Michelle Pfeiffer

Michelle Marie Pfeiffer (/ˈffər/; born April 29, 1958) is an American actress and producer. She has received many accolades, including a Golden Globe Award, and three nominations for Academy Award.

Michelle Pfeiffer
Pfeiffer on the set of Stardust in 2007
Michelle Marie Pfeiffer

(1958-04-29) April 29, 1958
  • Actress
  • producer
Years active1978–present
Peter Horton
(m. 1981; div. 1988)

David E. Kelley (m. 1993)
FamilyDedee Pfeiffer (sister)
AwardsFull list

Pfeiffer began to pursue an acting career in 1978 and had her first leading role in the musical film Grease 2 (1982). Frustrated with being typecast as the token pretty girl, she actively pursued more serious material and had her breakthrough role as gangster moll Elvira Hancock in the crime film Scarface (1983). Further success came with leading roles in the fantasy feature The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and the comedy Married to the Mob (1988). Her roles in Dangerous Liaisons (1988) and The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) garnered her two consecutive Academy Award nominations, for Best Supporting Actress and Best Actress, respectively; her portrayal of lounge singer Susie Diamond in the latter is one of the most acclaimed of her career.

Pfeiffer went on to star as Catwoman / Selina Kyle in Tim Burton's superhero film Batman Returns (1992), following which she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress and earned a third Academy Award nomination for playing a troubled housewife in Love Field (1992). She continued to gain praise for her performances in the dramas The Age of Innocence (1993) and White Oleander (2002), and the horror films Wolf (1994) and What Lies Beneath (2000). During this time, she also produced a series of films under her production company Via Rosa Productions. After a hiatus from acting in 2002, she returned with the musical Hairspray (2007). She received her first Emmy Award nomination for portraying Ruth Madoff in the HBO television film The Wizard of Lies (2017), she went on to feature in the ensemble films Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and debuted to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Janet Van Dyne starting Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018).

Early life

Michelle Marie Pfeiffer was born in Santa Ana, California, on April 29, 1958, the second of four children of Richard Pfeiffer, an air-conditioning contractor,[1] and Donna (née Taverna), a housewife. She has one elder brother, Rick (born 1955), and two younger sisters, Dedee Pfeiffer (born 1964), a television and film actress,[2] and Lori Pfeiffer (born 1965).[3] Her parents were both originally from North Dakota.[4] Her paternal grandfather was of German ancestry and her paternal grandmother was of English, Welsh, French, Irish, and Dutch descent, while her maternal grandfather was of Swiss-German descent and her maternal grandmother of Swedish ancestry.[5][6] The family moved to Midway City, where Pfeiffer spent her childhood.[7]

Pfeiffer attended Fountain Valley High School, graduating in 1976.[8] She worked as a check-out girl at Vons supermarket, and attended Golden West College[9] where she was a member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority. After a short stint training to be a court stenographer, she decided upon an acting career.[10] She won the Miss Orange County beauty pageant in 1978, and participated in the Miss California contest the same year, finishing in sixth place.[11] Following her participation in these pageants, she acquired an acting agent and began to audition for television and films.[12]


Late 1970s and 1980s

Pfeiffer made her acting debut in 1978, in a one-episode appearance of Fantasy Island.[8] Other roles on television series followed, including Delta House, CHiPs, Enos and B.A.D. Cats. Pfeiffer transitioned to film with the comedy The Hollywood Knights (1980), with Tony Danza, appearing as high school sweethearts. She subsequently played supporting roles in Falling in Love Again (1980) with Susannah York and Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981), none of which met with much critical or box office success. She appeared in a television commercial for Lux soap,[13] and took acting lessons at the Beverly Hills Playhouse,[14] before appearing in three 1981 television movies – Callie and Son, with Lindsay Wagner, The Children Nobody Wanted and Splendor in the Grass.

Pfeiffer obtained her first major film role as the female lead in Grease 2 (1982), the sequel to the smash-hit musical film Grease (1978).[15] With only a few television roles and small film appearances, the 23-year-old Pfeiffer was an unknown actress when she attended the casting call audition for the role, but according to director Patricia Birch, she won the part because she "has a quirky quality you don't expect".[16] The film was a critical and commercial failure, but The New York Times remarked: "[A]lthough she is a relative screen newcomer, Miss Pfeiffer manages to look much more insouciant and comfortable than anyone else in the cast."[17] Despite escaping the critical mauling, her agent later admitted that her association with the film meant that "she couldn't get any jobs. Nobody wanted to hire her."[15] On her early screen roles, she asserted: "I needed to learn how to act ... in the meantime, I was playing bimbos and cashing in on my looks."[8]

Director Brian De Palma, having seen Grease 2, refused to audition Pfeiffer for Scarface (1983), but relented at the insistence of Martin Bregman, the film's producer. She was cast as cocaine-addicted trophy wife Elvira Hancock.[18] The film was considered excessively violent by most critics, but became a commercial hit and gained a large cult following in subsequent years.[19] Pfeiffer received positive reviews for her supporting turn; Richard Corliss of Time Magazine wrote, "most of the large cast is fine: Michelle Pfeiffer is better ..."[20] while Dominick Dunne, in an article for Vanity Fair titled "Blonde Ambition", wrote, "[s]he is on the verge of stardom. In the parlance of the industry, she is hot."[21]

Following Scarface, she played Diana in John Landis' comedy Into the Night (1985), with Jeff Goldblum, Isabeau d'Anjou in Richard Donner's fantasy film Ladyhawke (1985), with Rutger Hauer and Matthew Broderick, Faith Healy in Alan Alda's Sweet Liberty (1986), with Michael Caine, and Brenda Landers in a segment of the 1950s sci-fi parody Amazon Women on the Moon (1987), all of which, despite achieving only modest commercial success, helped to establish her as an actress. She finally scored a major box-office hit as Sukie Ridgemont in the 1987 adaptation of John Updike's novel The Witches of Eastwick, with Jack Nicholson, Cher, and Susan Sarandon. The film grossed over $63.7 million domestically, the equivalent to $140.6 million in 2018 dollars.[22][23]

Pfeiffer was cast against type, as a murdered gangster's widow, in Jonathan Demme's mafia comedy Married to the Mob (1988), with Matthew Modine, Dean Stockwell and Mercedes Ruehl. For the role of Angela de Marco, she donned a curly brunette wig and a Brooklyn accent,[3] and received her first Golden Globe Award nomination as Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, beginning a six-year streak of consecutive Best Actress nominations at the Golden Globes.[24][25] Pfeiffer then appeared as chic restaurateuse Jo Ann Vallenari in Tequila Sunrise (1988) with Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell, but experienced creative and personal differences with director Robert Towne, who later described her as the "most difficult" actress he has ever worked with.[26]

At Demme's personal recommendation,[15] Pfeiffer joined the cast of Stephen Frears's Dangerous Liaisons (1988), with Glenn Close and John Malkovich, playing the virtuous victim of seduction, Madame Marie de Tourvel. Her performance won her widespread acclaim; Hal Hinson of The Washington Post saw Pfeiffer's role as "the least obvious and the most difficult. Nothing is harder to play than virtue, and Pfeiffer is smart enough not to try. Instead, she embodies it. Her porcelain-skinned beauty, in this regard, is a great asset, and the way it's used makes it seem an aspect of her spirituality."[27] She won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role[28] and received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.[29]

Pfeiffer then accepted the role of Susie Diamond, a hard-edged former call girl turned lounge singer, in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), which co-starred Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges as the eponymous Baker Boys. She underwent intensive voice training for the role for four months, and performed all of her character's vocals.[30] The film was a modest success, grossing $18.4 million in the US (equivalent to $37.2 million in 2018 dollars [22]).[31] Her portrayal of Susie, however, drew rave reviews from critics. Critic Roger Ebert compared her to Rita Hayworth in Gilda and to Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, adding that the film was "one of the movies they will use as a document, years from now, when they begin to trace the steps by which Pfeiffer became a great star".[32] During the 1989–1990 awards season, Pfeiffer dominated the Best-actress category at every major awards ceremony, winning awards at the Golden Globes, the National Board of Review, the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress and the Chicago Film Critics Association. Pfeiffer's performance as Susie is considered to be the most critically acclaimed of her career.[33][34]


Pfeiffer took the part of the Soviets book editor Katya Orlova in the 1990 film adaptation of John le Carré's The Russia House, with Sean Connery, a role that required her to adopt a Russian accent. For her efforts, she was rewarded with a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama.[35] Pfeiffer then landed the role of damaged waitress Frankie in Garry Marshall's Frankie and Johnny (1991), a film adaptation of Terrence McNally's Broadway play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, which reunited her with her Scarface co-star, Al Pacino. The casting was seen as controversial by many, as Pfeiffer was considered far too beautiful to play an "ordinary" waitress;[36] Kathy Bates, the original Frankie on Broadway, also expressed disappointment over the producers' choice.[37] Pfeiffer herself stated that she took the role because it "wasn't what people would expect of [her]".[38] Pfeiffer was once again nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama for her performance.

In 1990, Pfeiffer formed her own boutique film production company, Via Rosa Productions, which ran for 10 years. The company allowed her to produce and/or star in films tailored for strong women. She asked her best friend Kate Guinzburg to be her producing partner at the company. The two met on the set of the film Sweet Liberty (1986) and quickly became friends. Kate was the Production Coordinator on the film and became close with Pfeiffer over the course of the shoot. Via Rosa Productions was under a picture deal with Touchstone Pictures, a film label of The Walt Disney Studios. The first film the duo produced was the independent drama Love Field, which was released in late 1992. Reviewers embraced the film and The New York Times felt that Pfeiffer was "again demonstrating that she is as subtle and surprising as she is beautiful".[39] For her portrayal of the eccentric Dallas housewife, she earned nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress and the Golden Globe for Best Actress – Drama and won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival.[40][41]

Pfeiffer took the role of Catwoman in Tim Burton's superhero film Batman Returns (1992), with Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito, after Annette Bening withdrew due to pregnancy. For the role of Catwoman, she trained in martial arts and kickboxing. Pfeiffer has received universal critical acclaim for the role, and her performance is consistently referred to as the greatest portrayal of Catwoman of all time by critics and fans, and is also one of the best regarded performances of her career.[42][43][44][45] Premiere retrospectively lauded her performance: "Arguably the outstanding villain of the Tim Burton era, Michelle Pfeiffer's deadly kitten with a whip brought sex to the normally neutered franchise. Her stitched-together, black patent leather costume, based on a sketch of Burton's, remains the character's most iconic look. And Michelle Pfeiffer overcomes Batman Returns' heavy-handed feminist dialogue to deliver a growling, fierce performance."[46] Batman Returns was a big box office success, grossing over US$266 million worldwide (equivalent to $474.9 million).[47]

In Martin Scorsese's period drama The Age of Innocence (1993), a film adaptation of Edith Wharton's 1920 novel, Pfeiffer starred with Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder, portraying a Countess in upper-class New York City in the 1870s. For her role, she received the Elvira Notari Prize at the Venice Film Festival, and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress – Motion Picture.[48] Also in 1993, she was awarded the Women in Film Los Angeles' Crystal Award for outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.[49]

Following the formation of her producing company in 1990, Pfeiffer saw a growing professional expansion as a producer. While she continued to act steadily throughout the decade, she and her producing partner Guinzburg experienced a winning streak of producing back to back films next under their Via Rosa Productions header. In the 1994 horror film Wolf, she starred with Jack Nicholson, portraying the sardonic and willful interest of a writer who becomes a wolf-man at night after being bitten by a creature. The film was released to a mixed critical reception;[50] The New York Times wrote: "Ms. Pfeiffer's role is underwritten, but her performance is expert enough to make even diffidence compelling."[51] Wolf was a commercial success, grossing US$65 million (equivalent to $109.9 million) at the domestic box office and US$131 million worldwide (equivalent to $221.4 million).[52]

Pfeiffer's next role was that of high school teacher and former United States Marine LouAnne Johnson in the drama Dangerous Minds (1995),[53] which was co-produced under her company Via Rosa Productions. She appeared as her character in the music video for the soundtrack's lead single, "Gangsta's Paradise" by Coolio, featuring L.V.; the song won the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance,[54] and the video won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Rap Video.[55] While Dangerous Minds received negative reviews, it was a box office success, grossing US$179.5 million around the globe.[56] Pfeiffer portrayed Sally Atwater in the romantic drama Up Close & Personal (1996), with Robert Redford.[57]

Pfeiffer took the role of Gillian Lewis in To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday (1996), which was adapted by her husband David Kelley from Michael Brady's play of the same name.[58] Under their Via Rosa Productions header, Pfeiffer and Guinzburg produced the films One Fine Day (1996), A Thousand Acres (1997) and The Deep End of the Ocean (1998). She voiced of Tzipporah for animated film The Prince of Egypt (1998). She served as an executive producer and starred as the divorced single mother architect Melanie Parker in the romantic comedy One Fine Day (1996) with George Clooney,[59] Subsequent performances included Rose Cook Lewis in the film adaptation of Jane Smiley's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres (1997) with Jessica Lange and Jennifer Jason Leigh;[60] Beth Cappadora in The Deep End of the Ocean (1998) about a married couple who found their son who was kidnapped nine years ago;[61] Titania the Queen of the Fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999) with Kevin Kline, Rupert Everett and Stanley Tucci;[62] and Katie Jordan in Rob Reiner's comedy-drama The Story of Us (1999) with Bruce Willis.[63]


Pfeiffer chose to begin the process of dissolving her film production company, Via Rosa Productions, in 1999, and move into semi-retirement in order to spend more quality time with her children and family, meaning that she would continue to star in films sporadically into the 2000s and beyond. Pfeiffer handed her producing partner Guinzburg one final film to produce under the Via Rosa Productions header. The film was called Original Sin (2001). It was originally intended to star Pfeiffer, who later changed her mind as she was looking to work less for a while. The film was produced by her company, but instead starred Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas.

In the Hitchcockian thriller What Lies Beneath (2000), Pfeiffer and Harrison Ford starred as a well-to-do couple who experience a strange haunting that uncovers secrets about their past. While critical response towards the film was mixed, it opened atop at the box office in July 2000,[64] and went on to gross US$291 million worldwide.[65] She then accepted the role of Rita Harrison, a highly strung lawyer helping a father with a developmental disability, in the drama I Am Sam (2001), with Sean Penn.[66] Despite grossing $97.8 million worldwide,[67] the movie received unfavorable reviews;[68] Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote: "Pfeiffer, apparently stymied by the bland clichés that prop up her screechy role, delivers her flattest, phoniest performance ever."[69] Meanwhile, SF Gate observed: "In one scene, she breaks down in tears as she unburdens herself to him about her miserable life. It's hard not to cringe, watching this emotionally ready actress fling herself headlong into false material."[70]

Pfeiffer took on the role of a murderous artist, named Ingrid Magnussen, in the drama White Oleander (2002), with Alison Lohman (in her film début), Renée Zellweger and Robin Wright. The film was an arthouse success and Pfeiffer garnered a substantial amount of critical praise; Stephen Holden of The New York Times wrote that "Ms. Pfeiffer, giving the most complex screen performance of her career, makes her Olympian seductress at once irresistible and diabolical."[71] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times described her as "incandescent", bringing "power and unshakable will to her role as mother-master manipulator" in a "riveting, impeccable performance".[72] She earned Best Supporting Actress Awards from the San Diego Film Critics Society and the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, as well as a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination.

Pfeiffer lent her voice for the character of goddess of chaos Eris in Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003), an animated film featuring Brad Pitt as the voice of Sinbad the Sailor. She had struggles with finding the character's villainies. Initially the character was "too sexual", then she lacked fun. After the third rewrite, Pfeiffer called producer Jeffrey Katzenberg and told him "You know, you really can fire me," but he assured her that this was just part of the process.[73] Following the release of the film, she took a four-year hiatus from acting, during which she remained largely out of the public eye to devote time to her husband and children.[74] At the time, she turned down the role of the White Witch in the fantasy film The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (2005), which went to Tilda Swinton.[75]

Pfeiffer returned to the screen in 2007 with villainous roles in two major summer blockbusters — Hairspray and Stardust. In the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Hairspray, she starred with John Travolta, Christopher Walken, Zac Efron and Queen Latifah,[76] in the role of Velma Von Tussle, the racist manager of a television station. Travolta requested that Pfeiffer play the part of the villainess, which was her first film role in five years. A widely positive reception greeted the film upon its release, while it made an impressive US$118.9 million and US$202.5 million worldwide.[77] The cast of Hairspray was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Cast in a Motion Picture, but won the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast, the Hollywood Film Festival Award for Ensemble of the Year and the Palm Springs International Film Festival Award for Ensemble Cast. Her next film release, the fantasy adventure Stardust, with Claire Danes, Charlie Cox and Robert De Niro,[78] saw her play the ancient witch Lamia. Filmed before Hairspray, the film premiered three weeks afterwards; it garnered largely positive reviews but, budgeted at US$70 million, it made a modest US$135.5 million globally.[79]

Pfeiffer starred in Amy Heckerling's romantic comedy I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007), with Paul Rudd and Saoirse Ronan,[80] portraying Rosie, a 40-year-old divorced mother working as a scriptwriter and producer for a television show who falls in love with a much younger man (Rudd). Her reported salary was US$1 million, with an advance on 15 percent of the gross. However, the film was only distributed on home video markets.[81] Reviews for I Could Never Be Your Woman were moderately positive,[82] with critic James Berardinelli finding Pfeiffer and Rudd to "have adequate chemistry to pull off the romance" in what he described as an "enjoyable romantic comedy that has enough going for it to make it worth a recommendation".[83] She next starred in Personal Effects (2009), with Ashton Kutcher, playing two grieving people coping with the pain and frustration of their loss whose bond spawns an unlikely romance. The drama premiered at Iowa City's Englert Theatre.[84]

Pfeiffer's next film, an adaptation of Colette's Chéri (2009), reunited her with the director (Stephen Frears) and screenwriter (Christopher Hampton) of Dangerous Liaisons (1988). Pfeiffer played the role of aging retired courtesan Léa de Lonval, with Rupert Friend in the title role, with Kathy Bates as his mother. Chéri premiered at the 2009 Berlin International Film Festival, where it received a nomination for the Golden Bear award.[85] The Times of London reviewed the film favorably, describing Hampton's screenplay as a "steady flow of dry quips and acerbic one-liners" and Pfeiffer's performance as "magnetic and subtle, her worldly nonchalance a mask for vulnerability and heartache".[86] Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times wrote that it was "fascinating to observe how Pfeiffer controls her face and voice during times of painful hurt".[87] Kenneth Turan in the Los Angeles Times praised the "wordless scenes that catch Léa unawares, with the camera alone seeing the despair and regret that she hides from the world. It's the kind of refined, delicate acting Pfeiffer does so well, and it's a further reminder of how much we've missed her since she's been away."[88]


Following a two-year sabbatical from acting, Pfeiffer made part of a large ensemble cast in Garry Marshall's romantic comedy New Year's Eve (2011), her second collaboration with Marshall after Frankie and Johnny. The film, also starring Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Robert De Niro, Josh Duhamel, Zac Efron, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Sofía Vergara, among many others, saw her take on the supporting role of Ingrid Withers, an overwhelmed secretary befriending a deliveryman (Efron). While the film was panned by critics, it made US$142 million worldwide.[89] In 2012, she appeared with Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks in the drama People Like Us, as the mother of a struggling New York City corporate trader (Pine). Rolling Stone found her to be "luminous" in the film,[90] and The New York Times, positively pointing out Pfeiffer and Banks, noted that their performances "partly compensate for the holes in a story whose timing is hard to swallow".[91] People Like Us debuted to US$4.26 million, described as "meager" by Box Office Mojo, and only made US$12 million in North America.[92]

Pfieffer reunited with Tim Burton, her Batman Returns director, in Dark Shadows (2012), based on the gothic television soap opera of the same name. In the film, co-starring Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter and Chloë Grace Moretz, she played Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the stern and strict, but loyal and devoted family matriarch. Critical response towards the film was mixed, but writers acclaimed the actors' performances—most notably Depp and Pfeiffer's. IGN found her to be "commanding" in her role and felt that the main characters were "played by one of Burton's best ensemble casts yet".[93] While Dark Shadows grossed a modest US$79.7 million in North America, it ultimately made US$245.5 million globally.[94] In Luc Besson's mob-comedy The Family (2013), co-starring Robert De Niro, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron and John D'Leo, she played the "tough mother" in a Mafia family wanting to change their lives under the witness protection program.[95][96] Although reviews for the film were mixed, THV11 said on the cast's portrayals: "The core actors of The Family were really solid, and the whole film comes together to make a solid movie."[97] Meanwhile, The Huffington Post felt that "De Niro, Pfieffer and Jones all brought 100% to their roles."[98] The film grossed US$78.4 million worldwide.[99]

"The only trepidation was I think I took for granted how nice it was to not be under the spotlight and just having a life. I remember thinking, 'Do I really want to step back into this?' And I just realized that I'm not done. I have a lot more to do, and a lot more to say. I'm never going to be one that retires."

—Pfeiffer in 2017 on her comeback[100]

Pfeiffer has stated that her lack of acting throughout the 2000s was due to her children,[101] and now with both her children away at college, she intends to "work a lot".[102] She has commented that she feels that her best performance is "still in her", and that she thinks that's what keeps her going.[103] The slew of films that would follow in 2017 would prompt the media to dub her career resurgence a "Pfeiffer-sance".[104][105] In the independent drama Where Is Kyra?, she starred as a sensitive and fragile woman who loses her mother and "faces a crisis in which she must find a means for survival, all the while hiding her struggles from her new lover". The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 23, 2017, and received a limited release on April 6, 2018,[106] to critical acclaim;[107][108][109] Her role as Kyra was dubbed the "performance of her life" by Village Voice's Bilge Ebiri,[110] and "the performance of her career", by Rolling Stone.[111]

Pfeiffer landed the role of Ruth Madoff for the HBO Films drama The Wizard of Lies, based on the book of the same name. The film, directed by Barry Levinson, reunites her with actor Robert De Niro, who played her husband, disgraced financier Bernard Madoff.[112] The Wizard of Lies premiered on HBO on May 20, 2017, garnering favorable reviews from critics and an audience of 1.5 million viewers, HBO's largest premiere viewership for a film in four years.[113] Tolucan Times remarked that Pfeiffer "steals the show as Madoff's wife, Ruth, and is a remarkable lookalike",[114] while Los Angeles Times asserted: "As Ruth, Pfeiffer convincingly portrays a pampered woman left with utterly nothing —she's lost her homes, status and, most important, her relationship with her sons."[115] Pfeiffer earned her first Emmy nomination for her performance in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.[116]

In Darren Aronofsky's psychological horror film Mother! (2017), with Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Bardem,[117] Pfeiffer portrayed one of the mysterious guests disrupting the tranquil life of a couple. While Mother! polarized viewers and prompted mass walkouts, the film was better received by critics.[118][119] Despite its divisiveness, critics unanimously praised Pfeiffer's contribution,[120][121] some of whom felt that her performance was worthy of an Oscar nomination.[122] Vulture remarked: "Out of the main actors, it's Pfeiffer who is able to root the character in meaning — she bracingly marries the exploration of Biblical creation, mythological overtones, and hellish domestic commentary. There's a gravity to Pfeiffer's performance that allows her to succeed where the other main actors fail, save for brief spurts — she straddles the boundaries between embodying a symbol and granting the character enough interiority to feel like a flesh and blood woman, too."[123]

Pfeiffer had a supporting role in Kenneth Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express (2017), the fourth adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1934 novel of the same name. The mysterydrama ensemble film follows world-renowned detective Hercule Poirot, who seeks to solve a murder on the famous European train in the 1930s. Pfeiffer played an aging socialite with Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, and Judi Dench.[124] Pfeiffer sang the song "Never Forget", which plays over the film's closing credits and appears on the film's official soundtrack.[100] The film grossed US$351.7 million worldwide and received decent reviews from critics, with praise for the performances, but criticism for not adding anything new to previous adaptations.[125] Although most critics agreed that the ensemble cast was underused, Pfeiffer's performance earned positive reviews, with Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times opining that the actress delivers the film's best performance.[126] The New Yorker's Anthony Lane found Pfeiffer to be the only actor who appears to be enjoying their material.[127] David Edelstein of Vulture described the actress as "a hoot and a half ... stealing every scene".[128] Mick LaSalle, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, identified Pfeiffer as the film's "most interesting bit of casting", crediting her performance with reminding audiences that she is one of today's best film actresses and "help[ing] Branagh make the case for his remake over the original".[129]

Pfeiffer stars as Janet van Dyne in Marvel's Ant-Man and the Wasp, directed by Peyton Reed. The film was released in theaters July 6, 2018.[130] Critics felt that Pfeiffer used her limited screentime well. Variety's Owen Gleiberman described her presence as "lovely" and "wistful",[131] while Josh Spiegel of Film wrote that the film suffers from a lack of the actress, describing her as "less of a character and more of a MacGuffin" and her performance as "cruelly brief".[132] She reprised her role as Janet van Dyne in Avengers: Endgame along with Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly. In October 2019, Pfeiffer stars in the dark fantasy sequel Maleficent: Mistress of Evil.[133]

In October 2019, she will begin work on the dark comedy French Exit, based on the acclaimed novel of the same name by Patrick deWitt, directed by Azazel Jacobs.[134][135] The film will co-star Lucas Hedges and Tracy Letts.[136] On May 11, 2019, it was announced that Pfeiffer would be teaming with actress Annette Bening for the psychological thriller, Turn of Mind, set to be directed by Gideon Raff.[137]

Acting style and reception

Pfeiffer maintains that she has never received formal acting training.[138] Instead, she credits director Milton Katselas with teaching her how to recognize the difference between how an actor thinks a character would behave during a particular scene, and then how the actor themself would behave during that same scene.[139] Vulture.com's Angelica Jade Bastién described Pfeiffer as "an actress of such depth, breadth, and tenacity" that "she obliterates the argument that an untrained actor has less capability than her trained counterparts."[140] In 1992, Rolling Stone's Gerri Hirshey identified Pfeiffer as a "character actress" who is comfortable wearing unflattering costumes, with The Fabulous Baker Boys' Susie Diamond being a notable exception at the time of the film's release.[141] Pfeiffer claims that she rarely accepts traditionally glamorous roles because she finds few of them interesting, opting to play characters that "move" her instead: "I know that if I can hear the character as I'm reading, it's made some connection [with me]."[141] A film critic once summarized the actress as "a character actress in a screen siren's body",[139] a sentiment with which her Scarface co-star and friend Al Pacino agrees.[141] Often commended for her ability to mask her true feelings and emotions, Pfeiffer frequently uses this technique to her advantage in period films, a genre that has become a trademark of hers.[139] Pfeiffer herself has admitted to being skilled in this particular area but at the same time believes that disguising one's feelings is not uncommon, speculating, "that's how most people behave. We may not be as mannered or as proper as people were in the 19th century, but very rarely are we talking about what we're really thinking."[139] Pfeiffer has referred to acting as a "sadomasochistic" profession due to how "brutal" she finds the process can be at times.[142]

During the 1980s, Pfeiffer typically played smart, funny, sexually attractive and strong female characters.[143] Adam Platt of New Woman observed that Pfeiffer's characters tends to "play the world at a distance, mostly, and are often wise beyond their years. They get romanced, but are not overtly romantic. They may be trashy ... but they all retain an air of invulnerability, a certain classical poise."[144] In a film review for the Miami New Times, director and film critic Bilge Ebiri observed that Pfeiffer "often played women who were somewhat removed from the world", elaborating, "It wasn't so much unapproachability or aloofness that she conveyed, but a reserve that suggested ... melancholy, pain, dreams deferred", even in some of her more comedic performances.[145] Comparing her resumé to actress Barbara Stanwyck, Elizabeth Kaye of The Daily Beast wrote that Pfeiffer's vulnerable characters share a common theme: "the only reasonable expectation is to not expect much."[143] Pfeiffer was one of the most popular actresses of the 1980s and 1990s.[146][147] In 2002, Amy Longsdorf of The Morning Call dubbed Pfeiffer "one of the most popular and critically acclaimed movie stars in the world."[148] Apart from The Witches of Eastwick, few of the actress' films during this period had been box office successes,[143] an observation Pfeiffer never mentioned to studio heads in fear that they would stop hiring her altogether.[141] However, her performances continued to garner consistently positive reviews despite lackluster ticket sales and several films that critics dismissed as "forgettable".[141][149] Pfeiffer has managed to establish herself as a "major star" despite having yet to receive top-billing in a blockbuster film.[143] Despite this, by 1999 Variety ranked Pfeiffer "the female movie star most likely to improve a film's box-office appeal".[150]

Pfeiffer is widely considered to be among the most talented actresses in Hollywood,[129][151][152][153] as well as one of the greatest actresses of her generation.[140][154][155][156] Despite observing that she lacks the high-profile film credits and training of contemporaries such as Anjelica Huston and Meryl Streep, Bastién wrote that Pfeiffer possesses "the most fascinating thematic through line" among her generation of actresses.[140] Maclean's film critic Brian D. Johnson argues that Pfeiffer has never had an opportunity to truly demonstrate her full range, believing that she could be as respected as Streep "if given the same opportunities".[157] Novelist Steve Erickson, contributing to Los Angeles Magazine, wrote that Pfeiffer "threatened to become one of the four or five great American film actresses of her generation" during her thirties, despite being "well past the starlet age".[158] Deemed one of the industry's "most interesting" actresses by The Daily Beast,[143] Pfeiffer is particularly known for the versatility of her performances,[159][160] boasting a diverse filmography that spans period, romance, fantasy, musical, comedy and drama.[138][161] In 2016, Salon's Charles Taylor declared "No other actor of the past 10 to 12 years has come close to Michelle Pfeiffer for sheer versatility".[160] In another review for Vulture.com, Bastién wrote that "Pfeiffer's greatness as an actress rests among several contradictions", concluding, "No modern actress better evokes the rich tension between understanding the currency that comes with being a great beauty and the distaste with being seen at all."[162] Meanwhile, Johnson claims that Pfeiffer's performances are sometimes crippled by her beauty and "apparent lack of ambition" due to her tendency to accept "safe, undemanding roles" in order to spend time with her family.[157] However, Johnson believes that the actress' same lack of ambition "is also what makes her such a good actor", describing her approach as "modest to a fault".[157] Similarly, the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle remarked that Pfeiffer's own humility makes it "easy to forget" that she is "a great screen actress — not just good, or very good, or interesting, but genuinely great, as in one of the best we have".[129]

Filmmakers and co-stars agree that Pfeiffer is extremely committed to her work,[141] developing a "reputation for competence, control and hyper-preparation".[144] Her acting ability continues to draw praise from directors with whom she has collaborated throughout her career;[163] Martin Scorsese described Pfeiffer as "an actress who could portray inner conflict with her eyes and face better than any other film star of her generation",[139] while Jonathan Demme declared "It's hard for me to imagine anyone who, on a level of quality, would have an edge on her."[163] Pfeiffer has been described as difficult to work with at times,[164] particularly by Robert Towne, who directed her in Tequila Sunrise; Towne famously dubbed Pfeiffer "the most difficult actress in Hollywood".[165][164][166] On this designation, Pfeiffer admitted that she can seem difficult at times but it mostly "depends on whom you talk to".[142] Pfeiffer also refuses to watch her own work, describing herself as "a perfectionist, and there's nothing perfect in what I do”.[167] Pfeiffer always discards old scripts in which she has written extensive notes about her characters, nor does she retain film reviews, magazine clippings or covers about her work or performances.[141]

Media image

Pfeiffer has long been called one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood,[143][168][169][170] a designation that The Daily Telegraph's Mick Brown considers to be both "a defining characteristic in her acting career" and "curse".[139] Pfeiffer initially struggled to convince casting agents and directors to take her seriously as an actress because they doubted that she was more than merely an attractive face.[139] Pfeiffer's talent continued to be overshadowed by her beauty even several years after her breakout performance in Scarface,[171] to which she responded by pursuing roles in which being blond and beautiful was not a requirement.[141] The Daily Beast's Elizabeth Kaye recognized Pfeiffer as one of Hollywood's rare beauties who trust that it is indeed possible to be both physically beautiful and serious, believing that the actress achieves this by "grafting the sensibility of a modern woman onto the glamour of a '30s icon";[143] Rolling Stones' Gerri Hirshey agreed that Pfeiffer's roles combine "Nineties guts and Thirties glamour".[141] Nisha Lilia Diu, another The Daily Telegraph contributor, opined, "It's not that she looks younger than she is – she doesn't particularly – it's the symmetry of her bone structure, the flashing aquamarine eyes and those lips, the top one so much fuller than the bottom. It's the kind of beauty you find yourself involuntarily taking a moment to marvel at mid-conversation."[165] At least two of Pfeiffer's films, Stardust (2007) and Chéri (2009), explore themes of beautiful women struggling to come to terms with aging.[165] Pfeiffer personally identified with the topic of "our obsession with youth and the ludicrous degrees to which women will go to reclaim it" depicted both films.[165] Pfeiffer claims to not want to appear younger than she is and has yet to undergo plastic surgery, although she admits she would "never say never" to the procedure,[165] explaining, "I'm all for a little something here and there."[169] However, she has voiced her disapproval of actors who surgically modify their appearance beyond recognition.[169] Dismissing the claim that she is "drop dead gorgeous", insisting that she is only "conventionally pretty".[163] Pfeiffer has been famously self-deprecating about her own appearance, comparing herself to Howard the Duck.[141]

Encyclopædia Britannica writes that the actress is "noted for her beauty and air of vulnerability".[172] Pfeiffer has also been regularly called one of the most beautiful women in the world.[173][18] Ranking the actress among history's most beautiful, talented and famous actresses, Glamour dubbed Pfeiffer "Possibly the most perfect face on the silver screen".[174] The same magazine ranked Pfeiffer among the greatest style icons of the 1980s, calling her "the go-to girl in the 80s for the major studios" and "one of our all-time favourite movie goddesses".[175] Vogue contributor Alice Newbold considers her "ash-blonde hair, piercing blue eyes and porcelain skin" to be her trademark features, traits she has maintained throughout her career.[176] For Interview magazine, Peter Stone described Pfeiffer as a "Blond, sultry, and ethereal" woman with an "unforgettable" face.[142] Harper's Bazaar ranked Pfeiffer the fourth most glamorous "beauty icon" of the 1980s.[177] Complex ranked Pfeiffer 49th on their list of "The 80 Hottest Women of the '80s".[178] During the 1990s, Pfeiffer attracted significant comment in the media for her beauty; in 1990, she appeared on the cover of People magazine's first 50 Most Beautiful People in the World issue. She was again featured on the cover of the annual issue in 1999, having made the "Most Beautiful" list a record six times during the decade (1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1999). Pfeiffer is the first celebrity to have appeared on the cover of the annual issue twice, and the only person to be featured on the cover twice during the 1990s.[179] Men's Health ranked Pfeiffer the 45th on their list of "The Hottest Woman of All Time".[180]

Famous for being "press-shy" and private, much like the characters she portrays,[142][181] Pfeiffer is notorious for disliking interviews, referring to herself as "the worst interviewee that ever was";[171] her interviews often feature discussions about how nervous the process makes her.[141][142] Pfeiffer revealed that attending interviews to promote her films would make her very agitated and uncomfortable at one time, but she has always "mastered the art" of maintaining a composed, polite demeanor when performing such responsibilities.[139] However, she maintains that "I still don't believe – and I never will – that it's the actors' responsibility to sell a film."[141] Culture commentators noted that in 2014, Pfeiffer, who was not promoting any movies at the time, had become a "pop-music muse" and was mentioned by name in the lyrics of two separate songs moving up the charts at that time: "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars and "Riptide" by Vance Joy.[182][183]

Pfeiffer is mentioned in Vance Joy's 2013 song, "Riptide" ("I swear she's destined for the screen, closest thing to Michelle Pfeiffer that you've ever seen").[184] Joy told reporters that the Pfeiffer film moment which led him to include her name in his song was her portrayal of Selina Kyle in Batman Returns. He said, "She comes back to her apartment after being thrown out the window by Christopher Walken and she goes mental. Her apartment's all pink and beautiful, and kind of creepy and infantile, then she just smashes it all up and spray paints stuff and transforms into Catwoman. It's this really kind of sexual scene; it's amazing."[182] Pfeiffer is also mentioned in Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars's 2014 song, "Uptown Funk" ("This hit, That ice cold, Michelle Pfeiffer, That white gold").[185] In an interview, Ronson told a reporter his favorite Pfeiffer movie was "The Fabulous Baker Boys. I also liked her in Scarface and Tequila Sunrise. She was such a babe."[186] Hip hop vocalist Mahawam released the song "Michelle Pfeiffer" in 2019.[187]

Australian cricketers speak of "getting a Michelle" when they take five wickets in an innings. In cricketing parlance, this is referred to as a "five for", a near-homophone for "Pfeiffer", which resulted in the nickname "Michelle".[188]

Personal life

While taking acting classes in Los Angeles, Pfeiffer was taken in by a seemingly friendly couple who ran a metaphysics and vegetarian cult. They helped her to cease drinking, smoking, and doing drugs, and over time the couple took control of her entire life. Much of her money went to the group. "I was brainwashed ... I gave them an enormous amount of money." Pfeiffer, insecure, felt that she could no longer live without them.

At an acting class taught by Milton Katselas in Los Angeles, she met fellow budding actor, Peter Horton, and they began dating. Pfeiffer and Horton married in Santa Monica in 1981, and it was on their honeymoon that she discovered she had won the lead role in Grease 2.[189] Horton directed Pfeiffer in a 1985 ABC TV special, One Too Many, in which she played the high school girlfriend of an alcoholic student (Val Kilmer);[190] and in 1987, the real-life couple played an on-screen couple in the 'Hospital' segment of John Landis's comedy skit compilation, Amazon Women on the Moon. However, they decided to separate in 1988, and were divorced two years later; Horton later blamed the split on their devotion to their work rather than on their marriage.[18]

After her marriage to Horton, Pfeiffer had a three-year relationship with actor/producer Fisher Stevens. They met when Pfeiffer was starring in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Twelfth Night, in which Stevens played the role of Sir Andrew Aguecheek.[191] Pfeiffer was also involved in an affair with John Malkovich, her co-star in Dangerous Liaisons, who at the time was married to Glenne Headly.[192][193][194][195][196][197]

In 1993, Pfeiffer married television writer and producer David E. Kelley.[198] She made a brief uncredited cameo appearance in one episode of Kelley's television series Picket Fences and played the title character in To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, for which Kelley wrote the screenplay.[199] Pfeiffer had entered into private adoption proceedings before she met Kelley.[200] In March 1993, she adopted a newborn daughter, Claudia Rose,[201] who was christened on Pfeiffer and Kelley's wedding day.[202] In 1994, Pfeiffer gave birth to a son.[203]

Other ventures

Product and endorsements

In 2005, Pfeiffer served as the face of Giorgio Armani's spring campaign; the designer has often dressed her for public appearances.[204] In the March 2019 issue of InStyle magazine, she announced her intention to launch a collection of fine fragrances called Henry Rose.[167] The line launched in April, 2019.[205]


Having been a smoker for 10 years, and having a niece who suffered from leukemia for 10 years, Pfeiffer decided to support the American Cancer Society.[206] Her charity work includes as well her support for the Humane Society.[18] In 2016 she also attended the Healthy Child Healthy World's L.A. Gala for people who lead the organizations for children's environmental health and protect those most vulnerable.[207] In December that same year, Pfeiffer, who is a vegan, joined the board of directors for Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group based in Washington. D.C.[208]



Year Title Role Director Notes
1980 The Hollywood Knights Suzie Q Floyd Mutrux Film debut
Falling in Love Again Sue Wellington Steven Paul
1981 Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen Cordelia Farenington Clive Donner
1982 Grease 2 Stephanie Zinone Patricia Birch
1983 Scarface Elvira Hancock Brian De Palma
1985 Into the Night Diana John Landis [209]
Ladyhawke Isabeau d'Anjou Richard Donner
1986 Sweet Liberty Faith Healy Alan Alda
1987 The Witches of Eastwick Sukie Ridgemont George Miller
Amazon Women on the Moon Brenda Landers John Landis Segment: "Hospital"
1988 Married to the Mob Angela de Marco Jonathan Demme
Tequila Sunrise Jo Ann Vallenari Robert Towne
Dangerous Liaisons Madame Marie de Tourvel Stephen Frears
1989 The Fabulous Baker Boys Susie Diamond Steve Kloves
1990 The Russia House Katya Orlova Fred Schepisi
1991 Frankie and Johnny Frankie Garry Marshall
1992 Batman Returns Selina
Kyle / Catwoman
Tim Burton
Love Field Lurene Hallett Jonathan Kaplan
1993 The Age of Innocence Countess Ellen Olenska Martin Scorsese
1994 Wolf Laura Alden Mike Nichols
1995 Dangerous Minds LouAnne Johnson John N. Smith
1996 Up Close & Personal Sally "Tally" Atwater Jon Avnet
To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday Gillian Lewis Michael Pressman
One Fine Day Melanie Parker Michael Hoffman
1997 A Thousand Acres Rose Cook Lewis Jocelyn Moorhouse
1998 The Prince of Egypt Tzipporah Brenda Chapman
Steve Hickner
Simon Wells
1999 The Deep End of the Ocean Beth Cappadora Ulu Grosbard
A Midsummer Night's Dream Titania Michael Hoffman
The Story of Us Katie Jordan Rob Reiner
2000 What Lies Beneath Claire Spencer Robert Zemeckis
2001 I Am Sam Rita Harrison Williams Jessie Nelson
2002 White Oleander Ingrid Magnussen Peter Kosminsky
2003 Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas Eris Tim Johnson
Patrick Gilmore
2007 I Could Never Be Your Woman Rosie Hanson Amy Heckerling
Hairspray Velma Von Tussle Adam Shankman
Stardust Lamia Matthew Vaughn
2009 Personal Effects Linda David Hollander
Chéri Lea de Lonval Stephen Frears
2011 New Year's Eve Ingrid Withers Garry Marshall
2012 Dark Shadows Elizabeth Collins Stoddard Tim Burton
People Like Us Lillian Harper Alex Kurtzman
2013 The Family Maggie Blake Luc Besson
2017 Where Is Kyra? Kyra Johnson Andrew Dosunmu
Mother! Woman Darren Aronofsky
Murder on the Orient Express Caroline Hubbard Kenneth Branagh
2018 Ant-Man and the Wasp Janet Van Dyne Peyton Reed
2019 Avengers: Endgame Anthony and Joe Russo
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil Queen Ingrith Joachim Rønning [210][211]
2020 French Exit Frances Price Azazel Jacobs Post-production[135]


Year Title Role Notes
1978 Fantasy Island Athena Episode: "The Island of Lost Women/The Flight of Great Yellow Bird"
1979 Delta House The Bombshell 12 episodes
The Solitary Man Tricia Television film
CHiPs Jobina Episode: "The Watch Commander"
1980 B.A.D. Cats Samantha "Sunshine" Jensen 10 episodes
Enos Joy 2 episodes
1981 Fantasy Island Deborah Dare Episode: "Elizabeth's Baby/The Artist and the Lady"
Callie & Son Sue Lynn Bordeaux Television film
Credited as "Michele Pfeiffer"
Splendor in the Grass Ginny Stamper Television film
The Children Nobody Wanted Jennifer Williams Television film
1985 One Too Many Annie Television special
1987 Great Performances Natica Jackson Episode: "Tales from the Hollywood Hills: Natica Jackson"
1993 The Simpsons Mindy Simmons Voice
Episodes: "The Last Temptation of Homer"
1995 Picket Fences Client Uncredited
Episode: "Freezer Burn"
1996 Muppets Tonight Herself Episode: "Michelle Pfeiffer"
2017 The Wizard of Lies Ruth Madoff Television film

Awards and nominations

During her career, Pfeiffer has won numerous awards including the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama, the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and Best Actress awards from the National Board of Review, the National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, as well as Best Supporting Actress awards from the Kansas City Film Critics Circle and the San Diego Film Critics Society.

Pfeiffer has received three Academy Award nominations to date: Best Supporting Actress for Dangerous Liaisons (1988), and Best Actress in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) and Love Field (1992).

In 2017, Pfeiffer received her first Emmy Award nomination for her performance in The Wizard of Lies (2017) portraying Ruth Madoff. On December 11, 2017, it was announced that she had received a 2018 Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film nomination for the role.[212]


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