Michelle Pfeiffer – Survivor

July 2018

By Philip Berk

By any measure Michelle Pfeiffer is a survivor. 

But will she ever regain her superstar status? 

Aye there’s the rub.

A career that started with Grease 2 thirty six years ago soon made her the It-girl landing roles opposite Al Pacino in Scarface, Mel Gibson in Tequila Sunset, and Jack Nicholson in Witches of Eastwick. 

But it was her Oscar nominated performance in Dangerous Liaisons that made her a top Hollywood star. She followed that with another Oscar nominated performance as a chanteuse in The Fabulous Baker Boys. And a third in Love Field.

At which time she ended her unhappy marriage to actor-director Peter Horton and married writer David E. Kelley, at the time  Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor.

The two have been blissfully together for over twenty years and although she’s continued to handpick roles nothing that she’s done since has found acceptance with either critics or the public, although I personally admired A Thousand Acres, which she also produced, and White Oleander, but the public weren’t buying.

Her biggest win since has been her personal life.

After three failed relationships and one divorce, personal happiness seemed out of reach, but then suddenly within weeks, she adopted a baby and then met and married the man of her dreams.

A year later she gave birth to their son.

Those things usually happen only in movies, but Michelle disagrees.

For her it was a natural progression.

In David Kelley she has found her soul mate and someone who’s equally attractive, intelligent, and successful. 

Once considered the most beautiful actress in Hollywood she hasn’t changed that much.

How do you take care of yourself?

For me, it’s what you eat and exercise too is critical.  When I am not working I pack on a few and I don’t look so good, but when I am working, I make an extra effort. Staying healthy is really important.

What type of exercise do you do?

I kind of do a little bit of everything, a little bit of running and yoga and Pilates. 

And food choices? 

I just eat clean food, organic, clean, non-processed.  

After being away from acting for ten years you roared back in 2017 with three acclaimed performances.

What does acting give you now that it didn’t before?

I enjoy it more, I think I have less angst about it. The process has become more and more important to me, and it’s strange, in some ways, I have become a little more picky. The older you get the more you really value your time. 

What motivated you to want to come back?

It was never a conscious choice to stop working for that long of a period of time. But life just kind of took over. And when my children became my prioritiy, it just sort of shifted and it became harder and harder the older they got to say yes. And so there was a certain period where I just didn’t work. But then when they started looking at colleges it really hit me, and I realized that I was going to have a really hard time when they left. So I was ready to go back to work, but I needed to prepare myself. So I did a little bit here and there, some smaller parts, but now I’m back working and it feels really good and I love it; I’m having a great time.

You’ve always done painting. What does it bring you? 

A kind of a calm, an escape I think.

Have you gotten better, and do you sell your paintings?

I don’t sell them. I don’t show them. I continue to get better incrementally, and if I painted every day I really think I could be much better than I am. But I am pretty compartmentalized. When I am working and acting a lot, I tend to not paint, and when I am painting I sort of don’t want to know about the acting. Needless to say, I haven’t picked up a paintbrush in a little while. But I do love it, it gives me a wonderful escape,  

Do you do much traveling?

I am not a great traveler. I don’t really love traveling. I do a lot of it, and maybe because I do when I have the choice I like to stay home. I don’t like to move around a lot. I am a creature of habit. I like to have my stuff around me. I like my routine. And if that’s upset for too long I start to feel kind of unsettled.  But when I do travel I only pack one carry-on  cause I don’t like checking my luggage.  

So what would you have in your carry-on?

You wouldn’t want to lift it, because it’s vacuum packed. But I am a really clever packer. I am very spatial and I use every inch of the suitcase. But I’ll tell you the secret. Instead of folding items, you lay every piece as flat as you can get it.  That way it doesn’t get wrinkled and when you take it out it’s like it’s been pressed. Shoes on the bottom, you have to fill in every single hole. But then you get someone else to lift it.

You had a production company? Why did you give that up?

 I liked the creative part of the business. I liked developing scripts and working with writers. I didn’t like the financial part of it. It created a conflict between the artist side of me and the business side of me. I could feel myself losing my joy of the work. And it was exhausting me in a way. And when I ended the company I was very happy. 

You had no formal training. Do you think you might have been a better actress if you had gone to Julliard or Yale?

Probably not. I might have picked up some good habits and I night have picked up some bad habits. You never know. It might have given me more confidence in the beginning. but again I am not sure because acting is very ephemeral, very intangible. You can have the tools, and you can have the training to fall back on, but at the end of the day, it’s kind of magical, it just takes off and it is what it is. 

Your life is so blessed. Do you ever wonder why?

I guess because I followed my heart. When I started acting, I had no idea whether I would be successful.  I didn’t know anybody in show business, I didn’t know the first thing how to go about it, and I just sort of put one foot in front of the other and I thought well, if I fail, I fail.  And I think with my husband, I was mature enough, I was 34 when I met him. and I was ready, and I chose really well. 

Your children are now adults. How proud are you of them?

 I am really proud that they are empathetic and thoughtful young adults. And they are really, really decent people. I am most proud of that amongst other things, but that would be first and foremost. 

What are they doing? 

My daughter is starting a PhD program in the fall, and my son is graduating from college this year.

What was the best advice you got from your parents? 

My mother really stressed the importance of me having a career. She never had a career and she used to always say to me, “Michelle, whatever you do, before you get married, have a career first.” And it was the best advice she ever gave me because I see a lot of women who are stuck in abusive relationships and they’re miserable because they have no means to support themselves. So I think that it’s really important for women to be able to do that. 

And your father?

My father, because we didn’t have a lot of money and were really living paycheck to paycheck, he really stressed the importance of having a savings and saving for a rainy day.

You and David have been together for 20 years. What is the secret?

 I think choosing well. I think if you don’t choose somebody for the right reasons, you are sort of doomed to failure. I haven’t always chosen well, but I did with him.  And then I think if you choose well, you will continue to respect each other, and that I think is critical. Especially when you have a family and you both have very busy careers, it’s easy to forget to make time for each other. So we have always made time for each other.  

But you’ve never worked together?

I am a little bit superstitious about that, having seen a lot of couples split up right after working together. As soon as you are on the cover of People Magazine as a couple, before you know it, you’re divorced. So I think it’s better to be able to come home and bitch about the day and how wronged you were during the day and have that person be on your side and only hear your side of the story. 

Would you play against type?

I don’t even know what my type is. I’m not a personality kind of actor. There are a lot of actors that are very charismatic, who have a strong persona that inhabits the character they play. I don’t have that. I’ve tried, and I’m really a failure at it.

But would you like to play a really evil woman?

I’d love to. I think bad girls are much more fun to play. I guess it’s a little risky, but if you’re successful you win big.  

Do you still  remember your first pay check?

It probably wasn’t much. I was working at a clothing store, I probably spent it on clothes or a case of beer or something.

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