Oscar Profile #533: Michelle Pfeiffer Revisited

Born April 28, 1958 in Santa Ana, California to Donna and Richard Pfeiffer, a heating and air-conditioning contractor, Michelle Pfeiffer has an older brother, Rick, and two younger sisters, Deedee and Lori, both of whom have acted. She made her acting debut in 1978 as the bombshell in the TV series, Delta House. In minor roles on both the big and small screens, she had what was supposed to be her breakthrough role in 1982’s Grease 2. Unfortunately, the film was such a critical and commercial flop that it almost stalled her career. Salvation came when Brian de Palma cast her in 1983’s Scarface opposite Al Pacino.

Pfeiffer’s career took off with starring roles opposite Jeff Goldblum in Into the Night and Rutger Hauer and Matthew Broderick in Ladyhawke, both in 1985. In 1987 she joined Cher and Susan Sarandon as one of three female stars opposite Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick and in 1988 had three high profile roles in Married to the Mob, Tequila Sunrise and Dangerous Liaisons. She earned her first Golden Globe nomination as Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for Married to the Mob and her first Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for Dangerous Liaisons. The following year she would win numerous awards including a Golden Globe for The Fabulous Baker Boys for which she received her second Oscar nomination, her first as Best Actress.

The actress would earn four more successive Golden Globe nominations for 1990’s The Russia House, 1991’s Frankie & Johnny, 1992’s Love Field and 1993’s The Age of Innocence. Only Love Field would earn her an additional Oscar nomination in a year when she was also being considered for her role as Catwoman opposite Michael Keaton in Batman Returns.

Pfeiffer had been married to actor Peter Horton from 1981 to 1988 and then in a three-year relationship with actor Fisher Stevens from 1989 to 1991. Having waited long enough to start a family, she decided to adopt a baby girl on her own in early 1993. Later that year she married writer-producer David E. Kelley and gave birth to a son in 1994.

While Pfeiffer has never been out of the public eye, her major film films slowed down after her marriage to Kelley. Even so, she still managed to give interesting performances in such films as 1994’s Wolf, 1995’s Dangerous Minds, 1996’s Up Close & Personal, To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday and One Fine Day, 1997’s A Thousand Acres, 1998’s The Deep End of the Ocean, 1999’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2000’s What Lies Beneath, 2001’s I Am Sam and 2002’s White Oleandor.

Roles in recent years have been even more sporadic for Pfeiffer, but she surfaced again in 2007 with Hairspray and Stardust and again more recently with Mother! , Murder on the Orient Express, Where’s Kyra? and TV’s The Wizard of Lies for which she received her seventh Golden Globe nomination, her first for her TV work. In the Oscar conversation again for French Exit, she’s slated to play Betty Ford in the upcoming Showtime series, First Ladies.

Michelle Pfeiffer is still going strong at 62.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (1989), directed by Steve Kloves

Pfeiffer won the New York Film critics Circle award for Best Actress and a Golden Globe along with Oscar and BAFTA nominations for her portrayal of the up-and-coming singer who infuses new life into Jeff and Beau Bridges’ brother act. Her iconic singing of “Makin’ Whoopee” atop a piano in a smoke-filled club is one of the great screen moments of all time. If it weren’t for Jessica Tandy’s unforgettable performance in Driving Miss Daisy the same year, Pfeiffer would likely have the Oscar that everyone predicted she would win some day, but which has continued to elude her all these years.

FRANKIE & JOHNNY (1991), directed by Garry Marshall

Terrence McNally’s 1987 Off-Broadway hit, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, which starred F. Murray Abraham and Kathy Bates, was a two-character play about two homely middle-aged people who find their soul mates in each other. It underwent a sea change in its transfer to the screen with Al Pacino and Pfeiffer, neither of whom could be considered remotely homely despite tons of makeup. McNally’s screenplay adds plenty of other colorful characters and quite a bit of comedy to the mix, but the love story remains front and center with Pfeiffer giving perhaps her finest dramatic performance.

LOVE FIELD (1992), directed by Jonathan Kaplan

One of those films that got tied up in Orion Films’ bankruptcy, it almost failed to get a proper release, but Pfeiffer’s portrayal of a Southern beautician and Jackie Kennedy look-alike on her way to JFK’s funeral couldn’t be denied. In a year when she was an Oscar hopeful for Best Supporting Actress for her playful portrayal of Catwoman in Batman Returns, she emerged instead as a nominee for Best Actress for her moving performance here. Dennis Haysbert and Stephanie McFadden as the black man and his daughter who become her travel companions are equally impressive in support.

THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (1993), directed by Martin Scorsese

Almost sixty years after the previous filming of Edith Wharton’s novel, Pfeiffer takes on a role once played by Irene Dunne and is more than up to the challenge. She plays a married woman estranged from her English husband in 1870s Manhattan. Daniel Day-Lewis is equally effective as the lawyer who loves her but is unable to act on his impulses and Winona Ryder is flawlessly cunning in her Oscar nominated role as Pfeiffer’s cousin and Day-Lewis’ fiancée and later wife. Gorgeously costumed, appointed and filmed with the best that money can buy, the film is marred by excessive narration by Joanne Woodward.

FRENCH EXIT (2021), directed by Azazel Jacobs

One of 2020’s most highly anticipated films, this comedy about an aging socialite who moves from Manhattan to Paris with her son and cat after the death of her husband was the closing feature at the 2020 New York Film Festival. It was scheduled to open immediately after its festival showing, but its opening date was pushed back to February 2021 when Oscar extended its eligibility period in-the-midst of the current pandemic. The heralded performances of Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges as her son, and Valerie Mahaffey as her French neighbor have been ineligible for awards based on 2020 calendar year releases, but they are Oscar eligible.

MICHELLE PFEIFFER AND OSCAR

  • Dangerous Liaisons (1988) – nominated – Best Supporting Actress
  • The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) – nominated – Best Actress
  • Love Field – nominated – Best Actress

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