By Ray Bennett
LONDON – Michelle Pfeiffer was worried that she’d dropped an f-bomb on live television.
The actress, who turns 65 today, came to meet me right after she appeared on CNN to talk about the John Landis black comedy ‘Into the Night’ in which she played a wild-child who discovers the dark side of Los Angeles. She’d said she knew something about that and told of an encounter that occurred when she was just getting started as an actress. A man offered her some cash and an all-expenses paid 24-hour trip. She turned him down.
‘I told them he said he didn’t want to sleep with me,’ Pfeiffer said. ‘It was just to win a bet that he could show up with the most beautiful woman. The thing is that after the interview, I couldn’t recall what words I’d used to describe what the guy said. They assured me I didn’t swear but I’m not sure.’
Pfeiffer grimaced. ‘I think I said he didn’t want to fuck me.’
Fine-boned, fresh-faced, her blonde hair crinkled from having been left to dry, Michelle Pfeiifer, then 27, wore no obvious makeup when she entered the room wearing blue jeans and a simple top. She put on no airs and tucked into a scrambled-egg sandwich seated at a bare desk in a publicist’s office where we talked about the Landis picture and Richard Donner’s period drama ‘Ladyhawke’ (below)
I told her that an old boss of mine, Bob Pearson, always used to swear a lot when radio or TV interviews pressed him on a business question. Pfeiffer said, ‘Every other word is a bad word? Oh, I see, like “I think he’s a fucking asshole and I wish he’d go to hell.”’
‘Something like that,’ I said.
She said she really didn’t like to talk badly about people or criticise their work and we exchanged examples of how to express opinions without causing offense. ‘Like in “Amadeus”, the guy says “I never knew music could sound like that.” It’s the best line in the movie,’ she said. ‘Or, after you see a film that you really hate: “You’ve got a real moneymaker on your hands.” Those are the worst situations.’
When we stopped laughing, I asked if she understood women like the one she played in ‘Into the Night’: ‘Yeah, I understand how you get in that situation and I think it’s very sad,’ she said. ‘You meet women like that, guys too, who don’t seem to have any kind of base. I was naive in lots of ways but I always had good instincts and I always followed them. Maybe it’s my real strong sort of Orange County upbringing. I stay out of it. I was always so afraid of it that I actually went more in the extreme of really not having any fun because I would stay home.
‘It’s not just Los Angeles, anywhere you find people who have money, who are very smart and interesting, I think you’re always gonna find that. In L.A., particularly in showbusiness, it’s just more publicised, as an actor all of your mistakes are public. It’s a shame but so it seems there’s more drugs, more divorces. When I’m beating myself up, I think, oh well, it’s because I’m in this stupid business. I’m in Hollywood and I’m an actress and I’m crazy, then I talk to people who’ve never been to Los Angeles and they beat me by a country mile. I’m an angel compared to some of these people.’
Pfeiffer discarded her sandwich, looked at the closed door of the office and whispered, ‘You don’t happen to smoke, do you?’ I was pretty sure the studio frowned on smoking in the building but I was rewarded by a big smile when I pulled out a pack of Marlborough. We lit up and I left the cigarettes on the desk as we talked.
Her early TV roles included a character on ‘Delta House’ called simply ‘the Bombshell’ (left) and one named Suzie Q on ‘The Hollywood Knights’. She said they helped open doors but she never felt comfortable. ‘When I was doing the Bombshell, they were trying every chance they could to put me in hot-pants or a bathing suit,’ she said. ‘I called my agent to complain because I didn’t have that image of myself. I was very uncomfortable with putting me out there and saying “This is a sex symbol”. It was so blatant that people were supposed to accept me as this. I thought to myself, what if people, you know, don’t think that I am? I’m gonna feel like an idiot. I had a real hard time with that. People ask me, and I hate answering the same question: Do you find that because you’re pretty, you’re not taken seriously? If I really don’t think about it a lot, I’m a lot better off. I go out, sometimes I get parts, sometimes I don’t for this reason or that but you just keep going.’
As she lighted another cigarette, I told her she was destined to follow Sally Field, who started out in the Sixties in TV’s ‘Gidget’ and ‘The Flying Nun’ and won the Academy Award as best actress for ‘Norma Rae’ in 1979 and Jessica Lange, who was mocked for her performance in her 1976 debut film ‘King Kong’ but in 1983 was nominated for an Oscar as best actress in ‘Frances’ and on ‘Tootsie’ she won as best supporting actress.
‘So, you thought I sucked in “Grease 2”, huh?’ Pfeiffer said.
‘No, not at all,’ I said but I mentioned that I had also seen her in the short-lived 1980 knockoff of ‘The Mod Squad’ called ‘B.A.D.cats’ (above) and she laughed out loud.
I pointed out she was fine in that show and in the musical just as Field and Lange were in their silly early roles and she had been very good in ‘Scarface’, ‘Ladyhawke’ and ‘Into the Night’.
‘You are very kind, thank you,’ she said. ‘I think from the beginning that path has been travelled. I can’t say for all actresses but for many you kind of have the same goal. Some get sidetracked and never get back on. My goal has always been the same from the beginning. I feel like I’ve come a long way and have a long way to go. I’m still being watched, I can feel that. I guess the reason I’m hesitating here is because I see what you’re talking about and I think that is something I am working for. I don’t quite believe it yet, that’s the problem here.’
I was delighted when her terrific career proved me right with indelible performances in films such as ‘Married to the Mob’, ‘Batman Returns’ and ‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’ (below) When a publicist knocked on the door to say my time was over, I left my pack of smokes on the table. As I went to leave, the actress said, ‘I hope my other interviews are as much fun as this one. Thank you.’ Then she planted a quick smacker on my lips.’ When Michelle Pfeiffer kisses you, you stay kissed.