S Magazine | May 10, 2009

S Magazine | May 10, 2009

Michelle Pfeiffer hit a big milestone last year – but she still looks good enough to catch eye of Keira Knightley’s boyfriend, as Jessica Franks reports

Like most women, Michelle Pfeiffer was dreading her 50th birthday. “Turning 30 and 40 didn’t bother me” says the star. “But 50 was a little harder to ignore…” For Michelle, that landmark birthday happened last year while she was making Chéri, a film in which she plays Lea, an ageing Parisian courtesan who falls for a much younger man.

“The film certainly puts the subject of ageing onm the table,” says Michelle. “It’s a real coming-of-age story of Lea – and her younger lover. It’s about crossing that threshold into the next stage of her life, and I’ve crossed that threshold. It’s like it looms over you and you’re dreading it. Nobody wants to turn 50 but actually, once you do, it’s not such a big deal. For me, it’s been kind of liberating. And that’s a relief, to know that there’s life after 50 – who knew?”

A radiant smile follows this remakrs. And when Michelle Pfeiffer smiles, she lights up the whole room. Now 51, the actress, who calls herself “a late bloomer”, looks a good 15 years younger, and she’s still one of Hollywood’s great beauties. But Michelle is all too aware that this won’t always be the case.

“I remember going through the stills for a movie,” she says. “I must have been in my mid-thirties, and for the first time I saw that the little girl had left my face. It wasn’t necessarily that there were wrinkles – it was just seeing that the girl was gone.”

It can’t help that her Chéri co-star 27-year-old Rupert Friend, the hot British actor who played Prince Albert in The Young Victoria and is currently dating Keira Knightley.

“Oh he’s lovely – a really talented guy,” says Michelle. “But it’s so strange, my co-stars seem to get younger with each film. That’s it though – I’m not going any younger than Rupert!

Michelle reckons that the topic of older women dating young men is still taboo.

“it’s ridiculous because men see women who are 20 or 30 years younger than them, yet when it’s the other way round it’s a little bit scandalous. I’m not sure if it’s becoming more socially acceptable, but people are becoming more tolerant about it, and they obviously intrigued by the subject matter of this movie.”

So could Michelle herself be susceptible to the charms of a younger man?

“No,” she says without hesitation. “Because I’m madly in love with mu husband, and when you’re in love with someone you can’t imagine that. If I weren’t, maybe I could.”

Michelle is referring to her second husband, TV producer David E Kelley, whom she married in 1993 (her marriage to her first husband, actor Peter Horton, ended 1988 after seven years).

Home life is a priority for Michelle these days – so much so that she took a four-year sabbatical from acting and has only recently returned to it.

“I hadn’t read anything that made me want to go back to work,” explains the actress, who has two children, 15-year-old Claudia Rose, who is adopted, and John Henry, her 14-year-old son with David. “But I think that was a sign that I needed the break. When I was ready to go back, all of a sudden I liked a bunch of things, so it depends where your mindset is.

“I was quite happy not working,” she continues. “I didn’t actually realize that so much time had gone by, which is crazy. We moved house and that was big – getting the kids settled into schools and that kind of thing was very time-consuming. I guess you could say I was living my life.”

It was a little-noticed drama I Could Never Be Your Woman that tempted her back to work, but she’s since been seen as witch in the British fantasy movie Stardust and as pushy mum Velma Von Tussle in the musical Hairspray.

“That was crazy,” says Michelle. “If ever I had second thoughts about playing a part it was that one. I loved the project and the people involved, but once I’d committed to the film, it suddenly dawned on me that I was playing a racist. I’ve played a lot of different things – I’ve played murderers, you know – but that really got me.”

Michelle has been turning her talents to different roles for the best part of thress decades now. The second of four children, she was born and raised in California, where she tried her hand at various jobs – working as a supermarket check-out girl, training to be a court reporter and even dallying with beauty pageants (she’s a former Miss Orange Country) – before settling on acting. By the end of 1970s she had notched up minor roles in TV and film, but her big break came in 1982 when she landed the lead in Grease 2. A year later she was cast opposite Al Pacino in Scarface, and subsequent performance in The Witches of Eastwick, Batman Returns, Frankie & Johnny and The Russia House made her one of Hollywood’s most sought-after screen beauties. But for Michelle, it was the 1988 film Married to the Mob that marked her out as a serious actress.

“it was such a departure from how people saw me,” she recalls. “It opened up their idea of what I could do.”

Industry insiders clearly thought so too. Three Oscar nominations followed – for The Fabulous Baker Boys, Love Field and Dangerous Liaisons, arguably her most memorable film.

There are obvious parallels to be drawn with Chéri and Dangerous Liaisons – and not just because of the subject matter. The two films share the same director and screenwriter (Stephen Frears and Christopher Hampton respectively), so Chéri has been something of a reunion for Michelle.

“I was lucky to be able to work with Stephen the first time, although back then I didn’t really know anything about him or what I was getting into. But I was delighted when he called me about Chéri – it was just so out of the blue. I was actually way more excited about this project than I was about doing Dangerous Liaisons.”

There is one thing the actress hated about the film, however. “I really didn’t like the costumes,” she says. “it’s like everything is a chore when you’re wearing them. And the hats – they’re gorgeous but they are not comfortable, believe me.

“I’m a comfortable clothes kind of girl,” continues Michelle, with another of her dazzling smiles.

“I tend to wear everything two sizes too big so there aren’t any restrictions.”

Perhaps turning 50 does have its perks after all. It has, if nothing else, put life into perspective for the actress.

“The truth is, at this age you see people you love go through a lot of hardships. People die, or they get ill and their quality of life is diminished. You just begin to count your blessings and realize how lucky you are.”

Chéri is out now.

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