Michelle Pfeiffer. Seriously.
Why is this woman in such a playful mood? One successful marriage, two fun kids, three big films in the pipeline…and countless pets. What’s not to smile about?
Written by Johanna Schneller | Photographed by Satoshi Saikusa | Styled by Freddie Leiba
MICHELLE PFEIFFER CAN’T SLEEP. IT’S ALL THE rustling around and panting. Not from her—it’s from her Newfoundland puppy, whose bed is in the corner of her room. “And he’s going to get three times larger,” Pfeiffer says, her blue eyes wide. She can’t pass him off—her daughter, Claudia Rose, 13, and her son, John Henry, 12, each sleep with a dog of their own. And then there are the cat and the tree frog, the horses and the miniature donkeys—a pair of them. “They suffer from depression if they’re alone, so we had to get two,” she says. “They’re pretty darn cute, these tiny things with enormous eyes and huge ears. They’re smaller than the dog.” Until recently the family also had a rat, but it died.
“I look back and cringe that i took some things so seriously. i laugh at myself more now. it is so liberating!”
If you’re wondering where Pfeiffer has been (her last film was White Oleander in 2002), there’s one answer: Two years ago she and her husband of nearly 13 years, the TV writer/producer David E. Kelley (Boston Legal), moved from L.A to Northern California. “My life is just ever so slightly slower now,” Pfeiffer says. “L.A. has been incredibly good to me, but we wanted to try something different. I create busyness wherever I am though. In fact, I’m busier than ever.”
She has been getting the family settled, “figuring out where to buy a shoelace,” she says. She has also been getting lost—“literally every time I’d leave the house. It’s running joke with me and my kids: ‘How lost will Mom get today?’”
Looking at Pfeiffer. You’d never know she was the mistress of a menagerie. When she enters a room backlist by the smoggy sunlight pouring in from floor-to-ceiling windows of a house in the Hollywood Hills, her beauty is staggering. When she ponders an answer, her head falls over the back of her chair, exposing her long throat, her butter-blond hair hanging like a gleaming shield. Her legs, in snug jeans, go on and on, like those of her horses.
Pfeiffer is 48 now and comfortable enough in the role of older woman to poke fun at it. In her new film I Could Never Be Your Woman, she plays a TV exec who falls for Paul Rudd, 11 years her junior. “Honestly, I don’t feel older,” she says. “I certainly see that I’ve changed; I just try not to dwell on it. Now it’s easier than I was in my early 40s. I’m over that hump. Aging happens to every single one of us. Once you accept that, it unburdens you.”
She thinks about plastic surgery, she says, “just like all women. I toy with it. When I’m rested, taking good care of myself, exercising, happy, I think I look pretty darn OK. I can hold off on that facelift for another few years. When I’m feeling weary, then I think, Maybe I better make that appointment.” And right now? “Not thinking about it,” she replies. “On the other hand, I’ve seen some amazing-looking plastic surgery. But who knows if that’s what you’ll get? There are some freakish things going on right now. I’m hoping I’m courageous enough to age gracefully.”
Pfeiffer makes the cliché some true: She just keeps getting better. In her younger days (see sidebar, page 103), she felt unsettled, desperate to be in control, sometimes drawn to men who weren’t right for her. “I think I was a little too enamored with danger and things that were not good,” she says. “Now I can’t even imagine what went on in my head to make me find that attractive. Snore.” She often felt like “a conquest, a trophy. I hated it.”
“Since we met, David and I have had date night every Saturday. I still really look forward to it.”
But much to her surprise, Pfeiffer has lived a pretty logical arc. When it’s pointed out that she established her personality in her teens, her career in her 20s and her family in her 30s, she responds: “I hadn’t thought of that until this moment. When you’re in it, finding yourself, it just feels like a big mess. I was so convinced that I was going to screw up my life. But if you had told me then that in my 40s I would have a great career, and amazing husband and beautiful children, I never would have believed it.”
Though Pfeiffer’s main challenge remains balancing work and family, she’s ready to make movies again; she just finished shooting the fantasy film Stardust, opposite Robert De Niro. “I’m a better mother if I also work. Leaving home for little spurts is actually good. Things don’t fall apart. It empowers them without me hovering, making everyone feel inadequate.” She laughs. “What I love about the ages the kids are now is that I don’t have to filter myself as much. I can slowly unload to them.” She laughs again.
She peels off a set of photo-shoot false eyelashes, readying herself to fly home. The only thing she still misses from her former life, she says, is sleep. “After Claudia was born, I remember thinking, When she sleeps through the night, I’ll catch up. Then my son came, and I thought, OK, eventually I won’t feel tired. I realized last year that that is never going to happen. The good news is, I run well on adrenaline. I’m probably more efficient than if I’m rested.” Just as well, since Pfeiffer won’t be sleeping anytime soon—this month, she’s getting another puppy. Because at this point in her life, there’s no such thing as too much.
A Look Back
Pfeiffer recalls childhood bunnies, teen romance and her early years in Hollywood
“I remember being dirty, barefoot, with stringy hair, running around, nobody knowing where I was half the time. I could not stop talking back to my mother. I was very willful, and I couldn’t take no for an answer. I drove my parents insane. I had rabbits that I loved, but I don’t remember having a lot of friends. It seemed like a transient neighborhood [in Midway City, California]. I would become friends with somebody, and then all of a sudden they’d move. I started wondering if some of them were running from the law because they’d just disappear! This happened over and over again. How sad! [She laughs] No wonder I find it hard getting close to people.”
As a teenager…
“I was always out because I hated being home, although I loved my room, stereo, guitar, clothes and makeup. I was anywhere but at school. I got my driver’s license on my 16th birthday; that changed my life. I had a group of girls, and we palled around. Mainly I was preoccupied by boys. I had my first serious boyfriend when I was 16. we went to the beach a lot, misbehaving. I started college a couple times. I was drawn to the arts, but I couldn’t focus. I really wanted a career, so one day I asked myself, ‘What is it you want to do?’ Not, ‘What do you think you could do,’ but ‘What is it, if somebody could just hand it to you?’ And it was acting. So I thought, Well, I’m young enough; if I fail I can do something else. I started taking classes, got a commercial agent and started commuting [to L.A.].”
In her 20s…
“My 20s were all about acting. Whenever I was studying acting, singing or dance, I was happy. Having come from feeling as a teenager that if left to my own devices I would certainly mess up my life, I learned in my 20s how to keep myself centered and balanced: anything having to do with the arts. I knew I was good at it after I’d done a couple of television movies. They weren’t big parts, but I was cast against type, not for my looks. I felt I’d proved to myself that I could really do it. I’m not going to say which TV movies! But it felt good at the time.”
Then her 30s…
“My 30s really became about family. Becoming a mother was my big focus; work took a back seat. I never wanted to stop working and solely stay home, but everything shifted. There’s nothing harder and more rewarding than being a parent, especially when you’re a type A, it-better-be-perfect personality. But I surprised myself with how much I loved it. Before, when I knew they were coming, I had that period of time where I thought, what am I doing? I don’t know how to be a parent. I’m going to fail! Complete panic. Then Claudia came, and my only thought was, why did I wait so long to do this?”
for more images by photographer Satoshi Saikusa, please visit COVER GIRL Gallery.