Previously Known For: Scarface, Batman Returns and Dangerous Minds
|Currently Known For: Mother!, Murder on the Orient Express and The Wizard of Lies|
“I’ve always had this feeling that one day they’re going to find out that I’m really a fraud, that I really don’t know what I’m doing.” Making her debut into the world on April 29, 1958, Michelle Marie Pfeiffer didn’t grow up in show business and, in fact, had very little inkling of what Hollywood was as she grew up in Santa Ana, California where her mother stayed home with Pfeiffer and her three siblings while her father worked as a contractor. It wasn’t until Pfeiffer won the 1978 Miss Orange County crown and went on to compete in the Miss California pageant that she thought a career in the spotlight might not be so far-fetched after all. Hiring an agent, Pfeiffer jumped into Hollywood feet first mimicking the actors she saw in films as a child.
“I’m from Orange County, Southern California, and couldn’t have been more removed from the entertainment business,” Pfeiffer admitted. “In fact, I didn’t really even go to the movies much. My mother didn’t drive. My father couldn’t be bothered. So, I didn’t really go anywhere. But what I did do is I would stay up really late watching old movies on television. I can’t even tell you what they were because I was so young. But I remember watching what they were doing and saying to myself, ‘I can do that.’”
Despite that first desire to act, Pfeiffer put the inkling aside and enrolled in stenography school before taking a job at the local supermarket. “I didn’t know what else to do,” Pfeiffer said. “So, then I was working at Vons supermarket. I was a checker. And I got kind of frustrated there. I remember distinctly standing in the check stand in a fit of desperation and wanting to tell one of these customers where they could shove this cantaloupe. I thought to myself, ‘What do you want to do with the rest of your life?’ And it was acting.”
Pfeiffer approached acting without any training and knew the reality that she could ultimately fail; however, she didn’t let that stop her as she entered and won the Miss Orange County beauty pageant in 1978 and went on to compete in the Miss California pageant. Finishing in sixth place, she signed on with an agent and auditioned for any part she could find with her first credits coming in Fantasy Island and Delta House as she faced her first failure when she lost a starring role in Charlie’s Angels to Shelley Hack. “I was young enough to think, ‘Okay, well, I have this safe job at Vons, a good job I can make a living at, with benefits, but what I really want to do is be an actor. And I’m young enough that, if I fail, I can do something else,’” Pfeiffer recalled. “And somehow I had the courage to do that.”
Pfeiffer pushed forward and enrolled in acting lessons at the Beverly Hills Playhouse where, by 1982, her determination finally paid off and she starred in Grease 2. She followed up her first major film role as Elvira Hancock in Scarface in 1983 and was praised for her performance as one of Hollywood’s rising stars with Vanity Fair writing, “She is on the verge of stardom… In the parlance of the industry, she is hot.” Building her reputation with stellar performances in flicks like Into the Night, The Witches of Eastwick, Married to the Mob, and Dangerous Liaisons. She turned down the starring role opposite Richard Gere in Pretty Woman and, instead, focused on building her brand by opening her production company, Visa Rosa Productions. However, even with her company and widespread praise from critics, Pfeiffer still felt like she wasn’t good enough.
“I think that because I started working fairly quickly and I wasn’t ready,” Pfeiffer admitted. “I didn’t have any formal training. I didn’t come from Juilliard. I was just getting by and learning in front of the world. So, I’ve always had this feeling that one day they’re going to find out that I’m really a fraud, that I really don’t know what I’m doing.”
Undeniably the furthest thing from a fraud, Pfeiffer continued to prove she belonged in Hollywood with jaw-dropping performances in flicks like Batman Returns where her performance as Catwoman is still praised as one of the most authentic in the comic’s history. From there, she starred in The Age of Innocence, Wolf, Dangerous Minds, One Fine Day and The Deep End of the Ocean before taking a four-year hiatus from 2003 to 2007 to focus on her two children with her husband, television writer and producer David E. Kelley, whom she married in November 1993. With both her daughter and son off to college and making Pfeiffer an empty-nester, Pfeiffer felt the freedom to return to the spotlight in 2007 and marked her return with appearances in Hairspray and Stardust.
“I’ve never lost my love for acting,” she said of her return. “I feel really at home on the movie set. I’m a more balanced person, honestly, when I’m working. But I was pretty careful about where I shot, how long I was away, whether or not it worked out with the kids’ schedule. And I got so picky that I was un-hirable. And then… I don’t know, time just went on. And now, you know, when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I’m more open now, my frame of mind, because I really want to work now, because I can. And these last few years I’ve had some really interesting opportunities.”
Interesting doesn’t even begin to cover some of Pfeiffer’s most recent projects as she’s enjoyed a huge resurgence in her career especially when she returned to television after over two decades to star as Ruth Madoff in the HBO television film, The Wizard of Lies. With critics arguing that Pfeiffer once again steals the show, the 59-year-old even earned her first Primetime Emmy Award nomination for her performance. Beyond television, she’s also hit it big on the silver screen with starring roles in flicks like Where Is Kyra?, Mother! And Murder on the Orient Express, the latter of which puts his alongside Tom Bateman, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp and others! Up next, the former Catwoman is set to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Janet van Dyne in Ant-Man and the Wasp in 2018!