Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 8


The Bat’s Meow – Rolling Stone
Gerri Hirshey
26-32 minutes
Issue 1318: August 1st, 2018

Get The Magazine

Subscribe to the all-new Rolling Stone! Everything you need to know from the
authority on music, entertainment, politics and pop culture.

Order today and save over 66%!

Subscribe Now

Newsletter Signup

Sign up for our newsletter and go inside the world of music, culture and
September 3, 1992 4:00PM ET

From schoolyard bully to whip-wielding comic book villain, the California queen is
the real deal and has battled a long time to prove it
Michelle Pfeiffer, RS Issue 638

Michelle Pfeiffer

Herb Ritts

As it was laid out in her fat, annotated script, Michelle Pfeiffer’s first day
before the cameras as Cat-woman looked to be an easy one. She just had to stand
silhouetted in the frame and deliver one line:

She tottered to her mark on nosebleed high heels. Creak, ZZZZ, creak went the bun-
gripping rubber Catsuit, a corseted, peel-away number that required being powdered
white as a jelly doughnut just to tug it on. Creak, ZZZZ, creak. BLAM! The lights


“CUT. PRINT. Again, please.”

Off to the side, Michael Keaton, a.k.a. Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman, was enjoying
the hell out of the moment. Oh, it was tasty. Here was Ms. Two-Time Oscar Nominee,
Ms. Actor’s Actor, Ms. TOTAL Get-It-in-Two-Takes PROFESSIONAL, held in check by a
few pounds of wet, sucking latex and a pair of pointy ears. Later, Keaton would
look back on it as his favorite day on the shoot.

Not that he’s a natural-born SOB. He was even going to call Pfeiffer the day before
to warn her: Never mind the grueling weapons and martial-arts training. Forget the
hot fact that you can now pickpocket a hankie with the tip of an eight-foot
bullwhip, babe. When you’re up there for the first time in this cockamamie outfit …
jeez, are you gonna feel DUMB!

Of course, he’d tell her gently. Nah. Why spook her? He never called.


Pfeiffer purred it, then pushed it to the wall. Sweat had begun to clot the talcum
in all the wrong places. The rubber vacuum lock that wardrobe had warned her about
was dragging at her joints. Keaton fairly hugged himself.

“There she was, working her little heart out,” Keaton says. “The look on her face
was totally committed. But. . . .” He allows himself a Beetlejuician laugh. “Behind
it was – ‘HOW DID I GET MYSELF INTO THIS?’ – the look of TOTAL FEAR!”

He felt it himself when he first clomped onto a soundstage in the 1989 Batman
sporting his own mondo rubber appliance, that scene-stealing Batsuit.

“You’re committed,” he says. “You’re determined to act through this suit. Which is
nearly impossible.”

He says he felt wretched back then, until he had a Bat-epiphany – one he chose to
share with the freakishly zooted Jack Nicholson. He leaned over to the green-faced
Joker and confided the path to box-office bliss:

You gotta WORK THE SUIT, man!

Mercifully, it didn’t take Pfeiffer long to make peace with her steel-belted,
Michelined new self. Soon, she and Keaton were plunged into the knottier problems
of rough-and-tumble Batsex. Not that the Suit ever let up; you can still hear that
creak on film as she straddles her caped quarry and kitty-licks his face. By the
operatic climax, the Suit unravels with Catwoman’s nefarious plots, an effect that
left deep welts after an hour’s exertions. But there was no mewling for the pricey
balm of some Laurel Canyon masseuse.

“She’s a gamer,” says Keaton.

As an accomplished character actress, Pfeiffer has been working the Suits in major
features for well over a decade, unafraid to sacrifice allure for effect. Wrap her
in the pink polyester of a Hell’s Kitchen hash slinger and she is Frankie the
waitress opposite Al Pacino’s short-order cook in Frankie and Johnny. Set her up in
a dark wig, Lee Press-On Nails and a nimbus of Angora and she cracks gum and one-
liners as Angela de Marco, Mafia matron in Jonathan Demme’s comedy Married to the
Mob. As the virtuous Madame de Tourvel in Stephen Frears’s Dangerous Liaisons, she
loosed whalebone stays and convent mores for John Malkovich’s cruel seducer. It
cost Madame her life in an especially haggard deathbed scene and won Pfeiffer her
first Oscar nomination.

With the exception of lounge singer Susie Diamond’s slinky velvets in The Fabulous
Baker Boys, few of Pfeiffer’s chosen Suits have been flattering in your standard
Hollywood way. All told, she’s snapped gum more than she’s sipped champagne. She
seems fearless, willing to look like heaven or hell. It’s the other requirements of
working the Suit that make her freeze like a spooked ingénue in the headlights of
an oncoming tour bus.

“This is not a natural thing for me,” She’s saying. “It’s taken, like, fourteen
years to get to this – sitting here on this couch.”

She is lying back, barefoot, staring at the ceiling. But this is not some analyst’s
four-figure Barcalounger. Pfeiffer is bivouacked deep into the gray flannel of her
interviewer’s swaybacked sectional. Having held forth among the floral tributes and
gaudy fruit pyramids of too many luxury suites, she has turned the tables and asked
to come to my apartment. For three months, on and off, she’s been in New York
shooting Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence. With a
week or two to go, she’s a bit, um, restless. Seems she’d sooner suffer a two-year-
old’s sticky advances than yet another go-round over room-service Evian. And so it
is that Pfeiffer sits in dubious but polite possession of a ratty stuffed kitty,
tweaking her inquisitor.

Any interview with Pfeiffer involves a requisite debate on the weirdness of the
process. After five minutes, she winds it up: “I still don’t believe – and I never
will – that it’s the actors’ responsibility to sell a film.”

Nonetheless, she’s on the rack here because hey, she is a gamer, and hers is the
summer movie, one that will be easily the biggest grosser she’s ever been in. Its
record-shattering $47.7 million opening weekend was further sweetened by Pfeiffer’s
best-in-show reviews as Catwoman. But Pfeiffer is quick, almost obsessive in
pointing out that she’s never been a streaking comet atop Variety’s Weekly b.o.
column: “Someone said to me the other day, ‘You’re a box-office commodity now.’ I
said I’m not, because most of my movies haven’t really made any money. I’m always
afraid to say that, ’cause I think the studios haven’t figured it out and they keep
letting me work.”

Pfeiffer smiles in wan acknowledgment of her own folly. Maybe Frankie and Johnny
did “drop like a rock.” But she took home an estimated $3 million for her troubles.
No Rolexed studio bean counter would issue a check that size on looks alone. And
she knows that in fact it was box office and not her best work that jumped her
career into overdrive. “The Witches of Eastwick was the one that really changed
things,” she says. “I’m fine in the movie, but it’s not an earth-shattering
performance. But that’s when things began to escalate. It made a lot of money.”

With Cher and Susan Sarandon – the threesome have since become pals – she was part
of Jack Nicholson’s small-town harem. Through much of it she wore sensible shoes
and a large cold sore, but afterwards there were suddenly choices. “From there,”
she says, “I was able to do Married to the Mob, which shattered many people’s
preconceived views of me.” Which were? “They thought I was either the ice queen
and/or the sunny blond Californian character.”

Dogged in proving herself, she went for the parts where blondness – and all its
lightweight connotations – was hardly a requisite. Like Jodie Foster, a twenty-
three-year veteran whose first mega-hit was last year’s Silence of the Lambs (in a
role Pfeiffer turned down), Pfeiffer has earned more respectful reviews than ticket
sales or percentage points. Poll the Industry, from crew members to directors and
costars, and they all use the latest Polo Lounge code: committed. Translation:
works like a mule in a copper mine. Will pass on those poster-friendly Kathleen
Turner lingerie scenes for a tough, mascaraless monologue. She won’t vex studio
daddies with feminist diatribes on the size of Bruce Willis’s last paycheck – but
she’s hip to savvy women’s gambits like starting her own production company to pan
for great parts.

Look closely at her work and it is held together by a pliable alloy of Nineties
guts and Thirties glamour. Her choice of parts could well be explained by her
favorite screen creation, Susie Diamond. It was in the grand, heck-of-a-dame
tradition of Bacall’s “Just put your lips together and blow” that Susie explained
to Baker Boy Jeff Bridges why she chain-smoked Paris Opals at $3.50 a pack: “I
figure if you’re going to stick something in your mouth, it may as well be the

So why, now, a character from dime comics? Pfeiffer breaks into that nasal Sixties
anthem: DAH-na-na-na Batman! She says she loved that TV series. And Julie Newmar’s
Catwoman was irresistibly bad to the bone to someone who describes herself as “the
Mafia don” of her grammar school: “She was just such a forbidding kind of heroine
for so many little girls.”

Stories abound about how that Tinseltown trickster Sean Young tried to breach
director Tim Burton’s office in a cat suit, campaigning for the part in Batman
Returns. But few realize that Pfeiffer had launched her own assault long before the
first Batman was shot. She had friends on the production. “I asked them to beg Tim
Burton to write me one scene,” she says. “I said I would do it for free.”

Burton says he found her feline enough when he was ready to cast the sequel. He
figured she had the moxie, but he tried to warn her how hard it would be.

To get ready, Pfeiffer crammed her days with kick boxing, bullwhip training,
gymnastics and yoga. Before the cameras rolled, she could hit a target with a whip
or wrap a wrist, a waist, a neck, her own body with eight feet of whistling
cowhide. “She was better than her stunt people,” says Burton. “She made the whip
beautiful, kind of an art form.”

Pfeiffer’s own assessment involves more anxieties than aesthetics. Should the going
get tough, fear ratchets up the performance. “Fortunately, I have a real strong
survivor instinct,” she says. “I’m so terrified that I will do whatever it takes
not to embarrass myself.”

She’s not one for discussing the humiliatingly bad old days except to say that
they’re over. No more turns in singing turkeys like Grease 2, spewing lines on the
caliber of “I ain’t no one’s trophy, Goose.” No more sappy Alan Alda vehicles like
Sweet Liberty. The distant past – the years of mousse-and-jiggle TV series like
B.A.D. Cats and Delta House – pricks at her in only the smallest ways these days.
She’ll get a residual check from some Podunk rerun market. Or a screamingly pert
old eight-by-ten surfaces like some non-degradable chunk of hack-agent packaging.

She coulda been a series lifer, jouncing along on Baywatches, then aging into those
psycho-alkie suburban-mom gigs with the Joan Van Arks and Linda Grays. Pfeiffer’s
Daughter of Orange County dossier did not hint at one destined for greatness:
Second of four children born to Dick Pfeiffer, a Midway City, California, heating
and air-conditioning contractor, and his wife, Donna. Elementary-school bully,
Huntington Beach surf bunny, bitchin’ blonde in a cherry red ’65 Mustang. Working
girl. She stocked stone-washed jeans at 4:00 a.m. when the malls were at peace; put
on a red cashier’s smock and yes-ma’am’d coupon-waving seniors and smartass
leathernecks at the El Toro Vons.

After a brief tussle with court stenography, she figured she’d try acting. To meet
an agent who was a pageant judge, she snapped a swimsuit over her petite rump,
marched into the Big Hair fray and wound up Miss Orange County. Blew the Miss Los
Angeles title but landed the agent, a few lame commercials and a one-line walk-on
for Fantasy Island. Did a very California turn in a spiritual cult that sapped her
will and her bank account. Got rescued by a handsome guy, Peter Horton. Married
him, this actor. They grabbed their glossies and set up house in Santa Monica with
the rest of the Young and the Hopeful.

She made it from dippy deb in Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen to
major-feature bitch when Brian De Palma okayed her as Elvira in Scarface after a
jaw-dropping reading with Pacino. She was twenty-three.

“I was terrified, so terrified,” Pfeiffer says. “I couldn’t say two words to him
[Pacino]. We were both really shy. We’d sit in a room, and it was like pulling
teeth to try and find any words at all. And the subject matter was so dark. There
was a coldness in the [film] relationship.”

Pfeiffer remembers De Palma’s approach as stylistically obsessive. “I was

objectified,” she recalls. “If there was one hair out of place. . . . I remember
once I had a bruise or something on my leg, and he made me go back and take off my
pantyhose and have makeup put on, because he could see an imperfection.”
She says Elvira was complex enough to be interesting. But her kind of glamour did
not leave her longing to keep puttin’ on the glitz. “I know it appears as if I
stayed away from glamorous roles,” she says. “But the truth is, there aren’t that
many that are very interesting.” It wasn’t until Susie Diamond in Baker Boys that
she found one worth doing (she also won a second Oscar nomination). “I had fun,”
she says. “It had been a long time since I had done anything where I wore tight
clothes. And I felt it was sort of time. That it was okay to play some smart,
heads-up women who decorated themselves. I’m not like that. And I have a lot of
admiration – and a certain amount of awe – for women who are comfortable with
drawing attention to themselves.”

“Basically, she’s a character actress,” says Pacino, who now counts her as a pal.
“I think that’s a strength. She’s someone who will endure because she’ll find
characters to play. And she happens also to be a leading-lady type, which is, I
guess, glamorous. She has both.” He laughs, then waxes a tad mystical. “I mean, is
someone doing what they should be doing? That’s the question.”

Just what a capable, committed actress should do these days is open to wearisome
debate. Does she smile pretty and take the cute parts – and the dough – like Julia
Roberts and Melanie Griffith? Or get damned serious and Streep her way through
relentless dark seasons of nuke plants and holocausts? By her own admission,
Pfeiffer does not torture herself with the Big Career Questions. It’s the small
voices in very distinct moments that have her ear. “I’ve always had pretty good
instincts about character,” she says. “I haven’t always known consciously why I’ve
made certain choices. But I know if it moves me or not. And I know that if I can
hear the character as I’m reading, it’s made some connection.”

We decide to leave the relative comforts of the couch for lunch around the corner.
Pfeiffer gathers up her slight baggage – a slouchy leather bag, sunglasses, a roll
of Certs. She’s dressed for the soupy rigors of a ninety-three-degree Manhattan dog
day in striped trousers and a sleeveless navy vest. No makeup, no jewelry on these
well-cut Soloflex arms. But even on this sleepy side street she’s inflicting gawker
whiplash. Though she’s polite and attentive as fans zero in, she notes that it’s
never this bad in L.A., where they’re more used to movie stars. She can’t wait to
get home. Pfeiffer says she’s living less than large in a hotel during the Scorsese
shoot – clothes, books, her exercise equipment.

“I should buy something here,” she says. “I mean, it’s only fair at this point.”
She adores her seventy-five-year-old adobe home in West Los Angeles, but her
boyfriend, Fisher Stevens, is deeply involved with the acting troupe he cofounded
here, the Naked Angels. Pfeiffer and Stevens have been together three years, since
they met in the late Joseph Papp’s production of Twelfth Night in Central Park.

“Ah,” she says, “he’s with me even now.” She points over her head to a lizard
stenciled on one of those Tuscany ocher walls so popular in urban pasta parlors.
Currently, Stevens is in North Carolina shooting Super Mario Bros., a film version
of the video game. He plays a lizardlike missing link. Stevens, too, is Working a
Suit – one that involves green-tinged makeup and bleached white eyebrows. On a
recent night in Manhattan, Pfeifier says, she blanched as they dressed to go out.
Those eyebrows were a bit over the top, even for the West Village.

Honey, maybe a little brown pencil, just for tonight?

No way. He loved the Look. Chalk it up to the underthirty exuberance of the

Younger Man, she figures. In the beginning, she says, she thought about their age
difference a lot, though it is not a vast one. Stevens is twenty-eight to her
thirty-four, a guy who still keeps a tiny downtown apartment chockablock with
Elvisoid kitsch. “He’s exhausting,” she says. But hers is clearly a cheerful
fatigue. “He lives out of a suitcase, he loves to travel. He’s comfortable wherever
he is, and I’m SO the opposite. I’d never leave my house in Los Angeles if it
weren’t for my work and for him. I’m a creature of habit, really; I don’t like
change much. And that’s why I chose him.” She smiles. “I know that’s why I chose

She has chosen actors before, was married for seven years to Horton. She
acknowledges a brief and long-past fling with Michael Keaton; there have been
reports of a disastrous affair with John Malkovich that nearly cost him his
marriage and left her dark eyed and tremulous for more time than she’d care to
remember. Darkness doesn’t scare her in her work, she says: “I like dark.” But when
the last Winnebago leaves the lot and the kliegs shut down, she can count on
Stevens to haul her into the sun. At his insistence, they travel. Which means they
travel and fight: “I kick and scream the whole way, and once I’m there I’m always

Friends say that Stevens’s greatest victory has been in getting his diva to ease up
and smell the decaf cappuccino. “I now actually have a personal life,” she says. “I
didn’t for years. I didn’t know what to do with myself when I wasn’t acting. I
dreaded vacations. And now I’m a happy person.”

There is one line that cannot be crossed. She will not – cannot – share her screen
women with the men in her life: “My husband used to say, ‘You don’t talk to me
about your work; you don’t let me in.’ And Fisher’s commented on it also, that I
never, ever talk about my work.” Instead, she keeps secret diaries in the margins
of her scripts.

Pfeiffer is comfortable talking seriously about the actor’s most precious blood,
Process. Then she stabs a fiery roast pepper and grins. “I do feel that actors
always sound ridiculous talking about their Process,” she says. “No matter how
intelligent they are, they always sound like assholes.” Oh, she believes that
acting’s an art. But it’s also a crapshoot. “Every time I do a movie, I think this
is the one where they’re going to find me out, that I’m a total and utter fraud,”
she says. “And every time I get to say to myself, ‘Well, you got away with it

There is nothing fey in her delivery; Pfeiffer is a true believer in her own
fallibility. But she does have a handle on the jumpy gestalt of the compulsively
insecure: “What gets better is that you learn to accept that about yourself – that
your powers of self-judgment suck. I know that I’ll never be able to look at my
work and pat myself on the back and feel like, wow, I really look good.”

This stunning woman who likens her looks to Howard the Duck’s has caused a small
legion of male writers to lose control of their adjectives when describing her face
and body. Ah, but when the looking glass is fifty feet high, when Harper’s
publishes the photo-retouching bills for your Esquire cover shoot, well,
Perspective sucks, too.

Who can tell her when the pearlescent eye shadow is defrosting?

“Michelle’s very difficult to know,” says Cher. “I told her this once, and I
believe it: ‘If you came up to me one day and said, “Cher, this is my son, he’s six
– I just didn’t think I could trust you until now,” I wouldn’t be surprised.’ She
has to know that she can trust you, and you have to really go through a whole lot
of stuff.”

Pfeiffer concedes Cher’s point. “I don’t get close with many people,” she says. The
bigger her bubble grows, the fewer she trusts. She says she met her best friend
when her career was “sort of in the toilet.” Kate Guinzburg was the production
coordinator on Sweet Liberty, which was filmed on Long Island. When it was over,
Pfeiffer spent a few weeks at Guinzburg’s New York apartment. They have been the
best of pals ever since, and three years ago, they teamed up to form a production
company. They have come up with properties that include Dear Digby, about the
letters editor on a feminist magazine; an adaptation of Jane Smiley’s Pulitzer-
winning novel, A Thousand Acres (in conjunction with Jessica Lange’s production
company); an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s Custom of the Country; and a project on
the relationship between painter Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer Alfred
Stieglitz. Oh, and there’s a tasty little something with Cher.

Coupla actresses were sitting around bitching on a California afternoon. Michelle

called howling: They’re doing it again. Jackals. Assholes. Writing stuff that
hurts, that’s not true, HOW CAN THEY GET AWAY WITH IT? Cher was sympathetic but
tough-minded. Get ready for it, babe.

What shit, they both agreed. And then they started to fantasize. A story about an
actress, a soulless tabloid editor and a young writer who wants to be a journalist
but gets mired in the supermarket muck. There will be a fat, juicy part for both of
them. Labeled simply Tabloid, the project is still in development, but they figure
the story will stay fresh. “It’s real,” says Cher about the loss of privacy. “I
have to shred my garbage now. Michelle is just starting to feel what it’s like to
lose it. I was famous when I was eighteen, so I knew it was part of my job
description. Michelle is an actress. And she really doesn’t want to give up that
other part.”

“Actressy” is what they call a star who carps when the Today Show invades her
working day on a Moscow shoot of The Russia House. “Attitude” is what they murmur
when she snaps at the piggyback film crews intent on getting the making of Batman
Returns. This whole Behind-the-Scenes market makes her wild, fractures
concentration, dilutes the Work. Pfeiffer could not believe, watching Hearts of
Darkness, the documentary on the making of Apocalypse Now, that Francis Coppola and
his wife approved the release. Eleanor Coppola shot the dark, freaky, on-the-set
footage; she secretly taped her husband’s midnight confessions.

“Are they still together?” Pfeiffer asks, looking amazed at the affirmative. “See,
I’m not very sophisticated. I guess I’m a little old-fashioned. As Cher would say,
‘That’s not very Valley, is it?'”

Cher says she first used the phrase to describe a mutual lapse in Ventura Boulevard
savoir-faire. “We’re both Valley girls,” says Cher. “And I’ve been through
everything you can go through in this business. I mean, we think we’re pretty cool.
But every once in a while, I’m real naive, and so is she. And we have to say,
‘That’s not being very Valley – is it?'”

“Girl code,” Pfeiffer explains. “A life necessity.” She has to confess that what
she calls “the idea of girlfriends” has been recent. “Growing up, my stronger
relationships have been with men, my friendships. I think that my relationships
with women have become more important the older I become.”

Back on the couch, listening to the distant screech and rumble of a toddler’s bath
time, Pfeiffer says sure, she knows she wants a family and fairly soon, but she’s
not about to issue a Connie Chung my-eggs-are-pining press release about it. She’s
taking the rest of the year off, but she hasn’t thought beyond installing artwork
and a sofa in her office. She will be painting, cruising the Rose Bowl flea market
with Guinzburg, traveling and scrapping with the Lizard King. And reading more
scripts. Ask her if she keeps those old, scribbled-in scripts she uses to build her
characters, and she looks horrified. “If I have a script that has a lot of personal
notes in it, I end up throwing it away,” she says. It’s a corollary to the old
always-wear-clean-underwear Rule of Life: “What if I die and they find it? I
couldn’t bear the thought of anybody reading it.” She keeps no record of others’
impressions, either – no reviews, no clips, no magazine covers. “I’ve always had
this fear of living in the past, particularly in this profession. I guess you’d say
this is my moment of glory.”

It makes sense, then, that she’d cultivate the perpetual present. “I always want to
be living in my moment of glory,” she says quietly. “I know that my career will
change, and I won’t have the choices I have now in ten, twenty, thirty years. And
yet I want my life to be rich and full. . . .”

And so her closets are only populated with today’s Suits. Unlike Cher, who’s been
known to hold garage sales to purge last season’s Vegas froufrous, she will not
suffer public rummaging. And there’s little private memory hoarding. The only
scripts she keeps now are clean copies, no traces of Michelle. Should she endure,
as Pacino predicts, the biographers and filmographers will bloody well starve
picking over these slim remains.

This story is from the September 3rd, 1992 issue of Rolling Stone.


© 2018 Penske Media Corporation


Centres d'intérêt liés