No matter how many times one meets the luminous Michelle Pfeiffer, one continues to marvel at her agelessness. Never looking like her 54 years, the still striking actress is modest when it comes to her appearance and scoffs when I suggest she hasn’t changed all much over the years. “No I don’t. Look at those images side by side, and there’s a difference. A big difference.”
In her latest film, People like Us, the actress is co-starring as Lilian, a tough minded mother married to a philandering music figure whose death from cancer reunites her with her estranged son, whose discovery of an alternate family sees both their worlds crashing down. Chris Pine plays Sam, a guy whose career is about to take a major nosedive. Suddenly, he learns that his father has passed away, and he finds it very difficult to fly back home to attend the funeral services. Sam didn’t have a good relationship with his father and being back home isn’t helping him. His mom (Michelle Pfeiffer) is mad and upset that Sam has avoided them for so long. Sam’s girlfriend (Olivia Wilde) is totally clueless about the broken relationship he has with his parents. Ready to leave and try to save his career, Sam meets up with his dad’s attorney and finds out that his father left $150,000 to a young boy, who he finds out to be his nephew. In need of the money himself, Sam decides to investigate and later meet his half-sister, Frankie (Elizabeth Banks), and her son, Josh, to see if he should honor his father’s wishes and give them the money. But he fails to reveals his true relationship with Frankie, which further complicates all of their lives.
For Pfeiffer, this character is a tough role to play, a woman constantly in denial, marrying a man whom she knows will be inevitably unfaithful. “A lot of women of my mother’s generation do things a certain way, they got married and it wasn’t encouraged for them to have a career, and they were supported by their husbands. Many of them felt trapped in those relationships.” In equating those women to her character, Lilian, “she does love her husband and there are those kinds of people that are incredibly charming, really smart and dynamic as well as manipulative and narcissistic, but you fall in love with that charming side to them, and that’s the part that hooks you and you become entangled with.” So when asked if the actress can identify with her character, the actress glares in mock disbelief. “I think anyone with that kind of personality is a magnet, and I think everyone is drawn to that kind of personality, but some people are more vulnerable to it and I think at a certain point , certainly when you’re young, you want the person who doesn’t want you. But as you mature, you hopefully grow out of that, but some people don’t and they get stuck there.” But the actress insists on being non judgmental. “Women like Lillian are a sign of her times and then she’s trapped.”
Pfeiffer was also married at a young age before marrying renowned TV writer/producer David E. Kelley. Michelle Pfeiffer was born in Santa Ana, California and graduated from Fountain Valley High School in 1976, and attended one year at the Golden West College, where she studied to become a court reporter. But it was while working as a supermarket checker at Vons, a large Southern California grocery chain, that she realized her true calling. She was married to actor/director Peter Horton in 1981 and she then had a three year relationship with actor Fisher Stevens. When that didn’t work out, Pfeiffer decided she didn’t want to wait any longer before having her own family, and in March of 1993, she adopted a baby girl, Claudia Rose. On November 13th of the same year, she married lawyer-turned-writer/producer David E. Kelley, creator of Picket Fences (1992), Chicago Hope (1994), The Practice (1997), and Boston Public (2000). Pfeiffer’s has also starred in some of Hollywood’s most iconic films following her debut in Grease 2, from The Fabulous Baker Boys to Batman Returns, in which she played Catwoman, a role being reprised by Anne Hathaway in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises. And no, she insists, she did not advise her successor on any aspect of playing the character. “I’m just excited to see the movie. I love the whole franchise and I’m a huge fan of Anne. She’s so talented.”
Pfeiffer continues to find rich characters to play in what has been a bumper year for the actress, having co-starred in New Year’s Eve and Burton’s Dark Shadows, as well as People Like Us. In continuing to find projects that interest her, “my criteria is still the same, in that I’m still just looking for something good, well written, interesting, territory I may have not covered before, interesting people to work with, which is why I don’t work so much,” she adds laughingly. “But at the same time I’m limited because I’m careful about when I’m working, how much, where it’s going to take place, because my son’s still at home.” But yet she still feels, despite her very strong criteria for working, “that my best performance is still in me but I think all artists feel that.” Will she know if it happens? “I hope so, but maybe not because that’s what keeps me going and keeps me interested. I notice a lot of people who win the Academy Award go for long periods some time when they don’t go to work and I worry about them, because there’s a lot of wanting to achieve that which keeps you going and then when you achieve it you go: what now? And I don’t ever want to lose that fire.”
Asked how she feels when she sees some of her earlier work, Pfeiffer says “I can’t stand listening to my voice, so I cannot change the channel on the TV fast enough.” But asked if there was one role she might actually watch longer than others, her answer is surprising. “Maybe Grease 2 just because I’m the most removed from it. It was a lifetime ago really so I don’t take any responsibility. I’m SO young.”