Michelle Pfeiffer: The Bat's Meow

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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 him."

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 grateful."

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 again.'"

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.

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