Empire | February 1994
Talented, yes. Beautiful, sure, assuming you have a pair of eyes in your head. But hs Michelle Pfeiffer actually got anything to say for herself? Chris Heath enters the den…
AS MICHELLE PFEIFFER sweeps into aNew Yorkhotel room wearing a very grey, very shoulder-padded, very powerdressing suit, a small selection of press people place their tape recorders under her nose. One, in a fit of rampant politeness, asks whether she minds him doing this.
“Do people ever say no?” she barks. Oh dear. It is clear that Lady Pfeiffer’s mind is on business here today, and not manners. Still, it doesn’t matter very much, for she is already busily chattering about the experience of working with Martin Scorsese.
“It was everything that I had hoped for, and that you hear about,” she says. “I was definitely intimidated. I would always come to work with this pre-set feeling of intimidation that I was going to meet The God, and I put this tremendous sense of responsibility on myself that I wanted so much to be good for him. I just didn’t want to let Marty down. And always what I met with each day was this person who is really not intimidating, but so lovely and funny, who immediately disarms you and makes you feel like you’re funny and smart. And I would leave going…”—she mugs a smile of beatific self-confidence—“…and then the next morning I would come in, the same as before.”
And so how was it, one wonders, being stuffed into one of The Age Of Innocence’s grand and beauteous frock?
“You can’t help feel different,” she says. “You immediately stand differently, and present yourself in different way, and begin to speak differently. It’s actually very helpful to help you find a sense of the period.”
It’s no wonder there is not a lot of rumpy-pumpy in the movie, as it would take you about two years to undressed.
“Well, actually,” says Pfeiffer, “if you look at the underwear of the period, they probably wouldn’t have got undressed at all.”
But she chooses not to elaborate, so we shall turn instead to Michelle Pfeiffer’s phenomenal rise toHollywood’s A-list, being Oscar-nominated three times over the last five years and turning in some cracking performances in such diverse fare as Love Field, Dangerous Liaisons, The Fabulous Baker Boys and Batman Returns. Not bad for an ex-Miss Orange County who began with the likes of Grease 2 and Amazon Women On The Moon and who, until recently, has been well-known as not the most confident thesp inHollywood. So have things changed for her as she’s gained kudos in Tinseltown?
“I think,” Michelle Pfeiffer pontificates, “that for many people this fear of being found out is part of what drives them in their creative-process,” and then she embarks on a long one-sided discussion of this subject, based on her discussions with other “creative” people which sadly doesn’t really get to the bottom of why she thinks she’s succeeded where so many others have failed. Eventually one feels obliged to interrupt. Twenty years ago, one begins, Martin Scorsese said he didn’t know anything about women…
“That’s funny,” says Michelle Pfeiffer, though she keeps her mirth well under control.
So, do you think there is any truth in that?
Michelle Pfeiffer considers this for a moment.
“Um…I don’t know,” she says, casting her eyes around the table for the next question. Oh. It is about her adopted baby, which apparently “re-priorities everything”. Perhaps one should try a different approach. One of the more dramatic moments in the film is when Newland (Daniel Day-Lewis) falls to the floor and kisses Ellen’s feet. What was it like, I ask the woman who was Ellen, to have your feet kissed by Daniel Day-Lewis?
“Um…it’s kind of nice,” she says, looking a little perplexed.
Can you elaborate?
Presumably, I persist, during filming you were having your feet kissed for a whole morning?
“Maybe a whole day. That whole scene took about five days, and was a toughie.”
So it must be strange, I desperately persevere, to have someone groveling around your ankles for a day.
“You’d have to ask Daniel that. I’m not sure how Daniel felt about groveling around my ankles. I didn’t mind it.”
She seems far happier when someone interrupts to ask about her 19th Century curlathon of a hairdo, which apparently she doesn’t think “is the greatest look on me” but which was “right for the character” and so on. Then she talks about the eroticism which, quite truthfully, charges the air in a scene in the back of a horse-drawn cab when Newland removes her glove.
“By that time,” observes Michelle Pfeiffer, “the audience is so deprived that a little inch of flesh and people are jumping off of their seats. By that time you’re so starved for anything that you’re, ‘Yes! Yes! The wrist!’”
At this point the man from Empire unwisely attempts to crack a slightly feeble “joke”, which in retrospect wasn’t such a good idea. So will you, I ask stupidly, be doing more hand nudity in future films?
She stares at me. “What kind of article are you writing?” she inquires coldly. “You’ve talked about my foot…nudity. What’s your magazine?” Empire magazine, The film magazine.
“WHAT KIND OF ARTICLE ARE YOU WRITING? YOU’VE TALKED ABOUT MY FOOT…NUDITY. WHAT’S YOUR MAGAZINE?”
“Oh,” she says. “What’s your question?” I am forced to repeat it. She understands it even less the second time than the first. “Hand nudity?” she says again. Never mind, I say. Thankfully someone asks her about her impending nuptials and she explains that “it will be in the spring but we haven’t set a date” and so on. Then she is asked—she always is these days—about the speech she gave at a Women In Film event where she made the witty observation that, since Demi Moore went to Robert Redford for $1 Million and Uma Thurman went to Robert De Niro for $400,000, whereas three years before Julia Roberts only cost Richard Gere $3,000, then women’s values were going up.
“It had been a really shitty year for women,” explains Pfeiffer simply.
Naturally enough after such a showy performance in The Age Of Innocence, the pre-Oscar babble is already placing Pfeiffer as one of the favourites. Perhaps she would like to comment on that.
“Um…I think that’s really nice for people to be saying. It’s exciting to have people think about you in that way. I’d much rather they say that than, ‘Pfeiffer! She really stinks in The Age Of Innocence!’ But I haven’t even been nominated yet, so it’s kind of jumping the gun.”
At which point someone wants to be let Michelle know—it’s not really a question, is it?—that she seems “the most relaxed and at ease with herself.”
“Really?” replies Michelle, a little cryptically. “That’s so unusual.”
“So are you,” the journalist persists, “showing us that you’re really in a good place.”
“I am,” she agrees. “I’m really in a good place.”
Nevertheless, the good place in question is presumably not this particular one, as, immediately after answering this question Michelle Pfeiffer stands up, straightens out her grey suit, and leaves…