WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD
She’s been a teacher, a torch singer, a countess, a Catwoman. But Michelle Pfeiffer has finally found the role of a lifetime: a mother.
By Nancy Griffin, photographed by Sante D’Orazio
YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND [Picket Fences creator David E. Kelley] have two small children; at the height of your career, you’re refusing to accept plum acting roles that would take you away from home.
Yeah, I think I’m getting a reputation, because I’ve had to become kind of a hardass about it. You can work me like a dog, but I won’t allow you to make my children suffer by depriving them of me. I’ve had to turn down things I really wanted to do.
You decided not to do Evita for that reason. Didn’t you? Was that a hard decision?
It was a very hard decision. I mean, I campaigned for that part. I worked my ass off for that part. I was six months pregnant, doing Dangerous Minds, taking voice lessons, and making demos on the weekend. Then it got too expensive to keep [the production] here in Los Angeles. Maybe one day I’ll have an opportunity to sing in a movie again. I was exciting to sing in a real way. The movies I sang in before—I didn’t have to do it that well. This movie was going to demand much more from me, and I was looking forward to seeing how far I could take it. So, yeah, that was a very difficult decision, but it was absolutely the right one. I mean, other people are comfortable with moving around and shlepping their kids and their nannies—I just get unsettled.
How old are your children?
Claudia will be three soon, and John is fifteen months. You know, it’s um…what can I say? It’s the greatest thing that’s happened to me. I feel fortunate. I feel like I have, I…I have it all. But I have to delegate a lot, which is not easy for me. The hardest thing is to admitting that I can’t do everything.
Do you imagine your children growing up on sets?
David is the first person I’ve been with, ever, who wasn’t able to pick up and go with me. So it does complicate things. But in a way it’s a blessing because it keeps us rooted. They come to the set with me, and yet the older they get—it’s not that interesting for them, really. When they’re little they just sort of lie there all day and you can look at them and then go back and do your work. I don’t know how comfortable I’ll feel the older they get.
Provisions are made for children on sets: tutors, all sort of…
But it’s not about that. It’s about what their everyday experience is, and what their childhood memories are going to be. Are they just going to remember playing around on Stage 10, or playing in the park with their dog?
Have you made a rule for moment that you will not leave town to work?
No, I limit it to three weeks, four weeks. And the older the kids get, I’ll see. On [her upcoming film] Up Close & Personal, on the third week my daughter wanted to go home. That was [originally] a severn-or-eieght-week location schedule, and I said, “If you can do it in four, I’ll do the movie.” And [director] Jon Avnet got it down to three, because he’s a good guy. And he stuck to it. But the thing is, more often, they lie to you. Because I’m always up front. They know going in, and then they think they can weasel a couple more weeks out of you. And then they can’t.
–whoever, the studio or the director, they think, Well, she says…
…three weeks but we’ll get get her to do five?
And then they’re surprised to find that they can’t. I hate that, it makes me nuts.
Dangerous Minds has made more than $80million at the box office. What were the movie’s demographics—did it play really well in the inner cities?
Oh, absolutely. Disney started keying in on that audience early on, they really started out at a grass-roots level. They did a supreme marketing job. I mean, I have seen so many so botched, and this was the best I’ve seen on any movie I’ve been in.
Your company helped produce the film and you’re going to produce your next one too. Do you like acting and producing simultaneously?
It’s interesting wearing all these hats. I run into conflicts of interest with myself. [Laughs] You know, the actress is very emotional and kind of a hothead, and the producer has to stay cool and levelheaded.
And always have the bigger view.
Yeah, and the actress is selfish, and I want it my way. I’m thinking about what my needs are, not necessarily what’s best for the picture.
You’ve got Up close and Personal, a romance with Robert Redford, coming out early next year. What’s he like up close?
Bob? Well, he’s just divine. He’s so—oh, wow, he just so…generous and smart and focused and committed to the work. Solid. Really there for you.
Is he a good kisser?
[laughs] I’m not going to tell! Did someone tell you to ask me that?
No, I’m just thinking that our readers don’t want to hear about how he’s smart and generous.
Well, they’ll just have to go see the movie.
Do you have love scenes?
[Snorting nose] Well, uh, yeah. I mean, I don’t get naked or anything, but we kiss a lot in the movie. [Big Laugh] Yup.
You’ve made a lot of love stories where you’ve shared top billing with male stars such as Redford. But Dangerous Minds isn’t a romance [Andy Garcia played her love interest but was left on the cutting-room floor], and you carried it by yourself. Now that you can choose movies in which the plot revolves around you, which do u prefer?
I know what you’re saying about not having a costar in Dangerous Minds—however, there is a love story. It’s my relationship with the classroom and with the kids. And I think that to underestimate the power of those kids and their part in the success of the movie is a mistake. Because I don’t really carry the movie, they carry it with me. But in terms of the way Hollywood thinks about it…
I’m taking about the Hollywood perception.
But that’s really bullshit! [Laughs]
Still, careerwise it’s a feather in your cap that this movie is so successful.
It is, and I…I know what you’re saying. And I shoildn’t say that because—you know, I’ve gotten a big raise. But costarring with Redford was really a relief. Carrying a movie is stressful. I find it to be very lonely. It was much more relaxing doing Up Close & Personal, where I could just concentrate on the acting. On Dangerous Minds I was discussing what we were shooting next with [director John N. Smith] and getting Elaine May on the phone and saying, “We don’t have a scene to shoot tomorrow, please fax us something!” And keeping in touch with the author of the book.
A lot more. It’s very isolating, because you can’t just hang out and be a part of the cast.
I would think it would be scarier when the movie opens too.
It’s scarier, and then it’s much more gratifying. You know, I had never looked at box office before Dangerous Minds.
Honest to God. I don’t subscribe to the trades, I don’t get them. And on Dangerous Minds, every day I looked at the mumbers. I didn’t even know how to read the numbers until Dangerous Minds, but it was because I had made so much more of an investment in it.
The conventional thinking in Hollywood is that women can’t carry movies in the way men do. Even Demi Morre, one of the most highly paid female stars, has costarred with male stars in her big hits.
[Pauses] See, I don’t even think about that. I never thought that Demi never carried her—I mean, I never thought of it till you said this.
Anyway, it’s great Dangerous Minds has done so well….
It’s thrilling, and on so many levels too. And what it says about kids today, I think it’s so great that they’re going to see this movie. I don’t think we give them enough credit. If you give them a product, they’ll show up
Let’s talk about nudity….
[Smiles] The biggest prude in the industry? You want to know: What is the deal with you?
I heard that Paul Verhoeven asked you if you were interested in doing Mistress o the Seas, a period film about a female pirate, which required nudity.
I’ve had two meetings with Paul Verhoeven. I met with him on two separate projects, and both conversations were about how much skin I would show.
Were you at all fascinated by the idea of playing a pirate?
[Nods] The first read-through, I thought, What a great character, here is this woman in a man’s world being like a man. She is so powerful, and she uses sex the way a man uses sex. But when I tried to get beyond my own—look, my whole deal with nudity is, I’m a prude. I have no moral problem with other people doing it. It’s just that I’m embarrassed. People who aren’t embarrassed, I think—great. I never felt comfortable with it. The script intrigued me, but then when I really analyzed it I didn’t like it so much, because I felt, like, here is a woman behaving in the very ways that she finds most despicable in men. It doesn’t make it okay just because you’re a woman and it’s been done to you. Did you ever read the scripts?
I read an early version, then I heard they were changing it to expand the male part for Harrison Ford, because none of the big male stars would play second fiddle to a woman.
And God forbid the woman should carry it! Interesting script though, didn’t you think?
Yes. I wonder what Verhoeven would have done with it, in light of Showgirls. Did you like Showgirls?
Uhhh…no. no, I didn’t. [Flustered] I—I can’t talk about it in an interview. What was interesting was that it was on the heels of Mistress of the Seas that he went and did Showgirls. So it was almost like—there’s some connection here, some kind of backlash to her experience on that project.
What’s going on with the Georgia O’Keefe project?
It seems like that may be happening really soon. I can’t say anything specific, but it seems there’s an actor who wants to play Alfred Stieglitz who is acceptable to everyone and a director who wants to direct it, so we’ll see.
Besides a musical, is there any other movie genre you’d like to try? Would you like to make an action movie? I get the impression you’re not big on guns.
No, but, you know, I really liked doing Catwoman. We talked about doing a Catwoman movie. I really hope that it happens, but I don’t know if it will.
What have your personal favorite movies been of the past year?
My favorite movie this year was Muriel’s Wedding. I liked Seven very much, I liked The Usual Suspects a lot. I loved How to Make an American Quilt. There have been some really good movies this year. I liked Apollo 13 very much.
Anything you’ve seen where you got the feeling, God, I would have liked to have been in this?
American Quilt, even though there was no part for me. I envied all of those women working together.
Do you lose sleep at night thinking about the great parts you’ve passed up?
I mourn them. But I know that there will be good projects. They do still occasionally shoot movies in Los Angeles! I know that there’s plenty of other opportunities, and you can’t do everything. I just can’t complain about my life or my career, because—how can I complain? I’m so satisfied with both.