Michelle Pfeiffer: Now I can walk around naked! That’s kind of nice
Now that her own children have left home, Michelle Pfeiffer is planning to make the most of it, she tells James Mottram
It’s mid-October when Michelle Pfeiffer glides into town. While she’s here to talk up her new film, Mob comedy The Family, with Miley Cyrus all over the news like an irritable rash, conversation swiftly turns to her twerking antics. ‘She’s just reinventing herself and she has the right to do that,’ offers Pfeiffer, whose daughter, Claudia Rose, is the same age as the provocative 20-year-old singer. ‘She hasn’t killed anybody. I think a lot of it is by design.’
Dressed conservatively in a black trouser suit, you can’t imagine Pfeiffer gyrating for attention. But even in her heyday, slithering over that grand piano in her Oscar-nominated turn in The Fabulous Baker Boys or licking Michael Keaton as Catwoman in Batman Returns, the actress always let her sexuality sizzle with a bit of decorum. A former beauty queen – Miss Orange County, 1978 – who kickstarted her career in Grease 2, even three decades on, the slender, graceful 55-year-old could probably give most pageant hopefuls a run for their money.
The way she sees it, it’s always been ‘difficult’ for young women to survive in the entertainment business – and nothing’s changed. ‘I’m not really sure that young stars are behaving any worse,’ she says. ‘First of all, the lines have moved; the lines of what’s acceptable. The boundaries keep being pushed. In order to achieve shock value, you have to go to extremes these days. At the same time, a lot of behaviour that used to be considered extreme isn’t. It’s just a different time and different rules apply.’
The second of four children, Pfeiffer’s own rebellion came early – before the cameras were ever on her. Her father, an air conditioning contractor, was ‘strict and conservative’ but that didn’t stop the teenage Pfeiffer ditching school to go to the mall or the beach. For a time, she just wanted to be a surfer chick. Later, when she arrived in Los Angeles, she met a couple who lured her into a cult devoted to ‘breatharianism’ – one that believed humans can exist without food and water – and it was only her first husband, actor Peter Horton, who saved her.
It’s amusing to imagine how she’d have managed on this ridiculous fad diet while shooting her latest film, which took her to the calorific country that is France. Directed by Luc Besson, The Family sees her and Robert De Niro play Maggie and Fred Blake, a former Mob couple hiding out in Normandy with their two children in the witness protection programme after snitching on a Brooklyn Mafia kingpin. Think Goodfellas, with more brie and baguettes, as the Blakes try and get used to their new Gallic neighbours.In some ways, it recalls Jonathan Demme’s 1988 comedy Married To The Mob, in which Pfeiffer’s widowed Mafia spouse Angela de Marco saw her up for a Golden Globe – the first of six nominations she received in consecutive years.
Pfeiffer admits she’d always wanted to dip back into this world, even at the risk of comparing The Family to Demme’s film. ‘I thought: “I’m just going to figure out who this character is and have fun doing it.”’ Given she’s also played Tony Montana’s coke-snorting moll in Scarface, Pfeiffer has done almost as many Mob movies as De Niro. ‘Well, not quite,’ she laughs. ‘There’s still time to catch up.’ Has she ever met any real gangsters? ‘I can’t say for sure because they don’t really declare themselves as “Mob people” but I think there have been some people in my past who probably were connected.’ Such as? ‘Just people,’ she says, warily. ‘People you run into.’
If again this shows the dangers for naive young starlets, Pfeiffer has always navigated Hollywood extremely well – bouncing between critical hits such as The Age Of Innocence and commercial ones such as Dangerous Minds. She even dared to take a four-year hiatus in 2003 to look after her children.
‘I wasn’t reading anything that compelled me to go back to work,’ she shrugs. Never worrying about returning, she then came back strongly in Hairspray and Stardust.
Now she’s facing that age-old problem that every parent deals with. ‘I’m an empty-nester,’ she says. With Claudia Rose already out of the house, just three weeks ago, Pfeiffer saw her second child, 19-year-old John Henry, depart for his first year at college. Suddenly that house she shares in California with Ally McBeal creator David E Kelley feels a mite quieter. Difficult? She smiles. ‘I’m going to arrive at that place but I’m not there yet,’ she says. ‘Now I’m just like: “I can walk around naked!” That’s kind of nice.’
While that’s a thought for her male fans to wrestle with, Pfeiffer points out one other advantage: she can now shoot a film wherever she wants – without having to put parenting responsibilities first.
Planning to make Whatever Makes You Happy, a comedy with Diane Keaton and Viola Davis, in March, the location no longer matters to her. ‘For the first time in 20 years, I didn’t have to think about that,’ she cries. ‘I’m free!’ Bahamas, here she comes.
The Family opens tomorrow.