You can call her Jamie Lee Curtis, or, quite properly, Lady Haden-Guest, courtesy of her 13-year marriage to Christopher Guest who, after the death last year of his beloved father, Lord Peter Haden-Guest, became the 5th Baron Haden-Guest of Saling, Essex. And if celebrity is indeed a close cousin of aristocracy, Jamie Lee, daughter of not one but two Hollywood legends—Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh—is almost to the manner born.
And the 38-year old star of `A Fish Called Wanda' and `True Lies' views her new status in British society with nothing short of complete respect. She takes it all quite seriously.
Traditionally, Jamie Lee has been refreshingly free of airs and graces. And that has not changed. She answers her own front door and, in a close-fitting black sweater and pants, looks quite simply stunning.
She, her actor/writer/director husband and their children, Annie, 10, and Thomas, not yet 2, commute between Los Angeles, their workbase, and Idaho, their getaway. If Lord Guest is desperately, passionately, perhaps mildly fanatically private, Jamie is only marginally less so, especially when it comes to protecting their children. But for herself, she knows some attention is essential and she is affable, relaxed and accommodating when Hello! visits her wood-beam ceilinged, Spanish-style home with its crisp Pacific Ocean breezes wafting through lots of open windows. Strains of Van Morrison drift through the house as do four dogs and a friendly grey cat.
Jamie Lee is torn, really. The private side, which has no inclination to indulge in any public soul-baring about why they adopted, butts up against her desire to help finally bring adoption out of the shadows forever.
That desire is what prompted her to write her whimsically illustrated children's book, `Tell Me Again About The Night I Was Born'. Just released in Britain, it is her second book, but her first in Britain. Its predecessor, ‘When I Was Little—A Four Year Old’s Memoir Of Her Youth’, will be out next year. ‘Today I Feel Silly’ and ‘Where Do Balloons Go?’ are in the works. And ‘Virus’, a new sci-fi thriller, will soon be released.
A true Hollywood veteran, Jamie justifiably considers herself media-savvy. Yet she is positively itching to address what she considers a blunder she made last year when her father-in-law died from colon cancer just three weeks after Thomas was born.
"My family was in shock, we were in deep mourning, and I had a new baby," she explains. Only because she was obligated did she speak to reporters about a film, but she did so with a heavy heart. And one overly-zealous reporter, hell-bent on getting her reaction to becoming Baroness Haden-Guest, really got to her. In frustration Jamie retorted that it would get her a good table at Claridges. She instantly regretted the flip remark which has since been reprinted ad infinitum and is anxious to correct the record.
Q: Do we address you as Lady Jamie now?
"Nobody addresses me as Lady Guest anywhere except perhaps at the House of Lords. It's what they do there—and it's probably the only place in the world where anyone will address me in that manner even if I go, `Oh no, no, no, just call me Jamie.'"
Q: Why does your little remark about getting a table at Claridges bother you so?
"It really shows no respect for the institution to which my husband just swore an oath. He proclaimed his allegiance to an institution that I have tremendous respect for, and if I read that, I'd say, ‘Who in the bleep does she think she is!’
"And it's not like me. I'm a serious person. I'm not a flippant person who makes some crappy comment to get a laugh in that regard. It was literally made on the heels of my
father-in-law's death and it really bothers me."
Q: How do you feel about the House of Lords perhaps disappearing?
"It seems to me that Tony Blair was elected with the agenda of clearly reforming the way it operates, be that abolishing the voting rights of hereditary peers to abolishing the House of Lords.
"I'm not sure what he intends or what the Queen intends. We'll have to wait until the opening of parliament which may be another 12, 16 months away. So until we have a clear idea of their intentions, it would be stupid of me to comment.
"I can just tell you from being a neophyte member of a time-honoured tradition that I certainly would support Chris's view that reform is always good. It’s his thing and I, in this arena, am there to support him and help him. That was my only agenda when I went to the House of Lords when he took his oath. I tried very hard to make sure that his day there was his time."
Q: Was the ceremony impressive?
"It was a very quick oath-taking ceremony which I almost missed simply because I happened to be so in awe of being in this beautiful room! I fully assumed that it would be announced, and I was trying to find my seat along the wall in the upper tier. I happened to look right and Chris was standing at the podium, his hand was in the air, and it was over! It took maybe 10, 15 seconds. Then he was able to take his seat on the cross-benchers and we watched a little bit of a debate.
"I was with Annie, and I was with Chris's mother and I was very cognizant that this must have been a very difficult day for his mother—and yet a wonderful day in that her son was taking his seat. Then I was thinking about my daughter, and what it meant for her to be there with her daddy. And then my own feelings of, `How did I get here?' And then, because I'm a very public person, not wanting to draw any attention to the fact that I was there. So I kind of shrunk. It was a complicated day but it went off beautifully."
Q: Was writing children's books a longheld fantasy?
"No. I don't fantasize. I'm not a dreamer, really. I'm much more of a realist. Always have been, since I was little."
Q: Why write about adoption since you consider it so personal?
"The story hadn't been told in a humorous and celebratory way. It really was born out of many people's misunderstanding of my daughter's life and how we became a family. I respect Annie’s privacy and felt odd writing a book about adoption and obviously basing it on the experience of our family, but at the same time keeping our family history very private. It was a complicated balancing act.
"It's a book which is really written to open peoples' eyes and ears and hearts and minds to something that most people still talk about in hushed voices. I am tremendously proud of my books. They are the closest thing to who I am as a human being. It is my sensibility. It is how I look at the world."
Q: Why do you so hate the word ‘adopted' preceding ‘daughter’?
"I think it's a label, a way of separating a child from its family, a way of somehow taking something away from being like any other family.
Q: Doesn't it signify special people who've extended themselves to offer a child a home?
"No. I don't look at us as being special people. I look at us as being parents who, for whatever reason, have chosen to adopt. I look at all parents as special. I respect all people who dedicate their lives to their children. I just don't think that adopting a child is any more heroic than giving birth to a child.
"If anything is heroic, I believe the hero is the young mother who chooses to go through childbirth and who respects that human life and understands that it would be impossible to care for the child. Carrying it to term, and then placing that child in someone else’s arms and saying, `I trust you with the life of my child.' That to me is a hero and someone who is special."
Q: Do you see adopted children as somehow chosen?
"I have very specific feelings about the term ‘chosen one’. I know that people like it, or certainly they did in the past. It was a safe haven for talking about adoption because nobody wants to use the term, ‘a child that was given away.’ That's the truth, though. The truth is that another mother chose to give a child to you to raise because she could not care for it.
"I don't believe that it's my right to say, ‘I chose you honey, therefore you're special.’ I think it's too complicated a relationship. Also, I think it's wrong to assume that adoption is without heartache.
"I wrote my book so that another child won't drive in a car with an adoptive child and mother and say—as I've had happen to me—‘She's not your real mom, is she?' Which, no matter how innocent the question, is hurtful.
"I'm not an adoption activist, I'm an advocate. And I'm using a personal experience to hopefully help open that up. Period. I'm not on the hill lobbying for legislation, although I could imagine that when my children are grown up I will become a very public spokesperson for removing even more of the discriminations. I don't choose to do that now."
Q: Despite your high-profile celebrity status, you favour open adoptions?
"You share a common human being, so to pretend that this other person doesn't exist and is in some sort of closed file, to me is just not enlightened. Truly, it was very important to me to be open. I truly believe in the goodness of people. My fame has never been something that I have hidden from.
"There’s story after story of horrific adoptive experiences and yet I was living a complicated, yet very positive, fulfilling experience with my husband and—because I didn't have my son yet—my daughter. I believed there should be a celebration here and that’s why I wrote the book, quite frankly, because I did tread personal stuff in a way that I had no need to.
"I asked my daughter her permission and without speaking for her, she thought it was a good thing. Both books are a story of her life, albeit facts have been changed. And I hope that pride in those books being about her makes her feel good, not bad."
Q: How did Annie react to having a little brother?
"Probably the same as every other 10-year old when a new baby is brought into the house. There is a mixture of excitement, bewilderment, jealousy, great love and connection. I think there's a combination of all of that going on in my family.
"One of the thrilling aspects of adopting a child, as well as one of the most difficult, is often it happens very quickly, as was the case with my son. And the gestation process occurs after a child has been born.
"Everyone in the family goes through a change after the baby is born, which is a difficult time. It's difficult to have a new baby in the house. It's difficult when you didn't know there was going to be a baby there a week before."
Q: Were there any other unforeseen problems?
"The only disappointment I’ll talk about publicly about not going through childbirth was missing the unbelievable love and affection you get from the world around you, and the delicacy with which people treat women who are about to give birth. I have participated in this lovefest with many, many women.
"But when you're an adoptive mother, no-one knows that you're about to become a mother. No-one understands that you're going through the exact same fears about the health of the child, about your ability to be a parent, about the changes in your life and marriage, the changes with your other child, the financial restraints, the `Do I have enough room in my house?'
"What every pregnant woman has nine months to deal with, adoptive mothers often have no time. That's a small price to pay for the joy of being a mother, but it is a significant one, and one I've never talked about. For me, it was significant."
Q: You were taking a breather from work when Tom came along?
"I'd decided that after ‘Fierce Creatures' I'd take a significant amount of time off. I'd saved some money and it seemed like Annie really could use time with me in a way that we hadn't had. And I needed the time with her. I felt that she was developing so fast and that I was missing a lot and I didn't like it and made a choice. Luckily I had the financial means. It was 18 months, and during that 18 months—then there were four!"
Q: Would you do another TV series after ‘Anything But Love’?
"Today! Right now! I'm very happy that every area that I've ever wanted to participate in, I've been able to in a fairly successful way. They've been very varied jobs and I'm not a snob. I don't think that `True Lies' is necessarily better than my Hertz commercials.
"Also, I think the horror movies were wonderful and I'm going to do another one to mark the 20th anniversary of my first film ever. It has to come out 20 years to the day, October 31st, l998. `Halloween', 20 years later. Why not?"
Q: Will it be as scary?
"If we play our cards right it will be pretty scary because of course there's a revisit. The horror movie market is really strong again and I thought it was a way to be respectful to the audience that gave me a career to begin with—and a career I'm very proud of. I had a really good time doing those films."
Q: Do you entertain much at home?
"No. For somebody as loud as I am, I'm really quiet. I write children's books and take pictures and raise two kids."
Q: Do you see much of your family?
"Yes. I saw my father this weekend and we had a great time with Tom. My mother, we see weekly. She lives close, my dad lives close. One of my sisters lives here, my brother lives here with his baby, my sister Kelly lives in New York City so I don't see her as much. We have a normal, busy, scattered but close family."
Q: Despite being enormously famous, you manage to live so normally?
"I'm recognised a lot more than I ever pay attention to. I don't even see it. I'm reminded of it by people, but I don't see it. I also don't draw a lot of attention to myself. I don't attend a lot of premieres. I have been married for a long time, so I'm not out in public dating people. We travel privately. I don't go to places where there are hordes of people waiting to take pictures. I choose to avoid that. I live a very private life.
"If you go on summer vacation to the south of France, to St. Tropez, you can be guaranteed there will be a certain amount of photographers staking out the area. I don't do that. Occasionally people get photographs of me and my kids in public places. I'm always a little astonished that I didn't see them. I'm always like, `Where was that guy?'
"The day that my husband took his seat in the House of Lords was a private day, obviously. A private moment. A lone guy on a motorcycle pulled up and said, `My paper would really like a photograph of you, I promise I won't jump you, would it be okay?' I asked Chris and Annie and we said, `Okay'. That was the only press intrusion the entire week in London. My experiences have always been relatively calm and respectful and non-intrusive.
"Dodi Fayed was a very, very good friend of my father's. His father is a very good friend of my father's and I knew Dodi socially with my dad. I wouldn't be able to handle that kind of intrusion in my personal life. I don't know how I would deal with something like that. It's just the worst."
Q: Did Princess Diana touch you?
"What was inspiring for me was that she discovered her mind. I didn't follow every move, but I was aware of the discovery of her mind and the ability to say what she felt. She's been called an icon for unhappy women and I understand the reference, but rather than that, she represented someone who changed, who discovered that she had opinions. That is something I have taken from this horrible experience. It made me think twice before I shut my mouth. Because I actually am a lot less opinionated than perhaps people might think. And it really has given me some strength to pipe up a bit.
"I've thought about her often. I, like the rest of the world, have thought about her children. I wrote to her brother, in support of an extraordinary public display of affection for his big sister. It made me call my sisters and brothers and make that connection. In the simplest of terms, he stood up for his big sister. And it moved the world."
Hello! magazine, UK, 2001
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