Michelle Marie Pfeiffer, (pronounced /ˈfaɪfər/; born April 29, 1958) is an American actress. She made her screen début in 1980, but first garnered mainstream attention with her appearance in Scarface (1983). She rose to prominence during the late 1980s and early 1990s, during which time she gave a series of critically-acclaimed performances in the films Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Married to the Mob (1988), The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), The Russia House (1990), Frankie and Johnny (1991), Love Field (1992), and The Age of Innocence (1993), as well as appearing as Catwoman, the feline anti-heroine of Batman Returns (1992).
Pfeiffer has been nominated for an Academy Award three times: Best Supporting Actress for Dangerous Liaisons (1988), Best Actress for The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989), and Best Actress for Love Field (1992). She won a Golden Globe Award for The Fabulous Baker Boys, a BAFTA Award for Dangerous Liaisons, and the Silver Bear for Best Actress for Love Field. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.
Pfeiffer appeared on the cover of People's first "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" issue in 1990, and again in 1999, having made the list a record six times during the decade.
Pfeiffer was born in Santa Ana, California, the second of four children born to Richard Pfeiffer, a heating and air-conditioning contractor, and Donna (née Taverna), a homemaker. She has one elder brother, Rick, and two younger sisters, Dedee Pfeiffer and Lori Pfeiffer, both actresses. The family moved to Midway City, California, where Pfeiffer spent her childhood. She attended Fountain Valley High School and worked as a check-out girl at Vons supermarket. She then attended Golden West College where she was a member of the Alpha Delta Pi sorority. After a short stint training to be a court stenographer, she decided upon an acting career, and entered the Miss Orange County Beauty Pageant in 1978 (which she won), and the Miss Los Angeles contest later that year, after which she was signed by a Hollywood agent who appeared on the judging panel. Moving to Los Angeles, she began to audition for commercials and bit parts in films.
First television and film appearances
Pfeiffer's early acting appearances included television roles in Fantasy Island, Delta House and BAD Cats, and small film roles in Falling in Love Again (1980) with Susannah York, The Hollywood Knights (1980) opposite Tony Danza, and Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981), none of which met with much success. Pfeiffer took acting lessons, and appeared in three further television movies - Callie and Son (1981) with Lindsay Wagner, The Children Nobody Wanted (1981), and a remake of Splendor in the Grass (as Ginny) - before landing her first major film role as Stephanie Zinone in Grease 2 (1982), the sequel to the smash-hit musical Grease (1978). The film was a critical and commercial failure, although Pfeiffer herself received some positive attention, notably from the New York Times, which said "although she is a relative screen newcomer, Miss Pfeiffer manages to look much more insouciant and comfortable than anyone else in the cast." Despite escaping the critical mauling, Pfeiffer's agent later admitted that her association with the film meant that "she couldn't get any jobs. Nobody wanted to hire her."
Pfeiffer in March 1985
Director Brian de Palma, having seen Grease 2, refused to audition Pfeiffer for Scarface (1983), but relented upon the producer's insistence. She was cast as cocaine-addicted trophy wife Elvira Hancock. The film was considered excessively violent by most critics, but became a commercial hit and gained a large cult following in subsequent years. 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..." while Dominick Dunne, in an article for Vanity Fair entitled "Blonde Ambition", wrote, "[s]he is on the verge of stardom. In the parlance of the industry, she is hot."
Following Scarface, she accepted the roles of Isabeau d'Anjou in Ladyhawke (1985) opposite Rutger Hauer, Diana in John Landis' comedy Into the Night (1985) opposite Jeff Goldblum, Faith Healy in Alan Alda's Sweet Liberty (1986) opposite 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 supernatural comedy The Witches of Eastwick (1987), alongside Jack Nicholson, Cher and Susan Sarandon.
Pfeiffer was cast against type, as a murdered gangster's widowed moll on the run, in Jonathan Demme's mafia comedy Married to the Mob (1988), opposite Matthew Modine, Dean Stockwell and Mercedes Ruehl. For the role of Angela de Marco, she donned a curly brunette wig and a Brooklyn accent, and received her first of six consecutive Golden Globe Best Actress Award nominations. Pfeiffer then appeared as chic restauranteuse Jo Ann Vallenari in Tequila Sunrise (1988) opposite 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's ever worked with.
At Demme's personal recommendation, Pfeiffer joined the cast of Stephen Frears's Dangerous Liaisons (1988) alongside 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." She won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role and received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
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, and performed all of her character's vocals. The film was a modest success, but Pfeiffer's portrayal of Susie drew raves from critics. Pauline Kael wrote of the performance as possessing "the grinning infectiousness of Carole Lombard, [and] the radiance of the very young Lauren Bacall," while Roger Ebert compared her to Rita Hayworth in Gilda and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot, and described the film as "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."Variety singled out her performance of 'Makin' Whoopee', writing that Pfeiffer "hits the spot in the film's certain-to-be-remembered highlight... crawling all over a piano in a blazing red dress. She's dynamite." 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 and the Chicago Film Critics Association. At the Academy Awards, she was favored to win the Best Actress Oscar,but the award went to Jessica Tandy for Driving Miss Daisy in what was considered a surprise upset. The only other major acting award for which she was nominated that she did not take home for The Fabulous Baker Boys was the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, which also went to Tandy.
Pfeiffer continued to build on her A-list status in Hollywood, accepting (and also turning down) many varied, high-profile roles. She took the part of Katya Orlova in the film adaptation of John le Carré's The Russia House (1990) opposite Sean Connery, a role that required her to adopt a Russian accent. For her efforts, she was rewarded with a third Golden Globe nomination. 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; Kathy Bates, the original Frankie on Broadway, also expressed disappointment over the producers' choice.Pfeiffer herself stated that she took the role because it "wasn't what people would expect of [her]." Pfeiffer was once again nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance.
Pfeiffer earned her third Academy Award nomination and fifth Golden Globe nomination for her performance as Lurene Hallett in the nostalgic independent drama Love Field (1992), a film that had been temporarily shelved by the financially-troubled Orion Pictures. It was finally released in late 1992, in time for Oscar consideration. The New York Times review wrote of Pfeiffer as "again demonstrating that she is as subtle and surprising as she is beautiful." For her portrayal of the eccentric Dallas housewife, she won the Silver Bear Best Actress award at the Berlin Film Festival.
Pfeiffer took the role of Catwoman (Selina Kyle) in Tim Burton's Batman Returns (1992) opposite Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito. For the role of Catwoman, she trained in martial arts and kickboxing; one co-star stated that "Michelle had four stunt doubles - but she did all her own whippin'." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised her for giving the "feminist avenger a tough core of intelligence and wit" and called her a "classic dazzler."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."
The following year, she played Countess Ellen Olenska in Martin Scorsese's film adaptation of Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (1993) opposite Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder, receiving the Elvira Notari Prize at the Venice Film Festival, and a sixth nomination for a Golden Globe award.
Pfeiffer's subsequent career choices have met with varying degrees of success. After The Age of Innocence, she played the role of Laura Alden opposite Jack Nicholson in Wolf (1994), a horror film that garnered a mixed critical reception. Her next role was that of high school teacher and former US Marine LouAnne Johnson in the surprise box office hit Dangerous Minds (1995). 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, and the video won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Rap Video. She then took the role of Sally Atwater in the romantic drama Up Close & Personal (1996) opposite Robert Redford; the film's screenplay, co-written by husband and wife team John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion, was intended to be a biographical account of the career of news anchor Jessica Savitch, but the final version had almost nothing to do with Savitch's life, leading Dunne to write an exposé of his eight-year battle with the Hollywood producers, Monster: Living Off the Big Screen.
Subsequent performances included the title (but technically supporting) role of Gillian Lewis in To Gillian On Her 37th Birthday (1996) opposite Peter Gallagher and Claire Danes, Melanie Parker in One Fine Day (1996) opposite George Clooney, 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, Beth Cappadora in The Deep End of the Ocean (1998) opposite Treat Williams, Titania the Queen of the Fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1999) with Kevin Kline, Rupert Everett and Stanley Tucci, and Katie Jordan in The Story of Us (1999) opposite Bruce Willis.
Her next film, the Hitchcockian thriller What Lies Beneath (2000) with Harrison Ford, was a commercial success, opening number one at the box office in July 2000. She then accepted the role of highly-strung lawyer Rita Harrison in I Am Sam (2001) opposite Sean Penn. For her performance as murderous artist Ingrid Magnussen in White Oleander (2002), alongside Alison Lohman in her film début, Renée Zellweger and Robin Wright Penn, 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." 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."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 also did voice work in two animated films during this period, voicing Tzipporah in The Prince of Egypt (1998), in which she introduced the Academy Award–winning song, 'When You Believe', and Eris in Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003).
Return to films
After a four-year hiatus, during which she remained largely out of the public eye and devoted time to her husband and children, Pfeiffer returned to the screen in 2007 with villainous roles in two major summer blockbusters, as Velma Von Tussle in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical Hairspray (2007) with John Travolta and Christopher Walken, and as ancient witch Lamia in fantasy adventure Stardust (2007) opposite Claire Danes and Robert De Niro.
Pfeiffer then accepted the roles of Rosie in Amy Heckerling's I Could Never Be Your Woman (2007) with Paul Rudd and Saoirse Ronan, and Linda in Personal Effects (2009) opposite Ashton Kutcher. Her next film, an adaptation of Colette's Chéri (2009), reunited her with the director (Stephen Frears) and screenwriter (Christopher Hampton) of Dangerous Liaisons (1988), a film for which all three were nominees for (and, in Hampton's case, recipient of) an Academy Award. Pfeiffer played the role of Léa de Lonval opposite Rupert Friend in the title role, with Kathy Bates as his mother. Chéri premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February 2009, and received a nomination for the Golden Bear award. 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." 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." 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."
In 1989, Pfeiffer made her stage début in the role of Olivia in Twelfth Night, a New York Shakespeare Festival production staged in Central Park. Other film actors appearing in the play included Jeff Goldblum as Malvolio and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Viola. Frank Rich's review in the New York Times was extremely critical of the production, stating "Ms. Pfeiffer offers an object lesson in how gifted stars with young careers can be misused by those more interested in exploiting their celebrity status than in furthering their artistic development." Rich praised Pfeiffer's performance in what was then her most recent film, the screwball comedy Married to the Mob, but stating it was "unfortunate that the actress has been asked to make both her stage and Shakespearean comic début in a role chained to melancholy and mourning."
At the start of her career, Pfeiffer met Peter Horton at an acting class taught by Milton Katselas in Los Angeles.They married in Santa Monica when Pfeiffer was 22, and it was on their honeymoon that she discovered she had won the lead role in Grease 2. 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); and in 1987, the real-life couple then 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 their marriage.
Pfeiffer and husband David E. Kelley at the 47th Emmy Awards, 1994
In 1993, Pfeiffer was set up on a blind date with television writer and producer David E. Kelley (creator of Chicago Hope, Picket Fences, Ally McBeal, Boston Public, The Practice and Boston Legal), but it became a group event and they barely spoke to each other. The following week, Kelley took her to the movies to see Bram Stoker's Dracula, and they began dating seriously. They married on November 13, 1993. Since then, she has made an 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.
In between her marriages to Horton and Kelley, Pfeiffer had a three-year relationship with Fisher Stevens (Early Edition, Hackers and Short Circuit). They met when Pfeiffer was starring in the New York Shakespeare Festival production of Twelfth Night, in which Stevens had the part of Sir Andrew Aguecheek.
Pfeiffer and Kelley have two children, one adopted daughter and one biological son. Pfeiffer, who was by her own admission desperate to start a family, had entered into private adoption proceedings before she even met Kelley. The biracial baby girl she adopted had been born in March 1993, to a young nurse in New York who could not afford to support all of her children; she was christened Claudia Rose in November 1993, on the same day that Pfeiffer and Kelley were married. Pfeiffer soon became pregnant, and in August 1994, gave birth to a son, John Henry.
Year Film Role Notes
1980 The Hollywood Knights Suzie Q
Falling In Love Again Sue Wellington
1981 Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen Cordelia Farenington
1982 Grease 2 Stephanie Zinone Nominated - Young Artist Award for Best Young Motion Picture Actress
1983 Scarface Elvira Hancock
1985 Into the Night Diana
Ladyhawke Isabeau d'Anjou Nominated - Saturn Award for Best Actress
1986 Sweet Liberty Faith Healy
1987 The Witches of Eastwick Sukie Ridgemont
Amazon Women on the Moon Brenda Landers
1988 Married to the Mob Angela de Marco Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Tequila Sunrise Jo Ann Vallenari
Dangerous Liaisons Madame Marie de Tourvel BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
1989 The Fabulous Baker Boys Susie Diamond Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actress
National Board of Review Award for Best Actress
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actress
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role
1990 The Russia House Katya Orlova Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1991 Frankie and Johnny Frankie Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1992 Batman Returns Catwoman/Selina Kyle Nominated - MTV Movie Awards - Most Desirable Female and Best Kiss (with Michael Keaton)
Love Field Lurene Hallett Berlin Film Festival - Silver Bear for Best Actress
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actress
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1993 The Age of Innocence Countess Ellen Olenska Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama
1994 Wolf Laura Alden Nominated - Saturn Award for Best Actress
1995 Dangerous Minds LouAnne Johnson Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Actress (Drama)
Nominated - MTV Movie Award for Best Female Performance and Most Desirable Female
1996 Up Close & Personal Sally/Tally Atwater
To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday Gillian Lewis
One Fine Day Melanie Parker Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Actress (Comedy/Romance)
1997 A Thousand Acres Rose Cook Lewis Producer (uncredited)
1998 The Prince of Egypt Tzipporah Voice
1999 The Deep End of the Ocean Beth Cappadora
A Midsummer Night's Dream Titania
The Story of Us Katie Jordan
2000 What Lies Beneath Claire Spencer Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Favorite Actress (Suspense)
Nominated - Saturn Award for Best Actress
2001 I Am Sam Rita Harrison Williams
2002 White Oleander Ingrid Magnussen Kansas City Film Critics Circle Best Supporting Actress
San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated - Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress
2003 Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas Eris Voice
2007 Stardust Lamia Nominated - Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress
Hairspray Velma Von Tussle Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Cast
Nominated - Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Cast in a Motion Picture
I Could Never Be Your Woman Rosie
2009 Personal Effects Linda
Cheri Lea de Lonval
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 2 episodes ("Hoover and the Bomb", "The Legacy")
The Solitary Man Tricia
CHiPs Jobina Episode - "The Watch Commander"
1980 Enos Joy 1 episode
B.A.D. Cats Samantha "Sunshine" Jensen
1981 Fantasy Island Deborah Dare Episode - "Elizabeth's Baby/The Artist and the Lady"
Callie & Son Sue Lynn Bordeaux credited as Michele Pfeiffer
Splendor in the Grass Ginny Stamper
The Children Nobody Wanted Jennifer Williams
1985 One Too Many Annie ABC Afterschool Special
1987 Tales from the Hollywood Hills: Natica Jackson Natica Jackson
1993 The Simpsons Mindy Simmons Episode "The Last Temptation of Homer"
Picket Fences Client Episode "Freezer Burn"
1996 Muppets Tonight Herself (1 episode)