Jamie Lee Curtis may be the face of the Halloween franchise, but for true fans, Nancy Stephens is nearly as iconic. As Marion, the nurse who works alongside Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) in the original Halloween and Halloween II, the now-72-year-old actress activist was among the first to encounter an escaped Michael Myers on a stormy night outside a mental asylum. Back then, she lived to tell the tale—but in 1998, Michael finally caught up to her in the memorable opening sequence to Halloween: H20, when her chain-smoking, wisecracking character finally had a fateful encounter with his butcher knife.
As a bit of a Halloween head myself, I was delighted when she turned up again in Halloween Kills, the second film in David Gordon Green’s new trilogy, which ignores the events of all Halloween films except the original. Marion lives again! Alas, her resurrection is brief—Michael soon does away with her once again—but her appearance is one of the movie’s stealth thrills. To find out what it’s like to die brutally in the world’s most iconic slasher franchise not once but twice, I called Stephens up. Our interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Jeffrey Bloomer: When I was watching Halloween Kills, I was so happy to see you, but then before long, Michael Myers had something to say about that. And I was like, dang, again? You already died! How did you react when you found out it was going to happen again?
Nancy Stephens: Well, David called me. I was a big fan. And to tell the truth, I hadn’t seen the 2018 Halloween. But David called and I had broken my foot, so it was in a cast. So I said, “If we’re going to talk, you’re going to have to come to me.” So he came over, and I said, “But David, I’m dead. Somebody did me in, in H2O.” He said, “Nancy, that doesn’t matter.”
So, OK. Willing suspension of disbelief. And I loved the gestalt of this movie, that he was doing this contemporary group therapy PTSD with those that survived Halloween and weren’t crazy people by now. And so I thought, why not? I love being an actor. I haven’t worked a lot lately. I’m not quite in that “mature woman” category that gets offered parts, so I thought, “Well, this’ll be fun”. And I do know that crazy nurse Marion is an icon. My adult children know. My daughter will go, “Mom, the waiter’s discovered you.” And I’m saying “No, no, he hasn’t. Don’t be silly.” And of course inevitably somebody who wasn’t even born when the original Halloween came out goes, “Oh, Ms. Stephens, I’m such a fan. I love these movies.”
What was it like to be back on a Halloween set after decades?
I loved it. I loved it. And I keep saying to David, “I’m available. You know I’m available.” And I think it’s important to say—and I’ve texted David about this—I so appreciate the safety that staff had around guns. The guys who took care of the guns, it would be rolling and then he’d hand me the gun. And the minute they said, “Cut,” he would take the gun. He was right outside. And I said, “No, I can keep it. We’re going to go again.” And he’d say, “No, Nancy, this is my job.” Keeping you safe, keeping everybody safe. And boy is that a sobering lesson and important lesson right now. Unbelievable.
You’ve been in the front row for very different eras of Halloween—the original in 1978 and Halloween II in 1981, then Halloween: H20 during the ’90s slasher revival, and now this new trilogy. Can you walk me through those different eras?
When I look back at the first Halloween, it was, “Wow, this is great. I’ve got a job.” You’re a young actor, and I always did guest parts and things, but this seemed like it was going to be different. The thrill for me in the first Halloween was that I got to work with Donald Pleasence. John Carpenter was an unknown quantity, and I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I’m not a horror aficionado. But I appreciated the script. I thought it was really interesting, and I love [Halloween co-writer] Debra Hill. Debra and I, with my husband and some other people, went on to do a lot of early environmental work. So Debra was in my life in a whole other way until she died way too young. She was really a pioneer. She was pushing at the glass ceiling.
John wrote the characters that survived the first one into the second one, and John was going to direct it, but decided at the last minute not to. And my husband, Rick Rosenthal, had the same agent. So his agent at the time said, “I’ve got the guy to direct it.” A lot of people erroneously think that Rick and I met on Halloween II, but we didn’t. We had been a couple before that, but we kept that quiet. The fans seemed to like the romance of, “Oh, they met on Halloween II.”
When H2O came along, it seemed a little ridiculous to me, but I thought, “Why not?” By that time I was appreciating the franchise a little bit more. It’s ironic when I think about it, that through a whole career, this made me an icon. In a narrow window, to be sure. But that’s remarkable to me and fun. I’m having a lot of fun with this.
What’s different about this latest round?
My young assistant insisted that I go on Instagram. And it’s like, “I don’t know, Shannon.” She said, “You should.” And so she’s been interpreting things—like a lot of people, if they look at a picture, they put “queen.” I didn’t know that’s the iconic high praise. But also, I can see how addictive it is. It’s like, how many followers do I have now? How many followers? So do you want to know? I have 1,836 followers.
I should follow you on Instagram.
You should. I want another follower. I want to get up to 2,000. What is my name?
Nancy Stephens official? I found you. I’m clicking “follow” right now.
Oh, good. Look at that. Oh. Oh. And I have on here “Jeffrey Bloomer started following you.” Excellent.
I don’t post much, but I’ll like all your photos.
Well, who has time for all of this? That was so amazing to me, is that people, I post something, and—oh, here you are. Here, I’m seeing you. How old are you? You look like you’re 10.
I just turned 35—
I put one political thing—political in the sense that I had a posted a small Constitution. And then it’s a picture of me from the 1978 Halloween, where I’m just being lambasted in the car, and I said “Marion is in danger, and so is our Constitution. But Michael Myers is fictional and the threat to our constitution is real.” And I have one real angry person, “you liberal Hollywood. You’re just trying to get another job.” It’s like, “OK, OK. You love Hollywood and you love movies, but you hate the fact that people are politically active in the entertainment industry?” Anyway. I digress.
I’m sure most of the fans are very excited to have you back.
I went to a horror convention. I had never been, I just thought, ”This is kind of crazy.” And Jamie Lee called and said, “I’m doing one.” It was to support a children’s hospital in Los Angeles. So she said, “Nancy, you’ve never done one. So why don’t you come?” I had been in Washington, D.C., with some senators who are very devoted to climate. And so I was in a completely different world. And then I flew to Indianapolis, where I had a three-hour wait for autographs. It was crazy. And it opened my eyes. I thought, “This is nuts.”
The fans are devoted and, for the most part, really respectful. They love the genre. You know, when you see three generations—the grandma is coming with her married daughter and their 6-year-old—I’m most shocked that the 6-year-old has seen Halloween, but the fans are just very loving.
You mentioned your husband, who has experience in different Halloween eras too—he did Halloween II, but also Halloween: Resurrection, the one with Tyra Banks and Busta Rhymes. Has he seen the new movies?
We went to the premiere at the Chinese theater together. So that was really fun. We were supposed to go in costume. I said, Marion is going as Marion. She’s not dressing up in any costume. But Rick went through his closet and found his old Halloween II ball jacket, the crew jacket. If you follow me, if you go to my Instagram, you’ll see a picture of us at the premiere.
I’m all over the Instagram. When you’re 92 and they reboot Halloween again, will you come back? One more time with Michael Myers?
And how did you know I’m planning on living to be 100?
Just talking to you, it seems like you’re going to be around for a while.
I got a lot of work to do, Jeff. My real life is climate and the climate catastrophe I’ve been working since the first Earth Day. And now I’m so angry. It’s like, “Why weren’t you listening 20 years ago?” So here we are at such a phenomenal crisis. And so my work is cut out for me. I have two little grandchildren, a year and a half and two, and I look at their future. Even you and my adult children, the legacy that we are leaving here is dangerous.
Anyway, I loved David. I loved his crew. I loved being back with actor friends. I’m ready to come back.