Compass | July 2007
Stylish and self-assured
One to one with Michelle Pfeiffer
IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE THAT Michelle Pfeiffer is almost 50. Whether her youthful complexion is down to her long and happy marriage, her two children or her latest starring role as Velma Von Tussle in the new film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical Hairspray it’s impossible to say. One thing is certain however: Michelle has never looked better.
“I don’t feel my age,” she says. “I certainly don’t think I’ve changed over the years. Accepting my age is easier for me now than it was in my early 40s. Ageing happens to all of us. Once you accept it, it unburdens you.
“I have also learned to relax over the years,” she continues. “Some of that is because I’ve got older, some of it is down to therapy. But a lot of the reason is my family. We have a good life and do normal things together just like everyone else.”
Michelle is married to David Kelley; one of the most prolific writers in American television. Creator of Ally McBeal, Chicago Hope, The Practice, Boston Public and Boston Legal, Kelley rose to fame with his mentor, Steve Bochco, after creating LA Law and Doogie Howser, MD.
“David loves exploring the human condition,” says Michelle. “I’m a big fan of his writing. I get mad at him sometimes when he kills people off, though. Then I’ll say; ‘Did you have to do that?’ ”
Throughout her career, Michelle has adamantly refused to work with her husband, insisting that she has no desire to mix their personal and professional lives. When The Practice spun off Boston Legal, which stars James Spader and William Shatner, David was eager to cast his wife in the part that eventually went to Candice Bergen – but Michelle was not interested.
The couple married in 1993, shortly after Michelle adopted a bi-racial girl whom she named Claudia Rose. After her first marriage ended in divorce, Michelle had highly publicized romances with John Malkovich, Fisher Stevens and Alec Baldwin. It was her best friend, Kate Guinzburg, who engineered a date with David. “We got off to a rocky start,” Michelle recalls. “I thought he was attractive but that was almost a detriment at that point. I wasn’t into cute. Fortunately; he had a couple of good scars on his face, and had broken his nose after playing football. That got me through. We had a bigger problem with conversation: he was quiet and so was I. In fact, when his agent heard we were dating, he asked David, ‘What’s she like?’ And when David answered: ‘She’s real quiet,’ his agent said: ‘Then who talks?’ Since then we’ve certainly discovered how to talk a good argument!”
Since Michelle’s relationship with Claudia Rose was still so new, it was critically important to her that Kelley fall in love with her daughter before he fell in love with her. “I always knew I wanted children and to be married,” she says. “I chose to adopt Claudia first and then invited David into our lives. As you get older, you come into a relationship with more baggage. Before David, I’d rushed into things a few too many times. I never liked dating, so I didn’t linger where I should have. Because of Claudia, David and I never had a normal courtship. We got together and became parents right away.”
Their wedding coincided with Claudia Rose’s christening and, seven months later, Michelle was pregnant with their son, John Henry. “Right from the beginning, I knew it was important to keep the spark of romance alive in our relationship,” she says. “When you care for children, it’s important to schedule special time to spend together as it doesn’t happen spontaneously. We have a ‘date night.’ On Saturday night we go out on a date and I look forward to that ‘date’ all week. Adults really need private time. I see couples who don’t do that and use their kids to avoid each other. Once you’ve been doing that too long, it gets hard to stop doing it.”
Michelle’s latest starring role is as former Miss Baltimore Crabs beauty queen turned bitter TV station owner in Hairspray, the film version of the Broadway musical about star-struck teenagers on a local dance show. While some may be surprised that she’s doing her own singing in Hairspray; alongside the likes of John Travolta and Queen Latifah, Michelle actually came to public attention in the musical sequel Grease 2, and won further acclaim in The Fabulous Baker Boys and the animated Prince of Egypt. “Hairspray has been very exciting for me,” she enthuses. “There are lots of new songs in the film that are absolutely brilliantly written, including one for me.”
Over the years, Michelle has turned down several high profile parts in Basic Instinct, Silence of the Lambs and Evita – for the sake of her children. Although she doesn’t regret her choices, the one role she still says she’d love to do would be Eva Peron, a part that eventually went to Madonna.
“Not doing it was the right choice at the time,” she says. “I finished Dangerous Minds when I was seven months pregnant and straight away started doing demos for Oliver Stone, who was set to direct Evita. But when I had my son and discovered that the film would be made in England, I realized I had to say no.”
So is there a tape of Michelle Pfeiffer singing Don’t Cry for Me Argentina floating round a Hollywood screening room, I ask her? “Ah, don’t talk about it,” she cringes. “My son doesn’t like me to sing under any circumstance and I think it was because I practised so many Evita songs when he was in my belly. He was probably in there going, ‘Arrrgh!'”
Asked to name her faults, Michelle blushes. “I giggle,” she confesses. “When I’m feeling shy or uncomfortable, I giggle -and it’s completely annoying. It’s a defence mechanism, I know. It’s just what I do.
”I’m also a terrible perfectionist. It’s constantly frustrating because you can’t perfect acting, can you? To do what I do is ~ a perfectionist’s worst nightmare because there can never, ever be any relief. I have to remind myself just to do the best I can.”
Michelle says that she’s yet to be tempted by plastic surgery like so many of her contemporaries – for the time being at least. “So much of the way I look depends on the photographer or the cameraman,” she observes. “I think the years have been kind to me, but I know they’re also gently taking their toll. For a while, it seemed like the only actress who was ageing gracefully was Susan Sarandon. But look at Jessica Lange, Meryl Streep and Catherine Deneuve – they are really beautiful older women. I’d like to think I have a few years in me yet!”