Michelle Pfeiffer: Into The Mind Of Michelle

Q: I have this pet theory about heaven. It is, among other things, a place where you get to see and experience great events you were too young to witness, like being at a Sinatra or Piaf concert when they were at their absolute peaks. It's also a place where one might get to see things like Michelle Pfeiffer as Evita.

A: [Laughs] That's really interesting. I don't know what my idea of heaven is. I'm not sure there is one. But if there is, I'd really like to see my dad. My dad was sick for a long time so at least I did have a chance to say a lot of things to him. It's one thing when they've been frail, but it's especially hard when they're so full of life and then get taken ill. My father had never been sick. He was strong, farm stock. He had cancer. What a terrible disease.

Q: You share spots on Most Beautiful lists with actresses sometimes 20 years your junior. Have you not yet felt any age discrimination in Hollywood?

A: I know it's coming, but I haven't felt it because I'm not quite there yet. People like Susan Sarandon and Meryl Streep have paved the way and our window of opportunity expands incrementally year by year. Obviously, the kinds of roles I'm offered are different than before, but I feel like the roles have only gotten more interesting. I want to grow up to be Judi Dench or Ellen Burstyn. The older we get, the less we work, but look at the work just those two women are doing. It gets deeper.

Q: But you must have had some sort of discontent brewing because, a few years ago, there were rumblings that you might quit the business.

A: I never stopped loving acting, but that was so overshadowed by being overwhelmed by everything else that I had to do. A couple of years ago, I ended my production company and it was like a huge weight lifted. Even though I loved the process of producing, I didn't love the responsibility of having a company. I felt like I never had any real downtime. Now, I'm just the actor and I don't worry about anything else on a movie. I now am having more fun than ever--in fact, I have a renewed passion for making movies.

Q: You've had chemistry with some of the biggest actors in Hollywood. Is there a secret to getting that?

A: The chemistry is written into the script, as it is most times. Other times, it isn't and it's like, "Oops." If you like each other as people and trust each other as performers, you have chemistry. If you don't like each other, you have to act your ass off. That's where you earn your money.

Q: Did you earn your money when you costarred with Harrison Ford on What Lies Beneath?

A: Yes [she says loudly, then laughs]. Do you think Harrison and I had chemistry?

Q: I think you probably acted your ass off.

A: Some people said we did [have chemistry]. Do you know him? Have you ever interviewed him?

Q: I don't know him.

A: I adore, adore Bob Zemeckis, who directed What Lies Beneath. I would do the Yellow Pages with him. He is technically, from the filmmaking standpoint, a master. If he wants a shot and can't get it, he'll create a camera to get it. Aside from that, he's so nice. He's not an egomaniac, a megalomaniac. It was really great working with him.

Q: Having talked recently with several people who've worked with you, the sense I get is that you're "lighter" now.

A: I'm coming into a new phase where I want levity. I always used to live in these very dark Spanish-style houses, a little like a vampire. Slowly, each house I've had over the years has become lighter and lighter. The new house we've lived in for maybe a little over a year is so bright. So much light comes into this house it really freaked me out in the beginning. The first morning I woke up there, we didn't yet have drapes so there was nowhere to hide from the light. [Laughs] I went into the bathroom and this extraordinary light was pouring in. I woke up David and said, "You've got to see this light coming into my bathroom."

Q: Do you think you're any more open today than 10 years ago, when people like Cher called you "very difficult to know"?

A: I'm slightly more open. It's unusual for a famous person to become less guarded with time. It takes me a long time to make friends, it's not easy for me. Historically, most of my friends have been men, with a few close women friends. But lately, I've made some nice new women friends.

Q: What's the worst thing about being famous?

A: The paparazzi following me around; it really scares my kids. I don't care what law is invoked, it's not right that the paparazzi should have the legal right to terrify kids. My daughter and son will say to me, "I thought people weren't just allowed to take your picture without your permission." And I have to say, "That law doesn't apply to me because I'm famous." They say, "Well, I'm not famous." I can only explain it to them by saying there are laws that are just wrong.

Q: How bad does it get? Do people rout through your trash cans?

A: I live on a private road so they're not allowed to come onto the street; otherwise, I'm sure they'd be living in my trash cans. They're insidious. I'm always showing up in the [tabloids] with my kids because they're always waiting at the school. They turn up everywhere yet my husband and I just never do anything bad. We're so boring in terms of scandal.

Q: What do people tend to be like when they approach you in public?

A: Really polite. [Laughs] They don't go out of their way to tell me how much they hate my work. Not like friends, who'll say to me after they've seen a movie, "You know, it's not my favorite performance of yours." [Laughs] I'm like, "That's over-sharing, OK?"

Q: Have you ever been to a psychic?

A: When I was very young I used to go to psychics, but I don't do that anymore. I find people mostly do that when they're really struggling. I haven't been struggling.

Q: You once compared your looks to a duck's, surely a minority opinion. How are you with your looks these days?

A: This is a conversation where there are no good answers. You know what I'm saying? But I...I...uhmm... [Laughs as she stammers] OK, I have good and bad days. Some days I wake up and think, "Hmm, you're not bad-looking." Then I have days when I just feel I look like a dog.

Q: Who, to you, is ravishing?

A: I find Cate Blanchett just so beautiful, so chameleon-like and so good in such different things. Brad Pitt is pretty great-looking. He's pretty cute. I'd like to work with him, too. There are people I love on-screen that I would love to work with. I adore George Clooney and I'd love to work with him again. I'd like to work with Ralph Fiennes. I'd like to work with Sean Penn again. I also find my husband very, very attractive.

Q: Later this year you have White Oleander coming out. Hasn't that been finished for quite a while?

A: Yes, so let me try to remember it. It's based on a really good book, a coming-of-age story set in Los Angeles about a girl, my daughter, who has grown up in foster homes because her mother's in prison. It's dark, not a lot of humor, which is what makes me a little nervous. I haven't seen the movie. It was hard, very intense. As low-budget as I Am Sam was, this was lower. I mean, you do these types of things for the art, but it becomes everything but artful because it's all about saving money. It's like, Aren't we trying to make a good movie here? Every decision that gets made is based on how much it's going to cost as opposed to the most artful choice. I hope it's good and that I don't make a fool of myself [Laughs].

Q: After so many movies and so much praise, do you still get nervous on movie sets?

A: I always feel like I'm going to be fired and that lasts pretty much through the whole first week of shooting. The first 10 years, I would shake so dramatically on the first day of shooting that I was sure the camera was picking it up. I shook a lot on Scarface because of the caliber of actors I was working with. I don't shake anymore but I still get nervous.

Q: How good an actor do you think you are these days?

A: I'm not sure that other people agree with me, but for the first time I'm liking my work. Maybe because it's easier for me to watch myself. Maybe it's that I've learned to be less critical.


Stephen Rebello interviewed Eric Bana for the Feb./Mar. issue of Movieline.

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