollywood's glamour couple. He, the golden boy of "Spartacus" and "Some Like It Hot"; she, the stunning siren remembered best for the shower scene in "Psycho."

Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh divorced when she was just three, and she was raised by her mother and stepfather.

"I loved my mother. I love my mother to this day. But I don't remember that bond, that mother-love," Curtis said.

"That's sad," said Chen.

"Yeah, yeah, but you know, that's also what it is."

"Being the daughter of two huge stars, I would think - "

"You know, to be honest Julie, I really try not to make Hollywood the bad guy in the family," Curtis said.

She tried to learn from the lessons of her childhood.

Chen asked, "Most people go into parenting, saying, I'm gonna do it differently, I'm not gonna be like my parents did you say that?"

"Of course! And then I think you end up being exactly like your parents, because I think that's what happens."

"How are you like your mom?"

"Well, I'm an alcoholic. And I think that has run in our family for a long, long time."

Tony Curtis was not a big part of her life growing up, and as an adult her relationship with her father sometimes was strained.

But today she describes the relationship as "beautiful."

"It's exactly what it needs to be. He likes that I call him and do an imitation of him. Hullo, honey, it's Tohny."

She is also a photographer: "I love to take pictures and I wanted to give a gift for my 50th birthday to my friends" - a photo montage

Now 51, Jamie Lee Curtis embraces this time of her life … a life she never pictured.

"When you start to achieve, it's hard, because people don't get their dreams a lot," Curtis said. "And to live a dream - "

"Did you?" Chen asked.

"Oh, look at me. I mean, look at me. I'll bawl! You'll, you know you'll get me to bawl on national television. I mean, look at my life. I mean, I have a life that has - See?!? I hate you. I hate you. My daughter's gonna say, Mom, you cried on tee-vee!"

For more info:
"You Again" (Official Website)