MICHELLE GETS PERSONAL
The star discusses her addiction to carbohydrates, why she refuses to get Botox, and the nightly ritual she and her husband share.
Michelle Pfeiffer exposes her private side to Caroline Doyle Karasyov. Photographed by Patrick Demarchelier
Michelle Pfeiffer conducts meetings in her bathroom. It’s her favorite room in the Los Angeles house that she and her husband, writer-producer David E. Kelley, moved into a little more than a year ago. Of course, it is no ordinary bathroom. Along with the requisite bathtub and toilet, it has a view of the ocean, a desk, a computer, and a daybed. And although Michelle and David have never once had a dinner party in their new house and do not generally entertain, Michelle will, on certain occasions, invite people into her powder room. In fact, it is where she recently hosted the parents of her daughter’s classmates to work on a school project together.
It seems kind of quirky, and yet Michelle insists that despite bathroom conferences and being an Academy Award-nominated actress who is generally regarded as one of the most beautiful and talented women in Hollywood, she leads a very normal existence.
“My day-to-day life is really mundane,” says Michelle over a Caesar salad, steamed vegetables, and whitefish in a Los Angeles restaurant. (Michelle has eaten fish for virtually every lunch interview she has participated in for the past 12 years. “If I can force myself to eat fish, I do,” she replies after being informed of this fact. She then laughs and insists, “But I’m a carbohydrate person. Desserts don’t do it for me, but I could live on bread.”) “When I’m not working, I get the kids [daughter Claudia Rose is nine, son John is eight] ready for school, then David drives them. I work out at the gym if I’m not completely overscheduled, and do all my meetings pertaining to work until I pick up the kids. Then I just drive them everywhere, like all moms.”
And at night? “I’ll be in bed with the television-guide channel on, sitting there surfing, until David comes in and says, ‘Oh, honey, watching the guide again?’ I don’t actually watch any shows, just the guide about 20 minutes a day. I keep thinking someday, something is going to come on that I really want to watch.”
But surely things are more exciting when she’s on-set, filming a movie? Not really, says Michelle: “When I’m not actually shooting, I’m in my trailer working on scenes that are coming up for the rest of the week so that at night I can be with the kids. During filming, I don’t read other scripts, I don’t take meetings, nobody can have lunch with me, and I don’t even usually talk to my agent.”
She admits that “the parts you like the least growing up end up being an asset– like my lips or skinny legs.”
Quality time with her family is crucial to Michelle. While she has “a handful of friends that we see socially,” most of her time is spent with David and the kids. Though her maternal instincts are overwhelmingly strong today, Michelle recalls: “When I did The Witches of Eastwick, I had five little kids [in the movie], and I was completely clueless. One night, I had them over to my hotel room and I remember saying to Cher [her costar]. ‘What do I do with them?’ I didn’t know what to feed them. I didn’t know how to amuse them.”
Aside from her husband and children, Michelle sees a lot of her siblings: older brother Rick and younger sisters Dedee, an actress, and Lori, a former model. “We’re really close,” she says. “I hear about siblings who say, ‘Oh, I haven’t talked to my brother in 10 years,’ and I cannot even fathom that reality. I mean, we fight and go for periods of not talking, but not years.”
In fact, Michelle is so close with Dedee that days prior to this interview she was in the delivery room when her sister gave birth to a baby boy. “We haven’t had a new baby in a while, and it’s gotten everybody all crazy and excited,” says Michelle euphorically. “Gorgeous child, delicious. I was the photographer, and I had never seen a birth before. It was extraordinary! It made me want to become a midwife. I just thought, Wow, to do this every day, to bring life into the world, what a way to reaffirm belief in humanity.”
The proximity of the ever-growing extended family certainly makes life easier and more fun for Michelle, and yet despite that, she is unsure if she would like to remain in Los Angeles, or even on the West Coast for that matter. “I would like to not raise the kids here in L.A. when they get into high school,” says Michelle. “But David is less willing to go back east. He’s from there and he’s not looking forward to bitter-cold winters. L.A. is so saturated with industry. I just want the kids to have some balance.”
Although Michelle grew up under the same sun-kissed Southern California sky as her children, her childhood probably bore little resemblance to theirs. Born in 1958, Michelle was raised in Midway City, where her father-who died four years ago-was a heating-and-air contractor, her mother a homemaker. Her brief stints in college and as a checkout girl in a grocery store have been well documented, as has her short tenure as Miss Orange County. It was her beauty that first caught the public’s attention, in Grease 2 and Scarface, but it was her performances in Dangerous Liaisons and The Fabulous Baker Boys that captivated the critics and solidified her position as one of Hollywood’s leading ladies.
Her latest role is as Ingrid in White Oleander (based on the best-selling novel by Janet Fitch). Throughout her career, Michelle has had a tendency to portray intense and tortured characters, and the chillingly dark and homicidal Ingrid is no exception. In a life that seems so golden, Michelle seems to purposely choose the most complex and haunted roles.
“I don’t mean to do a lot of draining roles,” she insists. “I always go into it and think, Oh, this will be fun, and this will be light, and maybe I turn them into serious roles.” Michelle thinks for a minute and mentally scans her acting repertoire. She sighs and confesses, “I don’t find straight comedies interesting. I mean, I think the best comedy comes out of real-life situations. The funniest moments are also tragic ones. When my father was dying of cancer, everyone’s guard was let down. And out of that, not only was there tremendous sadness, but there were moments that were hysterically funny.” Michelle pauses; her grief from her father’s death is evidently still raw, as if it happened yesterday: “It has always surprised me how in some of my darkest moments, humor comes out, and you sort of feel guilty, but you know it’s funny. I guess it’s because the human psyche can only take so much. You get hysterical [with laughter] the time you need it most.”
Darkness and humor are themes that appear to resonate for Michelle. It does not seem unusual when she cites American Beauty, Monsoon Wedding, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and Moulin Rouge (“I laughed out loud during that, and I cried ,” she recalls) as her list of recent favorite movies. All examine that delicate line between joy and tragedy and are filled with moments where you are not sure if you should laugh or cry (although she also fesses up to loving Legally Blonde, which she thought was “hysterically funny and really well acted”).
Michelle’s reading choices follow an equally introspective theme. Currently on her bedside table is Mozart’s Brain and the Fighter Pilot, which is an examination of memory and how the brain works. She is not worried about getting old, but she is worried about getting forgetful. “It’s actually a little bit better now, but I go through periods where it’s just really scary. I get overwhelmed. There’s just too much information, and my brain is trying to keep it all in,” she admits. That said, she is unable to remember the name of the most recent novel she read. “See?” she says with a laugh. “That’s why I’m reading a book on how to increase your memory.” Other reading materials include a book on raising children, Time, and Newsweek, but not much else. She says she is typically too busy to read.
Michelle also insists that she has very little time to shop: “I tend to shop at photo shoots; that’s my one opportunity. I go through phases were I’m a little more interested in what I have on, and then I go through phases where I just want to wear Levi’s and a T-shirt and not be bothered.” On the particular day we meet, Michelle is clad in a shiny golden Gucci shirt, what she believes is a jacket by Lainey, and white Josie pants, although she seems not quite certain . She’s wearing black vintage sandals (evocative of the Three’s Company era) that she has had “for maybe 10 years. So long they came back. I love them because they are so comfortable and they don’t hurt my feet. Everything hurts my feet.”
Michelle’s favorite designer is Giorgio Armani, and she has had an enduring fashion relationship with him for the past decade, appearing in one of his creations at virtually every awards show. “Armani never lets me down,” she raves. “No one does a simple black dress like him. And I know if I wear something of his, it will look right. Because if left to my own devices, I can go really wrong…. I can go Orange County really fast. It can be fun, but you don’t necessarily want it documented in a magazine to haunt you forever.”
Despite her tendency to play fashion on the safe side, however, Michelle wishes she had not been as tame as she was for her and Kelley’s wedding, in 1993. “I had a new dress made with vintage fabric,” she explains. “But if I had to do it all over again, I think I’d get a big poufy dress.”
Aside from this aberration, Michelle remains low-key about her appearance. At 44, an age when most actresses are rushing to their doctor’s office to get touch-ups, Michelle says, “Plastic surgery really scares me. Even Botox scares me.” She opts instead to use Jurlique products for her “temperamental skin.”
“Armani never lets me down. If left to my own devices, I can go really wrong, really fast.”
As for maintaining her figure, she refuses to jump on the yoga bandwagon. “I hate yoga. It hurts,” she explains. “The teacher goes on to someone else in the class who’s having trouble and you’re like, ‘I can’t do this.’” Instead, she does regular Pilates and cardiovascular workouts and also plays hockey on Rollerblades, shoots hoops, or climbs the jungle gym with her kids. “You can’t believe how hard the monkey bars are these days,” she says.
Michelle cites her hands as her favorite feature and admits that “the parts you like the least growing up end up being an asset-like my lips or skinny legs.” She then concedes that she wouldn’t have minded bigger breasts.
Other than that, the only changes Michelle would like to make are learning to relax and getting more rest. She confesses, “I function in chaos really, really well. If I plan one thing, I’ll plan 20. I can’t imagine a day where I have nothing to do. But recently, what I’m trying to do is tell myself, Just because there’s a blank spot on your schedule, you don’t have to fill it. It’s a new realization for me.”
Michelle Pfeiffer can be seen this month in White Oleander.
ADDICTED TO ARMANI
With her husband at the Golden Globes; at the Producers Guild’s Golden Laurel Awards; in pinstripes at the Family Celebration fund-raiser; presenting at the AFl Awards; snapped at the Cast Away premiere; at a Museum of Television & Radio gala; at the What Lies Beneath premiere; in the perfect black dress.