Actress Jamie Lee Curtis received the Maltin Modern Master Award on Feb. 11 at the 38th annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival Festival for her accomplishments in film. 

The Maltin Modern Master Award is the most prestigious award presented by the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). According to the SBIFF website, the award is meant to “honor an individual who has enriched our culture through accomplishments in the motion picture industry.” The award ceremony was held at the Arlington Theatre on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara.

SBIFF is an annual 11-day festival that was founded in 1986. The festival features multiple films, panels and tributes dedicated to honoring the best of film.

Curtis has been a staple in the film industry since her debut in the 1978 film “Halloween” as Laurie Strode, a role she has portrayed for over 44 years. She is also known for her versatility, with acclaimed roles in a wide variety of genres ranging from horror to comedy. 

The actress’ popularity was evident as the crowd murmured with excitement in anticipation for the event. Leading up to the Q&A session, audience members discussed their admiration for Curtis by sharing their favorite roles and films she was in. 

The event began with a short introduction from Roger Durling, the executive director of SBIFF. His introduction was then followed by a video compilation featuring Curtis’ most iconic roles, from “Freaky Friday (2003) to “Knives Out” (2019).

Curtis radiated charisma, expressing professionalism and poise as she sat down with film critic Leonard Maltin, who the award is named after. Once seated, she immediately set the tone for the interview by leaning into the microphone and showing off her “secret skill”: a spot-on impression of a baby crying.

Curtis’ lighthearted energy continued throughout the discussion. Before diving into her own success, Curtis credited her parents and grandparents for providing her with the support needed to make it in the film industry. She thanked her immigrant grandparents for their hard work and struggle to make the American dream a reality for her parents, actors Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. Curtis also took time to acknowledge her privilege and nepotism and how she uses it to honor her family’s past. “It is the continuum of all of our lives,” Curtis said. 

Despite some heavy subject matter, Curtis still interacted with the crowd. When speaking about the importance of parental support, an audience member cried out, “I want you to be my mom!” “You want me to be your mom?” the actress asked said in response. 

Maltin guided Curtis through a conversation about her origins. In spite of her immense success over the years, Curtis was candid about her struggles in the industry. She also offered inspiration for those feeling lost in their careers, adding that being fired led her to audition for her breakout performance as Strode in “Halloween.” 

As Maltin directed the interview to Curtis’ “succession of champions,” the actress pointed out that her success is due to “a lot of Johns” — referencing the amount of directors named John she worked with. This statement resulted in laughter from the audience. “Really? What are you, 14?” Curtis said, playfully reprimanding the crowd again.

Curtis spoke highly of “Halloween” director John Carpenter, fondly recalling a call from him praising her acting after her first day of shooting. In her 46-year-long career, Curtis said that was the only time a director called with words of gratitude. 

When asked about her role in “Trading Places” (1983), Curtis credited director John Landis for helping expand her career, as “Trading Places” was the first comedy she had been cast in, allowing her to avoid being pigeon-holed into the horror genre. 

She then thanked the third John: actor and writer John Cleese. Cleese had written the role of Wanda in “A Fish Called Wanda” (1988) for Curtis after watching her in “Trading Places.” Her performance was critically acclaimed, garnering her first Golden Globe Award nomination. 

Curtis emphasized the importance of speaking up and trusting one’s gut instinct, using her experience on “A Fish Called Wanda” and “True Lies” (1994) as examples. She departed wisdom on the audience when saying, “It’s about understanding and claiming my power,” and encouraged people to speak and stand up for themselves. 

The discussion did not only focus on Curtis’ film roles, as Maltin guided the conversation to celebrate her charity work with Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, for which she currently holds an honorary board position. 

Curtis also poked fun at her incredibly active social media presence, saying, “Some may say I’m just a crazy person because I invented Instagram.” This resulted in laughs from the audience.

As the dialogue came to a close, Maltin asked about Curtis’ experience on the 2022 hit film “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” The Oscar-nominated actress eloquently described the film being “about love … family, reunification. It’s about failure. It’s about the American dream, and the failure of the American dream, and what we put immigrants through … it’s deep.” 

Curtis then spoke specifically about her role as IRS inspector Deirdre Beaubeirdre, saying “Deirdre is a forgotten person … she represents that part of our lives where people are doing jobs that they hate, but they wield the power of that job.” She continued to expand on her own approach to the character, crediting much of the characterization to Beaubeirdre’s appearance.

The event ended with Curtis receiving the Maltin Modern Master Award, which was presented to her by her husband, director Christopher Guest. Upon receiving the award, Curtis was met with a standing ovation and cheers of adoration from the audience. 

Curtis is currently nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 95th Academy Awards for her role as Beaubeirdre in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” This is the first Oscar nomination for the actress. Curtis commented on this career milestone when mentioning her infamous Activia Probiotic Yogurt commercials, saying, “I am the only Oscar nominee who has ever sold yogurt that makes you shit.” That statement perfectly sums up the lively atmosphere of the event.